Any organization, large or small, can fall prey to hackers and cyber attacks – even yours. So how do these bad actors infiltrate and infect your network in the first place?
In this article, we’ll discuss the most common network vulnerabilities, in addition to some steps you can take to minimize potential flaws and safeguard your network.
What is Network Vulnerability?
Before we begin, let’s define what network vulnerability actually is. In its broadest sense, a network vulnerability is any weakness or flaw in a system that can lead to a security breach.
These breaches can occur in physical structures (hardware devices), digital structures (software applications), or even conceptual structures (organizational processes). Each structure requires a unique set of network vulnerability tools to protect against exploits.
The 7 Most Common Network Vulnerabilities
Identifying security weaknesses is the first step to improving them. Let’s look at seven of these network Achilles’ heels.
1. Unsecure Email
Most email adheres to the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP). This is a framework that defines how a communication is carried from the sender to the recipient.
Similar to a real postal service, the message is passed along from one stop (or server) to another, before finally arriving at its destination.
The difference between secure and unsecure email lies in whether the message is encrypted at each point on its journey. Organizations should always use secure email. If not, bad actors will have no trouble intercepting messages and using them to create social engineering attacks.
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2. Not Backing Up Your Data
Though it’s important to manage network vulnerability as best you can, you should always be prepared for the worst.
Motivated cyber criminals can gain access through even the smallest loophole in your network. Or maybe a natural disaster wipes out all of your hardware.
Whatever the case, this is where your disaster recovery plan takes effect. It’s the playbook for how you respond and recover from an unexpected system failure or exploit, the goal being to minimize expensive downtime. Once you’ve identified vulnerabilities, you should use frequent DR testing.
In all cases, organizations that fail to back up their data are doomed to suffer most. The moral: create a network vulnerability checklist with various redundancies and update them often. This is preferably done on a separate on-site server and/or secure, off-site server.
3. Weak Passwords
Any time an employee creates a new set of login credentials, a potential vulnerability is born. Weak passwords are the bread and butter of malware programs that favor brute-force attacks.
To avoid this, the password field in all of your registration forms should oblige the user to create a password using letters, numbers, and symbols. The password should have a fairly long minimum length, and it should use a mix of upper and lowercase characters.
Want to take things a step further? Enforce mandatory password strength and length, ensuring everyone in your organization is creating secure passwords. Also, consider using a password management tool, to help generate and store passwords.
4. Single-Factor Authentication
Though strong passwords go a long way in preventing security breaches, they’re still but a single line of defense. Password-protected software, apps, and files should always require multi-factor authentication (MFA).
Multi-factor authentication means that, in addition to presenting a correct password, a user must provide an additional piece of evidence to prove their identity. This can be anything from correctly responding to a security question, entering a code (like one generated from a time-based, one-time authenticator), or having their fingerprint scanned.
5. Unpatched or Outdated Software
Whether it’s the operating system on your devices, open source applications, or closed source software products, the same rule applies: Always keep them up-to-date.
Just below their sleek interface lies an enormous amount of complex code. This makes them particularly susceptible to security threats. Install new patches as they become available.
Moreover, don’t insist on using software that has been discontinued; these are easy targets for hackers, since developers have long ago abandoned any effort to maintain them.
6. Mobile Devices
Sure, your intranet may be more secure than Alcatraz, but what about all your devices like laptops, phones, and tablets? Once these leave the secured premises of your organization, it’s a matter of chance that nothing creeps in.
Set rules for your employees to follow when using their devices outside of the office. For instance, prohibit the use of public wi-fi, restrict downloadable apps to those that have been thoroughly tested, and encourage them to log out of any accounts that aren’t actively in use.
7. Badly Configured Firewalls
Firewalls act as your main line of defence against incoming threats. They can be physical or digital, and usually reside at high-traffic intersections, like between your secure network and the internet. Their job is to monitor incoming and outgoing data packets for potential threats, usually based on a set of predetermined criteria.
This is where problems can arise: When incorrectly configured, the rules dictating which IP addresses are permitted into a network and which are denied can allow malicious requests to be delivered to your servers.
To avoid this, make sure your firewalls are regularly inspected for typos, classification problems, or too much leniency.
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The Importance of a Network Vulnerability Assessment
As the name implies, network vulnerability assessments are used to determine whether your network architecture contains any exploitable loopholes or vulnerabilities. The goal is to understand how well it performs against a range of common threats.
The process consists of analyzing and reviewing your network’s security strength. This is done with the combined help of network vulnerability scanning tools and a security team.
Some of the network vulnerability assessment steps include:
- Testing hardware and software security controls
- Performing password strength analysis
- Checking specific vulnerabilities to common threats (such as DDoS and MiTM attacks)
- Analyzing the network for current and potential intrusions with the help of vulnerability scanner software
- Identifying device-level security issues
In the aftermath of a network vulnerability analysis, the security team will produce an assessment report based on the discovered vulnerabilities. In this report, they’ll recommend an action plan to strengthen the weak points in your system.
Maintaining Safety With Network Vulnerability Management
As we’ve seen, the most common network vulnerabilities can be broadly classified into just a handful of categories. That said, every year spawns newer and more sophisticated cyber attacks to exploit them.
While you may not always be able to stay one step ahead of cyber criminals, you’d do well to keep pace with them.
That’s where network vulnerability management comes in. Especially as businesses scale, it’s not uncommon to generate even more security vulnerabilities. To mitigate this inherent security risk, you’ve got to remain vigilant. Remember, a hacker attack occurs every 39 seconds.
Vulnerability management in the process of finding, analyzing, addressing, and reporting on system and software vulnerabilities. As mentioned above, vulnerability assessment tools can be used to run a vulnerability test. The results let you identify, quantify, and prioritize weaknesses.
Additionally, an occasional penetration test (or pentest) can be performed. Pentests are considered “ethical hacking” because a white hat hacker will simulate a cyberattack to test the strength of your network security. Pentests are not to be confused with network vulnerability assessments. The former is hands-on, while the latter is automated.
Your Trusted Partner for Network Vulnerability Management
Keeping an in-house security team can be expensive and complicated. Today, many businesses entrust their network security needs to third-party professionals. This is the most effective way to reduce overhead and guarantee quality.
At Intellicomp, we provide a host of managed services that can be bundled into flexible and affordable packages. You’ll pay for exactly what you need and we’ll always be there when you need it. So for all your network security needs, consider IT done.
Contact us today to discuss how to eradicate network vulnerabilities and optimize your security.