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Common Network Security Vulnerabilities

Explore common types of network security vulnerabilities and discover strategies that can be used to identify and prevent them from being exploited.

9 minute read

With the recent shift to digital, the IT environment of businesses is facing more cybersecurity risks than ever before. IT networks of organizations are becoming more susceptible to security vulnerabilities. Cybercriminals, hackers and other malicious actors often exploit these weaknesses within networks to steal data or disrupt service.

Mitigating network vulnerabilities is the key to minimizing the risk. For that, organizations like yours first need to identify the vulnerabilities and take appropriate action. Network vulnerabilities constantly evolve; they are always present within the IT ecosystem. So, understanding how malicious actors manipulate them gives you a clear picture of what must be done to prevent such vulnerabilities from causing damage.

Let’s take a deep dive into the fundamentals of network vulnerability, explore its different types and discover how to identify and prevent network vulnerabilities from being exploited.

What is a network vulnerability?

A network vulnerability is a weakness or a flaw within your system’s hardware, software or organizational processes (security policies and procedures) that malicious actors can exploit to get unauthorized access, launch Denial of Service (DoS) attacks or spread malware. However, not all vulnerabilities are deliberately introduced by attackers. Some vulnerabilities are present due to erroneous network designs.

Why are network vulnerabilities dangerous?

Within a network, there are devices, servers and workstations that are susceptible to high-risk vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities can have a wide range of impacts, from causing disruptions to complete system compromise. In many cases, attackers can exploit these vulnerabilities to launch DoS attacks or steal sensitive information. They can also use the flaws to gain access to systems and use them to send spam or launch attacks against other targets.

Such incidents can cause a ripple effect within organizations, leading to heavy financial loss. IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach Report 2023 highlighted that the average cost of a data breach increased to as high as $4.45 million. Moreover, the 2023 OSSRA report of Synopsys found that at least one open-source vulnerability is present in 84% of code bases. This is a significant cybersecurity issue since most software applications rely on open-source code.

What are the different types of network vulnerabilities?

Most of the network vulnerabilities that hackers target for data breaches include every element of an organization’s network. Hence, they can be classified into three broad categories — hardware issues, software issues and user-related issues.

Software vulnerabilities

Software vulnerabilities include operating systems and outdated applications that haven’t received patches lately. Their plugins and add-ons are susceptible to hacking. Even basic networks can have massive vulnerabilities that can be easily exploited. The in-house written code in the basic network might contain buggy zero-day exploits that are prime targets for bad actors. Another common example of this sort of vulnerability is the unlicensed software download that an organization’s IT department carries out from an unreputable source.

Hardware vulnerabilities

Any device connected to the organization’s network can allow access to private data and thus poses a security risk if not managed properly. Hackers gaining unauthorized access to any physical device can easily install malicious code on the equipment using USB drives or download codes. The malicious software will then either install spyware or a backdoor code to capture vital information and access more sensitive data. Other sources of such vulnerabilities include misconfigured firewalls, unsecured Wi-Fi access points, Internet of Things (IoT) devices and poorly protected unauthorized devices.

User vulnerabilities

People often make mistakes, which are frequently manipulated by hackers to wreak havoc. Access to sensitive company information can be obtained via social engineering techniques, such as phishing with fake emails to obtain login credentials. Also, weak passwords and poor authentication practices by untrained users are the largest vulnerabilities in the cybersecurity world.

What are the common network vulnerabilities?

Some vulnerabilities may be easy to spot while others might elude attention for weeks, months or even years. They could range from misconfigured firewalls, outdated software or unsecured Wi-Fi configurations to something as basic as weak passwords or poor authentication practices.

Outdated and unpatched software

Outdated software is one of the root causes of security breaches. They are highly vulnerable, as attackers get to exploit known flaws that have already been patched in the newer versions. In the case of unpatched software, organizations fail to apply critical security updates at the right time, resulting in plugins and add-ons that are easily exploited by hackers.

Poor Wi-Fi configuration

Unsecured Wi-Fi access points are serious vulnerabilities since hackers can completely sidestep the firewall and gain access to the entire network. Once inside, hackers can easily search for publicly posted passwords, change settings, steal data or install any malware to cause unthinkable damage.

Misconfigured firewalls

Firewalls are a vital layer of protection for all businesses with web networks. They prevent unauthorized access and block blacklisted IP addresses from open ports. However, relying on them blindly can be a costly mistake. At times, firewalls upload unnecessary services into the network as a part of the program. If the organization’s IT department isn’t aware of such services and doesn’t remove them, the firewall becomes an exploitable flaw.

Unsecure email services

Businesses depend on email services to send and receive data. A lot of confidential information is involved in this process (personally identifiable information, health-related data, bank details, trade secrets, financial data, etc.). Social engineering tactics are used by hackers to dupe employees into revealing private data. By exploiting the email services, they create a gateway into the company network, rendering it vulnerable. They can also make employees become unknowing malware spreaders within the system.

