Network vulnerabilities can compromise your entire system. Your sensitive data might get lost, or worse be stolen by cybercriminals and sold. This can severely damage your business’s reputation. Not to mention the financial loss a security breach can incur! Hence, monitoring your internal network and performing regular network vulnerability scans is of the utmost importance.
In this guide, we’ll explain what a network vulnerability actually is and what security threats you need to keep an eye on. In particular, we’ll show you the dangers of data breaches and where common network vulnerabilities are so that you can start taking care of your network as soon as possible.
What Is a Network Vulnerability?
Network vulnerabilities are flaws in your operating systems (software), computer networks, hardware, or other digital processes your business uses. If compromised by cyber threats, network vulnerabilities can result in various data breaches. Broadly speaking, there are three types of network vulnerabilities: hardware, software, and human.
Hardware Security Vulnerabilities
When it comes to hardware network vulnerabilities, you must protect all your devices, routers, servers, and other assets. Performing regular upgrades and physically securing devices from unauthorized access is your first line of defense.
It’s worth noting that laptops, smartphones, and other portable devices are more vulnerable to theft and hence are more vulnerable to security breaches ( criminals can physically access your network). If your employees are working remotely, you must take extra precautions to ensure network security. Your IT department or IT service providers must control all connected devices and know which devices are authorized and which aren’t. Employees shouldn’t be able to connect their personal computers to the network without permission.
You should especially keep an eye on wireless access since many cyber attackers exploit Wi-Fi networks to gain access to laptops or mobile devices and get past firewalls. All Wi-Fi routers should have unique SSIDs (Service Set IDentifiers) and strong passwords. Make sure to educate your employees on the dangers of having weak passwords, data leaks, and cyber threats in general.
Vulnerabilities in the operating system can also be prone to cyber-attacks. If there are any known vulnerabilities in your operating system, you need to solve them as soon as possible to limit security risks.
Some of the most common application vulnerabilities are outdated, buggy, or unmanaged software programs. To mitigate this risk you should maintain your software and regularly update your systems. If you don’t use a program, get rid of it, and if you use something regularly, make sure to get the latest version with the newest protection installed. The latest version of a particular piece of software usually has the latest security patches already installed, so you’ll be protected from all of the latest threats.
Implementing proper security policies and using updated software solutions can limit the vulnerabilities in your system. Also, software (and particularly firewall) configuration must be carefully conducted. Instead of using default settings, try changing the name of each admin account and limiting access to sensitive data for all employees.
Malicious actors always go for the weakest link and more often than not, that’s the people using the network.. People make mistakes. They use weak passwords, click on links to suspicious websites, fall prey to phishing attacks, among other things. That’s why employee education must be your number one priority. You must get them to understand the importance of protection and security controls.
You should focus on two areas:
- Authentication and authorization. While software developers can impose minimum password requirements, you must take additional steps. Explain to your employees the dangers of creating weak passwords, using the same ones for everything, or worse yet, writing them down for everyone to see! Implementing multi-factor authentication can also greatly improve your security.
- Protection against phishing. Attackers often use deception to break into computer systems. Your employees shouldn’t disclose sensitive information to unauthorized persons. They should have only the necessary permissions and only a limited number of people should have unlimited access.
What Are the Common Types of Network Attacks?
These security vulnerabilities wouldn’t be problematic if cyber threats didn’t exist! People with malicious intent (cyber-criminals and hackers.) can use various tactics and tools to get into your systems and exploit your business data for profit. Speaking in broad categories, there are four main types of threats to keep an eye on:
- Malware programs
- Social engineering attacks
- Outdated software issues
- Misconfigured firewalls
Malware or malicious software is any type of program designed to cause damage to users’ devices, networks, or servers. Users unknowingly download and install these programs and expose their data to cybercriminals. Often, they aren’t aware they have acquired malicious programs since malware is often delivered via innocuous-looking links or attachments embedding in phishing emails.
