7 Most Common Network Vulnerabilities for Businesses

On May 6-7, 2021, Colonial Pipeline Group was the target of a massive data theft and ransomware attack that shut down the computer systems that manage their pipeline. This attack was carried out by an eastern European cybercriminal organization called DarkSide who threatened to share the data as well as keep the systems shut down until a ransom of $5 million was paid. 

While the network was only down for several hours, the effects were extreme. The company had to shut down the entire pipeline system to prevent the ransomware from spreading and to prevent the hackers from obtaining additional information. Once the network was restored, it wasn’t operating at the proper speed and for several days, the pipeline wasn’t fully functional. Colonial Pipeline is one of the largest suppliers of gasoline across Texas and the Southeast, up the coastline to New York. Nearly 45 percent of the fuel used along the East Coast and through the Southeast is delivered through Colonial Pipeline’s system, so shutting down this system led to significant fuel shortages across the region, hitting Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina particularly hard. 

Colonial Pipeline’s network vulnerabilities made them susceptible to cyberattack, but it’s not just large companies and corporations that are at risk. In fact, small businesses are at higher risk for attack because hackers assume that small businesses don’t have the security measures in place to stop attacks. The results of these attacks can be devastating, too.  In 2018, 41 percent of small businesses said they experienced a data breach that resulted in financial damages that exceeded $50k while 60 percent of small businesses closed within six months of a cyber attack due to a loss of data, revenue, and client trust. To help you protect your Raleigh business and consider how you look at network security, we are sharing the most common network vulnerabilities that put you at risk for a cyber-attack.

What Is A Network Vulnerability

In information security, a network vulnerability is a weakness that can be exploited by a threatening actor, such as an attacker, to gain unauthorized access to information or resources.

In order to understand network vulnerabilities, it is important to first understand what networks are and how they operate. Networks can be broadly defined as systems of interconnected computers and devices that can share data and resources. The most common type of network is the Internet, which is a global network of computers and devices that allows for the exchange of information between users.

How do Network Security Vulnerabilities Occur?

Network vulnerabilities can occur for a variety of reasons. One common reason is when there are flaws in the design of the network itself. Another reason is when there are flaws in the way that the network is configured or implemented. Finally, vulnerabilities can also occur due to weaknesses in the security controls that are in place to protect the network.

What Are Some Of The Most Common Vulnerabilities That Exist In A Network Or System

There are several types of network vulnerabilities, but some of the most common include:

Unsecure protocols: Protocols are the rules that govern how computers communicate with each other on a network. Some protocols are more secure than others, and unsecured protocols can leave networks vulnerable to attack.

Poorly configured firewalls: Firewalls are used to protect networks from unauthorized access. If they are not properly configured, they can leave networks vulnerable to attack.

Weak passwords: Passwords are used to authenticate users and restrict access to sensitive information. If passwords are weak or easily guessed, they can provide attackers with easy access to networks and data.

Understanding Malware and Its Effects

Malware, or malicious software, is a catch-all term for software or a program designed to damage or harm a computer network. Whether it’s designed to steal your data, spy on your activities, or shut down your systems, once malware enters your network, it can cause serious issues for your business.

There are several types of malware, including:

  • Spyware – Malware that spies on user activity, stealing data, monitoring activity, and collecting keystrokes to access passwords.
  • Viruses – Capable of copying and spreading, these can steal information, steal money from accounts, shut down computers, and other harmful actions.
  • Ransomware – Malware that encrypts your files or locks down your system until you pay a ransom to the hacker to unlock it.
  • Bots – Software programs designed to perform specific functions.
  • Adware – Advertising-supported software that automatically causes pop-up ads. Often, adware is bundled with spyware on free software and free applications.

The network vulnerabilities we are outlining often lead to malware infecting your network, and often, businesses don’t realize they’ve been infected until it’s too late.

How We Identify Vulnerabilities In Networks

If you own or operate a business, it’s important to understand the importance of network security and how to protect your sensitive data. One way to ensure that your network is as secure as possible is to conduct penetration testing.