Unauthorized IoT devices

IoT devices have software that connects them to a system, network or device and transfer data over the internet. They come with preset security measures that are tough to alter and might also have firmware that cannot be updated. The longer these devices stay connected, the easier they are to hack. It gets even more complicated when an organization operates remotely. During the attack, hackers use IoT devices as an entry point to the network and then move laterally to other devices.

Unsecure mobile devices

Within the digital environment of an organization, mobile devices could be present on-premises or remotely. As per a company’s Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) policy, employees can either bring them to the office or use them remotely. However, there are various ways these devices can become a security risk.

Physical theft or misplacement is one of the most common issues. Attackers can steal company devices from employees and successfully access the network. Another way to gain network access is to create lookalike apps that trick users into disclosing their sensitive information.

Removable media

Removable devices, like USB flash drives, can be a prime source of malware and can spread it when connected to a system. Although USB flash drives aren’t used very often in today’s cloud landscape, the unauthorized use of USB drives could compromise an organization’s entire network.

Poor authentication

There are websites that still allow single-factor authentication (SFA). In the case of SFA, there are some risks involved. Hackers can easily bypass it with the help of a password obtained through phishing, either from the dark web or from any other sources.

Weak passwords

People tend to use simple, easy-to-guess passwords because they’re easy to remember. Unfortunately, that means they are also super easy to hack. Although the software on networks might have specific requirements for users to create passwords, it isn’t sufficient against savvy malicious actors.

Insider threats

It is not always a configurational error or unpatched software that causes a cyber incident. Threats can also be found within an organization in the form of people. Insider threats are some of the most dangerous network vulnerabilities. These threats could emanate from a clumsy employee who unintentionally exposes sensitive company information on a public platform or a disgruntled employee whose intention is to cause harm to the organization.

Social engineering

About 98% of cyberattacks involve some form of social engineering, according to a recent Purplesec report. Hackers lure people via phishing scams that dupe them into sharing sensitive information via a genuine-looking email address. Not only that, these legitimate-looking emails are also used to trick employees into clicking on malicious URLs or opening attachments containing malware. The URL then redirects the individual to a site that triggers a ransomware download.

How to find network vulnerabilities

Locating and identifying network vulnerabilities demands a strategic approach.

The first part of this strategy calls for continuous monitoring of the network since vigilant oversight aids in the rapid detection of anomalies. In addition, penetration tests allow for the simulation of cyberattacks in order to evaluate and enhance overall network security. Finally, with the help of specialized scanning tools, weaknesses can be easily spotted by examining devices, open ports and software infrastructure. This proactively lets the organization know of any security gaps so that they can be addressed before they are exploited.

Network monitoring

A cornerstone of effective cybersecurity, regular network monitoring consistently observes network activities and allows organizations to promptly detect and respond to anomalies that could be potential vulnerabilities. It also facilitates real-time awareness of a network’s health so that any irregularities, such as unexpected traffic patterns or unauthorized access attempts, can be swiftly identified. This approach provides insights for improving overall network resilience.

Network penetration testing

This allows businesses to assess the effectiveness of their security measures in a controlled environment via simulated cyberattacks. Penetration tests systematically probe network defenses and identifies potential vulnerabilities that malicious actors could exploit. It mimics real-world scenarios so that organizations can gain valuable insights into weak spots in their security infrastructure.

Network vulnerability scanning

Specialized vulnerability scanning tools are crucial to efficiently uncover potential network flaws. A comprehensive vulnerability scanning tool should delve deep into the network architecture and scrutinize each device for weaknesses. The right tool shouldn’t be a drain on resources and shouldn’t be overpowering with its scans. It also shouldn’t have much impact on the network’s bandwidth.

How network vulnerability scanning helps mitigate risk

To minimize the impact of network vulnerabilities, there should be an ongoing, regular process of identifying, assessing, reporting on, managing and remediating these flaws across endpoints, workloads and systems. This is nothing but the concept of network vulnerability management. Security teams of organizations typically rely on vulnerability management tools to identify vulnerabilities and leverage various ways to patch or remediate them.

With today’s enterprise networks so distributed and so many new vulnerabilities getting discovered every day, effective manual or ad hoc vulnerability management is not possible. Organizations must rely on a strong vulnerability management tool to automate the entire process. An ideal solution will use threat intelligence and knowledge of IT and business operations to prioritize risks and address vulnerabilities swiftly.

Manage network vulnerabilities with VulScan

No cybersecurity strategy today is complete without a plan for vulnerability discovery and management. VulScan provides complete and automated vulnerability scanning to detect the weaknesses hackers can exploit. This hardens the networks managed by managed service providers (MSPs) like you and protects them against evolving threats by creating an extra layer of cybersecurity protection. Now, you can quickly flag the most critical flaws as they appear and address them before they are exploited.

Ready to experience the power of next-gen vulnerability management? Schedule a demo today.

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