Various types of malware exist and they aren’t usually noticed until they start creating problems in the system. Malicious code can slow down processes, send emails without user confirmation, randomly reboot the system, open unwanted pop-ups, change your settings, or start other strange processes.
Computer viruses function just like regular viruses. Once they get into a host (computer system), viruses replicate themselves while inserting their own codes. Viruses are often attached to legitimate programs and documents in order to trick users and infect systems. They can spread via emails, website downloads, USB flash drives, and instant messages. Most viruses self-replicate and exist without the knowledge of the users.
Spreading like viruses, worms are equally dangerous. However, unlike viruses that need files to propagate, worms do not. Instead, they exist as separate entities and can replicate without any human interaction, host files, or programs. Worms use parts of the software that isn’t visible to the user. Often they only become noticeable when they have replicated excessively and begin to slow down entire networks.
A trojan horse, or trojan, is a type of malware that presents itself as a harmless file in order to trick the user and get inside the network. It’s often spread via website downloads but unlike viruses and worms, a trojan doesn’t self-replicate. Its only function is to provide backdoor access to hackers looking for entry points into the system.
Ransomware is a form of malware that encrypts users’ files. Ransomware can lock software files, network shares, and entire cloud file systems (if they aren’t secured). Upon encryption, the attackers demand ransom from victims in order to restore access to the data. Attackers claim that they’ll give a decryption key once the ransom is paid, but this is often a false claim. In most cases, you should deploy a backup strategy that should include deleting all encrypted files and restoring them from a backup.
Adware or advertising-supported software are programs that automatically generate online advertisements. While not directly damaging to your business, you won’t be able to conduct normal day-to-day tasks because you’ll be swamped with ads. Adware is spread through email attachments or shared files.
Spyware is also unwanted software, but more malicious than adware. It hides in the background and collects your information, which is sold to advertisers or data firms. Attackers that use spyware want to steal data such as passwords, bank account information, or other types of sensitive material. Spyware often comes in unauthorized software programs or in suspicious email attachments.
A botnet is a network of hijacked computer devices – zombie computers – used to carry out large attacks. Any type of network whose security has been compromised can become part of a botnet. The bots are most commonly used as a tool for performing a Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack, which we’ll discuss in detail later.
Social Engineering Attacks
Speaking in broad terms, social engineering includes any kind of manipulation of people into performing particular actions (such as clicking suspicious links or downloading harmful files). To get malware into your systems and gain access to your files, cyber attackers will exploit any network vulnerability they can. Phishing
Phishing is a form of social engineering attack in which the targets are contacted by someone pretending to be a representative of a legitimate institution. The goal is to lure victims into disclosing sensitive information such as bank or credit card details, or passwords. People are usually contacted by email, but it isn’t uncommon for attackers to use instant messenger programs.
The damage caused by phishing attacks can be very severe depending on what kind of information hackers get a hold of. If the victim clicks on an email attachment, the system can get infected with malware and the attacker can get into their operating systems and block out network administrators from accessing files.
Spear phishing is similar to phishing, but the focus is put on using the victim’s personal information to seem more legitimate. Spear phishing emails will also lure users to click on a link or attachment in order to get malware into their system. The attackers carefully pick targets and send specific tailor-made emails to gain the trust of users.
Spam emails are also a form of social engineering attack. Attackers send mass emails to a large number of users in the hopes that someone will fall for their scam. Spam emails very often contain different types of malware in attachments, so it’s best not to open them at all. Nowadays, most email providers have anti-spam protection, but they are not perfect. You and your employees should be careful about publicly sharing business email addresses and keep your inboxes clean.
Vishing is phishing by phone. Specific tools such as VoIP (Voice over IP) lines are used to auto-dial and send pre-recorded messages in order to trick users into handing over their data. Typically, targets receive a message that their accounts have been hacked and that passwords need to be updated.