What is Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing, also known as pen testing or white-hat hacking, is the process of simulating a cyber attack on a computer system to check for vulnerabilities that could be exploited by malicious actors. Pen tests can be used to test the security of an entire network or individual systems, applications, or devices.

How Does Penetration Testing Help My Business?

There are many benefits of conducting penetration tests, including:

  • Helps you identify weaknesses in your system before attackers do.
  • Allows you to assess the effectiveness of your current security measures.
  • Helps you understand where your sensitive data is located and how it can be better protected.
  • Gives you peace of mind knowing that your system is as secure as it can be

Network Vulnerabilities That Affect Small Businesses

Let’s look at the individual factors that can make your network vulnerable to hacks and cyberattacks. 

Outdated or Unpatched Software Applications

While most operating systems and common applications like Salesforce, Microsoft Office 365, and Google G Suite are generally secure, the sheer volume of code to run them makes security vulnerabilities inevitable. These companies have developers on staff who are constantly looking for weak spots in their applications and OS and create patches to fix them. Once located it’s absolutely necessary to install those patches when they become available. Without these patches, a hacker can easily submit a command prompt that steals data or shuts down your system.

Additionally, running an operating system or software that is no longer supported by software developers means there won’t be patches or updates sent out to fix vulnerabilities. It’s important to always move to current versions and perform vulnerability scans (or have them done by a managed network security service) to reduce your risk.

Weak Passwords

If you’re using a weak or a default password on a web application or internal software program, you’re leaving yourself open to a data breach. Simple passwords like the default option, ‘password,’ or your business name are easy for malware programs to crack or for hackers to steal. Make sure you and your team are using stronger passwords.

Single Factor Authentication

Single-factor authentication refers to only using a single password to enter into software, an application, or a file. Even by fixing the weak password problem above, having only a single line of defense is still easy to breach. Instead, we recommend moving to a multi-factor authentication strategy to improve your security. By entering in a strong password, followed by a secondary method, such as a text message code, security question, or even a fingerprint scan, can make it nearly impossible for an unauthorized user to gain access. 

Poor Firewall Configuration

Your firewall monitors incoming and outgoing network traffic and allows you to set up rules for access that prevents unauthorized sources from entering your network, or from people on your network from accessing security threats. This is an essential part of your security, but it has to be used correctly in order to block threats.

It’s important to check your rule base – the set of rules that determine who and what are allowed through your firewall, and who is not – to make sure it’s not containing configuration errors, like classification problems, typos, or allowing more access than is necessary.

Mobile Device Vulnerabilities

Even if your in-office devices are well-protected behind firewalls and strong passwords, mobile devices, such as phones, tablets, and laptops, can leave you open to cyber-attack. Using Bluetooth or an unsecured wi-fi connection provides an open door to access cached passwords in your web browser, information in emails, and other classified information.

To protect your data on mobile devices, make sure you avoid using public wi-fi, avoid downloading apps that aren’t well-tested, and log out of accounts when you aren’t using them.

Lack of Data Backup

While it’s important to do everything possible to stop an attack before it happens, it’s also just as essential to your business that you have backup and disaster recovery in place. For example, even if you have strong passwords with two-factor authentication in place, mobile security protocols, and updated applications, if someone inadvertently downloads a file with ransomware attached and shuts down your whole system, your business is gone. By having an off-site backup done regularly, your data is safe and easily restored, preventing downtime and disaster.

Unsecure Email

Spam emails are a common vulnerability for a business and an incredibly effective way for a hacker to deliver malware as they are able to mimic and copy reliable sources. As soon as an employee opens the email, they are opening up your network to attack. Instead of risking your organization with every email, installing effective email and spam protection will ensure you and your team are only opening communication from trusted sources. 

Contact Us for Managed Network Security

If you are concerned that vulnerabilities in your network could lead to a data breach, but you’re not sure how to fix it, we can help. Strategic Systems – A Division of CEI offers affordable managed IT solutions, including network security and data backup, to protect your business and reduce your risk of a cyber-attack. To learn more about our services or to schedule a consultation, contact us by calling 919-781-8885 or filling out our online contact form below.