An investigation conducted in early 2016 by cyber security company F-Secure discovered thousands of severe weaknesses in corporate networks that attackers can use to infiltrate companies. The investigation used F-Secure Radar, a vulnerability scanning and management solution, to uncover tens of thousands of instances of misconfigured systems, unpatched software and other weaknesses, confirming to security experts that many companies don’t have enough visibility over their networks.
The investigation found that, out of nearly 85,000 instances of the 100 most common vulnerabilities identified in corporate networks, approximately seven percent of them have high severity ratings according to standards used by the National Vulnerability Database*. Nearly half of these highly severe weaknesses were exploitable and could be used by attackers to gain control over compromised machines via remote code execution. And nearly all of these exploitable weaknesses are easy to fix with the right software patches or simple administrative changes.
“It’s bad news for a company if an attacker finds one of these highly severe vulnerabilities,” said Jarno Niemelä, lead researcher, F-Secure Labs. “The fact that we found thousands of issues this severe suggests some serious security shortfalls amongst companies. Either they’re not implementing patch management programs, or they’re forgetting to include parts of their network in their maintenance practices. But no matter what the underlying cause is, it’s lots of opportunities for attackers, and lots of breaches waiting to happen.”
This finding reinforces previous warnings regarding the importance of implementing simple security measures. According to the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, following a few easy steps, such as patching vulnerable software can prevent up to 85 per cent of targeted cyber-attacks**.
Every vulnerability is like a “Kick me” sign
While the investigation found thousands of highly severe weak points, the findings pointed to misconfigured systems as being far more common. The 10 most frequent vulnerabilities found were low or medium severity issues, but accounted for 61 per cent of all weaknesses discovered in the investigation. While these issues lack the severity of high-risk vulnerabilities, they encourage hackers to investigate further and look for additional weak spots.
“These issues aren’t particularly pressing if you think about them intrinsically, but hackers see non-critical issues as the cyber security equivalent of a ‘kick me’ sign,” said Andy Patel, senior manager, F-Secure technology outreach. “There’s lots of ways to stumble across these vulnerabilities just by casually browsing the web. Even hackers uninterested in doing anything bad could be tempted to pull at the thread and see what unravels. Companies that are lucky could get a helpful email informing them of the problem, but the unlucky ones are going to have professional criminals conducting reconnaissance in preparation for targeted attacks.”