The threat landscape gets progressively worse by the day. Cross-site scripting, SQL injection, exploits of sensitive data, phishing and denial of service (DDoS) attacks are far too common. More and more sophisticated attacks are being spotted, and security teams are scrambling to keep up. Faced with many new types of issues — including advanced phishing attacks that are all too successful, and ransomware attacks that many seem helpless to prevent — endpoint security strategies are evolving rapidly. In the SANS “Endpoint Protection and Response” survey from 2018, 42% of respondents indicated at least one of their endpoints had been compromised, and 20% didn’t know if any endpoints had been compromised at all.
How are hackers able to wreak havoc on enterprises and cause sensitive data loss and exposure? The answer is through a variety of cybersecurity vulnerabilities in processes, technical controls and user behaviors that allow hackers to perform malicious actions. Many different vulnerabilities exist, including code flaws in operating systems and applications, systems and services misconfiguration, poor or immature processes and technology implementations, and end user susceptibility to attack.
Some of the most common attacks that resulted in data breaches and outages included phishing, the use of stolen credentials, advanced malware, ransomware and privilege abuse, as well as backdoors and command and control channels on the network set up to allow continued access to and control over compromised assets, according to the Verizon “2019 Data Breach Investigations Report,” or Verizon DBIR.
What are the major types of cybersecurity vulnerabilities that could lead to successful attacks and data breaches and how can we ideally mitigate them? Check out the top five most common vulnerabilities organizations should work toward preventing or remediating as soon as possible to avoid potentially significant cybersecurity incidents.
1. Poor endpoint security defenses
Most enterprise organizations have some sort of endpoint protection in place, usually antivirus tools. But zero-day exploits are becoming more common and many of the endpoint security defenses in place have proved inadequate to combat advanced malware and intrusions targeting end users and server platforms.
Causes. Many factors can lead to inadequate endpoint security defenses that become vulnerabilities. First, standard signature-based antivirus systems are no longer considered good enough, as many savvy attackers can easily bypass the signatures. Second, smart attackers may only be caught through unusual or unexpected behaviors at the endpoint, which many tools don’t monitor. Finally, many endpoint security defenses haven’t offered security teams the ability to dynamically respond to or investigate endpoints, particularly on a large scale.
How to fix it. More organizations need to invest in modern endpoint detection and response tools that incorporate next-generation antivirus, behavioral analysis and actual response capabilities. These tools provide more comprehensive analysis of malicious behavior, along with more flexible prevention and detection options. If you’re still using traditional antivirus tools, consider an upgrade to incorporate more behavioral inspection, more detailed forensic details and compromise indicators, as well as real-time response capabilities.
2. Poor data backup and recovery
With the recent threat of ransomware looming large, along with traditional disasters and other failures, organizations have a pressing need to back up and recover data. Unfortunately, many organizations don’t excel in this area due to a lack of sound backup and recovery options.
Causes. Many organizations neglect one or more facets of backup and recovery, including database replication, storage synchronization or end-user storage archival and backup.
How to fix it. Most organizations need a multi-pronged backup and recovery strategy. This should include data center storage snapshots and replication, database storage, tape or disk backups, and end user storage (often cloud-based). Look for enterprise-class tools that can accommodate granular backup and recovery metrics and reporting.
3. Poor network segmentation and monitoring
Many attackers rely on weak network segmentation and monitoring to gain full access to systems in a network subnet once they’ve gained initial access. This huge cybersecurity vulnerability has been common in many large enterprise networks for many years. It has led to significant persistence in attackers compromising new systems and maintaining access longer.
Causes. A lack of subnet monitoring is a major root cause of this vulnerability, as is a lack of monitoring outbound activity that could indicate command and control traffic. Especially in large organizations, this can be a challenging initiative, as hundreds or thousands of systems may be communicating simultaneously within the network and sending outbound traffic.
How to fix it. Organizations should focus on carefully controlling network access among systems within subnets, and building better detection and alerting strategies for lateral movement between systems that have no business communicating with one another. They should focus on odd DNS lookups, system-to-system communication with no apparent use, and odd behavioral trends in network traffic. Proxies, firewalls and microsegmentation tools may help create more restrictive policies for traffic and systems communications.
4. Weak authentication and credential management
One of the most common causes of compromise and breaches for this cybersecurity vulnerability is a lack of sound credential management. People use the same password over and over, and many systems and services support weak authentication practices. This is one of the major causes of related attack vectors listed in the Verizon DBIR.
Causes. In many cases, weak authentication and credential management is due to lack of governance and oversight of credential lifecycle and policy. This includes user access, password policies, authentication interfaces and controls, and privilege escalation to systems and services that shouldn’t be available or accessible in many cases.
How to fix it. For most organizations, implementing stringent password controls can help. This may consist of longer passwords, more complex passwords, more frequent password changes or some combination of these principles. In practice, longer passwords that aren’t rotated often are safer than shorter passwords that are. For any sensitive access, users should also be required to use multifactor authentication for accessing sensitive data or sites, often with the aid of multifactor authentication tools.
5. Poor security awareness
Much has been written about the susceptibility of end users to social engineering, but it continues to be a major issue that plagues organizations. The 2019 Verizon DBIR states that end user error is the top threat action in breaches. Many organizations find the initial point of attack is through targeted social engineering, most commonly phishing.
Causes. The most common cause of successful phishing, pretexting and other social engineering attacks is a lack of sound security awareness training and end-user validation. Organizations are still struggling with how to train users to look for social engineering attempts and report them.
How to fix it. More organizations need to conduct regular training exercises, including phishing tests, pretexting and additional social engineering as needed. Many training programs are available to help reinforce security awareness concepts; the training needs to be contextual and relevant to employees’ job functions whenever possible. Track users’ success or failure rates on testing, as well as “live fire” tests with phishing emails and other tactics. For users who don’t improve, look at remediation measures appropriate for your organization.
While other major cybersecurity vulnerabilities can be spotted in the wild, the issues addressed here are some of the most common seen by enterprise security teams everywhere. Look for opportunities to implement more effective processes and controls in your organization to more effectively prevent these issues from being realized.