Software vulnerabilities are a less common ransomware attack vector than phishing or RDPs, but they can still be very dangerous. Hackers are known to use vulnerabilities especially when it comes to large organization or high value targets, sometimes in combination with other attack vectors. The first step to preventing vulnerabilities in your system is to understand what they are.
What are software vulnerabilities?
A software vulnerability is some kind of flaw in a computer program which allows an attacker to access your system. At the end of the day, programs are nothing more than a series of commands. Most exploits involve tricking software into obeying commands that come from someone other than the intended user. Exploits don’t always mean an attacker getting into your system— sometimes it can mean taking private data out of your system. For example, if an attacker can gain access to your login credentials, then they can easily gain access to your system.
Most common types of software vulnerabilities:
- Injection. Many attacks involve hackers inserting commands into a database. This can allow them to change or access data inside the system.
- Buffer overflow. Buffer overflow happens when someone puts too much data into a data field. This can happen accidentally, and can cause a system to save data in an area where it shouldn’t. If it results in overwriting data, it can lead to glitches or crashes.
- Hackers use buffer overflow to write malicious programs into the memory.
- Cryptographic errors. If data isn’t properly encrypted, attackers can access it, either to steal data or to get information which can help them break into a system.
- Authentication failures. Good cybersecurity requires mechanisms to prevent authentication failures. Good authentication protection will not allow users to use “password” as a password, or allow attackers to conduct brute force attacks by making thousands of guesses at a password.
- Broken access control. Access control failures involve a user having privileges they shouldn’t have. Broken access control is often caused by failure to implement the principle of least privilege.
There are a wide range of different vulnerabilities. The list above just mentions some of the most common. A typical ransomware attack can exploit multiple vulnerabilities, so when designing cyberdefenses it’s important to consider all vulnerabilities. No cybersecurity configuration is perfect, but minimizing the number of vulnerabilities can greatly diminish hackers’ chances of success.
How to prevent ransomware software vulnerabilities
There is no single “magic bullet” to preventing software vulnerabilities. Instead, it requires consistent attention to multiple dimensions of your system. This doesn’t have to be a huge amount of work. Even a little bit of consistent effort can go a long way.
Keep current with updates and patches
A lot of software has vulnerabilities resulting from design flaws. The companies that produce the software regularly release updates and patches to this software as they discover the vulnerabilities. Many companies eventually stop developing updates for old software. For this reason, hackers will sometimes look for systems using out of date software. This is why it’s important to use up-to-date software in addition to keeping all updates and patches current.
Use verified software
When choosing software, make sure to sign contracts only with developers that keep high security standards. This might include independent security audits or using code signing software.
Be sure to conduct regular penetration testing. This involves simulating attacks and searching for vulnerabilities in order to detect them before attackers do. One option is to conduct penetration testing with Metasploit.
Implementing the best security practices can take time. This is why you should take care of the most pressing threats first, and move on to lower priority threats later.
Once you are equipped with an understanding of what software vulnerabilities are and how they work, you’ll be better prepared to build and maintain your defenses. Some software vulnerabilities can be exploited only in conjunction with phishing attacks, so vulnerability management always needs to take the human factor into account. It’s important that anyone involved in the administration of systems be aware of these threats. A compromise at any level of your network can allow ransomware hackers to gain a foothold, so it’s important that all network participants have a basic understanding of the threat landscape.
Finally, incident preparedness is also an important part of defense against software vulnerabilities. In the case of an attacker deploying a “zero-day vulnerability” against your network, there may be nothing you can do to prevent unauthorized access. If you have a good response plan in place, it may be possible to greatly reduce the extent of the damage.