Pharming doesn’t include baiting users like spear phishing, vishing, or other phishing attacks. Instead, attackers using this technique are trying to generate traffic for fake websites. Users are redirected to a website where their personal information or log-in credentials can get stolen. Pharming websites often present themselves as legitimate websites in the financial sector such as banks, investment firms, or online payment platforms.
Tailgating is a simple method of following a victim to gain physical access to a network. Sometimes attackers look over your shoulder when you’re entering a password. Other times they might follow you into your office. They could even ask you to hold open the door. It’s worth considering implementing stricter access rules or hiring security personnel to monitor suspicious activity in your office building.
If you’ve ever wondered how attackers get information for spear-phishing attacks, this is it. Dumpster diving is a method of collecting personal identification information (PII), which is then used to target emails. Hence, shredding old documents is a good habit to have.
Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS)
A DDoS attack is an attempt to interfere with website traffic by sending overwhelming amounts of visitors, via bots, to a particular server. The goal is to crash the server by essentially creating a traffic jam. In the end, regular users aren’t able to access the website at all! This can cost the targeted website thousands of dollars in lost revenue.
DDoS attacks are carried out by infected devices (zombies, bots), each requesting the target’s IP address. The more bots attackers have, the faster they can crash a server. Otherwise, attackers can “only” slow down the website or cause performance issues and lags.
With a MITM attack, a perpetrator stands between a user and an application in order to eavesdrop or to impersonate one of the parties. The attacker usually exploits an unencrypted Wi-Fi access point to gain access and steal valuable information.
A cross-site scripting attack exploits vulnerabilities in web applications. The attackers want to inject malicious scripts into target websites. The web page then becomes a transmitter of the malicious script to the browsers of other users, which become access points for cybercriminals.
As previously mentioned one of the major network security vulnerabilities í outdated software. It is equally dangerous as a cyber threat. Software developers are constantly creating security patches to fix common bugs and errors, but also to implement defensive software that can recognize and get rid of new cyber threats. Hence using outdated software for your business operations is a major security risk.
This is why software has an end-of-life (EOL) date. Not because it’ll suddenly stop working, but because developers won’t be working on patches needed for maintenance and security, for example, Microsoft has a number of legacy products like Windows 95, Windows XP, and since January 2020 even Windows 7.
A firewall monitors incoming and outgoing network traffic and permits or blocks data in order to block malicious actors. Firewalls can be either software-based (installed programs that regulate traffic and protect you from other internal operating systems) or hardware (a piece of equipment installed between your network and the outside world).
Since a firewall is essentially a buffer between the internet and your internal network, you can see how a misconfigured firewall can easily become a problem. As mentioned, firewall misconfiguration can fail to restrict access to malicious code. When malware programs bypass this buffer, your entire system becomes compromised.
Network Vulnerability Assessment
To strengthen your network against an ever-increasing onslaught of security risks, you should conduct a vulnerability risk assessment. This assessment is conducted by a network administrator or your IT service provider, who thoroughly checks the functionality of your equipment, software, and networks to make sure no possible threats can exploit your systems. Common network vulnerabilities scans include tasks such as:
- Security checks
- Scanning for vulnerabilities
- Identification and quantification of threats
- Password analysis
- Testing network strength against attacks
- Analysis of devices (from computers to mobile devices)
When you regularly perform network vulnerability scans, you’ll be able to catch and fix flaws in your system before malicious actors can get through.
As you can see, all types of network vulnerabilities carry different degrees of risk. They can be exploited by hackers that are looking for an entry point into your system. If you’re dealing with sensitive information, such as banking details or clients’ personal data, this can be a huge problem.
Network security should be your number one priority. We’ve all seen what data loss can do to a business! From hefty lawsuits to loss of reputation, a data breach can be fatal. Why risk it? Take the necessary steps to protect yourself and fix all vulnerabilities in your network now! We can guide you through this process. Just schedule a free consultation and we can discuss how you can upgrade your cybersecurity and better protect your cyber future.