A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding Vulnerabilities

A vulnerability is an issue in a system or its procedures that exposes it to attack or infiltration, allowing for crossing privilege boundaries.

What is a vulnerability?

A vulnerability is a flaw in computer software or hardware that allows an attacker to cross privilege boundaries. From a threat actor’s perspective, vulnerabilities present opportunities for them to gain access into an organization. By exploiting them, vulnerabilities allow cybercriminals to spread through compromised networks. This allows them to leverage a wide variety of cyberattacks, such as ransomware, information-stealing malware, or DDoS attacks.

Every piece of technology has vulnerabilities. As new technologies are introduced into the market, the number of disclosed vulnerabilities rises year over year.

How do threat actors use vulnerabilities?

To take advantage of vulnerabilities, threat actors must first find a way to leverage them. This act is known as “exploiting” a vulnerability, in which a hacker uses an “exploit” (which refers to pieces of software or certain pieces of code or data), to perform an unauthorized or unintended action on the system.

Exploits can be automated using scripts or software tools. Once a working exploit is leveraged, attackers can perform a wide range of activities. Such actions include giving themselves administrative privileges, enabling malicious actors to delete legitimate users, install malware, or move laterally within the victim’s network to gain access into other systems and devices.

Types of vulnerabilities

Therefore, understanding vulnerabilities can help security professionals maintain a more secure system. It can also empower developers to design and develop safer products and software. Here are some of the most common types of vulnerabilities:

  • SQL Injection: Exploiting this vulnerability allows an attacker to insert malicious SQL statements into the input fields for execution, typically to manipulate or steal data from a database.
  • Cross-Site Scripting (XSS): This vulnerability allows attackers to inject malicious script code into web pages viewed by other users, potentially allowing them to steal cookies, session tokens, or other sensitive information.
  • Server Misconfiguration: A security misconfiguration happens when configuration settings in a system or application are either incomplete or improperly set up, possibly allowing for a data breach. Frequent causes of security misconfigurations include not modifying default settings including default credentials, incorrect changes to configurations, or various technical errors.
  • Vulnerable Library: Occurs when a software’s bundled third-party or open source software (OSS) library contains a vulnerability that allows a malicious actor to attack. Examples include Log4Shell and XZ Utils.  
  • Buffer Overflow: Happens when more data is sent to a buffer than it can handle, which can allow attackers to crash a system or potentially execute arbitrary code.

The need for better intelligence

Vulnerabilities can be highly technical, nuanced, and plentiful, which makes managing them an extremely resource-intensive process. As such, organizations need comprehensive, timely, and actionable vulnerability intelligence to prioritize effectively.

There are many steps and processes that take place in vulnerability management (VM). However, poor vulnerability intelligence will cripple nearly every stage of the VM process. The impact or severity of any vulnerability can change at any time, depending on what new information comes to light. Therefore many variables need to be considered. What happens if exploit code is made public after the initial disclosure? What if solution details are released post-disclosure on social media, and not updated in CVE and NVD? Unfortunately, situations like these happen all the time and can severely impact the effectiveness of your VM program.

Most organizations do not have the resources to retain full-time vulnerability research teams. Vulnerability research can be a time and resource-draining process. It is critical that organizations have the full intelligence picture to make better risk decisions. Flashpoint provides the most comprehensive, timely, and actionable source of vulnerability intelligence on the market that equips security teams with much needed context into their vulnerability workloads.

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