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What Are the Biggest Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities?

Written by: University of Tulsa   •  Jan 22, 2024
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What Are the Biggest Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities?

As technology evolves, businesses find ways to use it to their advantage. Recent technological innovations in cloud computing, big data analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI) have enabled businesses to make more targeted decisions and meet their goals with greater efficiency.

But with these advantages come challenges, such as the increasing number of connected devices for cybercriminals to potentially use to gain access to a company’s sensitive data or to launch malicious web-based attacks. All it takes is one vulnerability in a system, network, or application for a breach to occur. This can cause substantial damage to a company’s bottom line: IBM reports that the average cost of a data breach around the world was $4.45 million in 2023.

Cybersecurity professionals with the right education and qualifications help prevent cybercrime by devising strategies that proactively protect systems and networks from attackers. To do this, they need to be able to recognize the different cybersecurity vulnerabilities cybercriminals look for to penetrate systems, particularly the most commonly exploited vulnerabilities. 

What Are Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities?

Cybersecurity vulnerabilities are weaknesses within a software program, computer system, or network that can be exploited by cybercriminals seeking to cause harm to a company or to access sensitive business assets, such as:

  • Personal information
  • Financial data
  • Business plans
  • Internal strategies
  • Federal tax information
  • Protected health information

Exploiting a vulnerability is the first step in a successful cyber attack. A vulnerability provides the gateway for a cybercriminal to gain access to a system or network. Once they achieve access, they can execute a malicious code used to compromise the system or network. Common tactics of cybercriminals include:

  • Malware Attack: An intrusive program that installs itself within a system without the system’s permission
  • Ransomware:  A specific type of malware that illegally encrypts key data, withholding it from the user until they pay a ransom
  • Phishing Attack: A fraud-style attack in which a cybercriminal poses as a legitimate business like a bank via email and tricks the user into sending confidential information to the attacker
  • Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) Attack: An attack that uses several compromised computer systems to overwhelm a specific website or server so that it crashes

These attacks can only happen if a cybercriminal successfully finds and compromises a system’s vulnerability. This is why cybersecurity professionals focus on seeking out weak points within a system. By finding and shoring up these weak points, they can prevent attempts at cybercrime from becoming full-blown attacks. 

Top Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities

According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, there were 1,802 data compromises in the United States in 2022. These compromises impacted more than 422 million individuals. These numbers underscore how much damage cybersecurity vulnerabilities can lead to if they aren’t addressed by a cybersecurity professional.

While there are many vulnerabilities that cybercriminals can use to eventually exploit a system or network, the five described below proved to be especially popular in 2023. 

1. Zero-Day Vulnerabilities

A zero-day vulnerability is a weak point within a system or piece of software that cybercriminals discover before a patch fixing the weakness is available.

2. Unpatched Software

Patching software and then releasing an updated version of the software is a common practice, meant to optimize the software’s performance and security. However, the original version of the software is left unpatched and remains open to vulnerabilities. 

3. Application Misconfiguration

Software often allows users to configure settings to their liking, including whether they wish to enable or disable its security features. Disabling these features can expose users to potential cyber attacks. This vulnerability tends to be of particular concern in cloud-based environments.

4. Remote Code Execution

Remote code execution (RCE) vulnerabilities allow cybercriminals to infiltrate a vulnerability with malicious code and then control the code from a remote machine. This tactic can be used to steal data, but it can also enable a cybercriminal to take over a machine. These attacks can be automated, making them an example of why it’s increasingly important to understand the relationship between cybersecurity and AI.

5. Credential Theft

Cybercriminals trick individuals via a phishing email to steal their credentials and use them to access the user’s system. They also employ old passwords uncovered in previously exposed data breaches to gain access.

Addressing Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities

Effective cybersecurity protection is proactive, not reactive. In cases of cybersecurity vulnerabilities, cybersecurity professionals need to do more than mitigate the damage caused by a successful breach. Instead, they must be prepared to proactively track down vulnerabilities and resolve them before they pose a threat to the company or its data. 

Here are some common tactics cybersecurity professionals employ to stay one step ahead of potential criminals. 

Security-Based Software

A security program like antivirus software provides an initial layer of defense that cybercriminals must penetrate to gain access to a system.

Wi-Fi Security

Applying security to a business’s Wi-Fi network prohibits unauthorized people not associated with the company from gaining access to the company’s website or its systems. Cybersecurity professionals can even take this one step further and hide the network from outside entities.

Firewalls

Firewalls allow cybersecurity professionals to efficiently analyze their company’s network traffic. This could make it easier for them to spot unusual or suspicious behaviors.

Patch Updates

Regularly scheduling patches helps to keep a program optimized. It also ensures that cybersecurity professionals regularly analyze the performance of the system or software to uncover any unexpected vulnerabilities.

Staff Education

Periodic training of employees on topics such as how to spot potential phishing schemes and what the proper software configurations are can help mitigate the threats posed by individuals unwittingly exposing the company’s systems. This can include education on work-from-home safety practices for businesses with employees who work remotely.

Keep Systems Safe 

Cybersecurity vulnerabilities can lead to breaches that are both disruptive and costly to companies of every size. This makes the work of a cybersecurity professional essential — not only for protecting the company’s data, functions, and reputation but also for protecting its bottom line.

The University of Tulsa’s online M.S. in Cyber Security program can help prepare you to take on this important role. Our program is designed to help you fortify the knowledge and skills you already have to allow you to grow into a confident leader in cybersecurity, while taking advantage of the flexibility of an online program that lets you work around your busy schedule. Learn how we can help you be a force for good in the technology space.

Recommended Readings

Cybersecurity Defense Strategies: The Role of Cybersecurity in National Security

The Importance of Cybersecurity Leadership

What Cybersecurity Professionals Really Need to Know About Programming

Sources:

Check Point, “Top 8 Cyber Security Vulnerabilities”

IBM, “Cost of a Data Breach Report 2023”

Indeed, “5 Types of Data Classification (With Examples)”

LinkedIn, “Top 10 Technologies That Will Shape the Future of Business in 2023 and Beyond”

Simplilearn, “Vulnerability in Security: A Complete Overview”

TechTarget, “13 Common Types of Cyber Attacks and How to Prevent Them”

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