By Dr. Andre Slonopas  |  02/29/2024

cybersecurity vulnerabilities


In an age of constant digital growth, cybersecurity cannot be neglected. Cybersecurity safeguards systems, networks, and programs against cyberattacks.

Hackers conduct cyberattacks to access, modify, or delete protected data. They might also gain access to a company to extort money from users or disrupt corporate operations. As a result, protecting our cyber infrastructure is crucial as our society become more tech-dependent.

The digital era has created the perfect conditions for a multitude of cyber attacks. Companies must be vigilant in guarding their sensitive data against a broad scope of threats ranging from data breaches to malicious code.

Also, they must take cybersecurity measures to confront the growing list of problems plaguing our device-driven world. With omnipresent mobile devices and digital infrastructure, identifying vulnerabilities should be among the top priorities of every organization.


Employees and Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities

Humans cannot be overlooked when an organization considering cybersecurity risks. Employees, the backbone of every company, may represent a significant threat to cybersecurity if proper precautions are not taken.

Human errors like creating weak passwords and falling victim to phishing schemes may lead to security breaches with significant implications. Even without malicious intent, employees carry the potential to bring about catastrophic events by putting confidential data at risk.

For instance, an unsuspecting employee might click on a link and, in doing so, accidentally give a malicious actor access to an information system. Ultimately, that data breach can be time-consuming and expensive for security teams to fix.

Other simple errors, like utilizing obsolete or unpatched software, similarly expose business operations to cyberattacks. Employees who are not trained in identifying vulnerabilities might even accidentally run code that breaches security.

Organizations would be wise to provide employee cyber threat awareness and response training. Mitigating security vulnerabilities requires ongoing effort from employees at every level of an organization.

Case studies reveal human error often is a contributing factor to data breaches, which should come as no surprise to people familiar with cybersecurity threats. Hackers need little more than one misstep to gain unauthorized access to systems and steal sensitive data.

It may only take a single employee clicking on a phishing email for an organization’s entire system to be compromised by a remote code execution vulnerability. Alternatively, an employee using a mobile device with outdated software might inadvertently expose the entire network to malicious actors.

Fortunately, companies can conduct continuous vulnerability assessments and penetration testing to promptly identify and manage vulnerabilities. The cybersecurity world is not just about technology; it's equally about the people who use and work with it.


Protecting Sensitive Data from Employee Mistakes

In today’s digital era, proprietary data is the lifeblood of businesses. As a result, data security must be a top concern among organizations, and everyone needs to understand known vulnerabilities such as software vulnerabilities and network vulnerabilities.

However, people who are unfamiliar with data security may not immediately see its connection to employees’ behavior. Nonetheless, staff mistakes may have serious consequences, including data leaks.

Creating weak passwords, for instance, allows cyber criminals to easily enter an organization's systems, especially if the organization does not require staff to use multi-factor authentication. In most cases, it is not a matter of if, but of when a popular or easy-to-guess password may be hacked.

Insufficient access control also exposes systems to harm from attackers. As a result, initial data may be compromised.

Phishing emails are another significant data security threat. These deceptive emails target workers, often with falsified sender names and misleading subject lines.

Phishing emails may prompt workers to disclose private information, click malicious links or even download dangerous programs. Cyberattackers may deploy phishing campaigns to gain access to an entire company network, so every employee must be taught to spot these threats and relay them to security personnel.

Employees who lack a thorough understanding of cyber security issues also make their employers vulnerable to remote code injection attacks. One seemingly inconsequential mistake, like opening an unexpected email attachment or visiting an insecure website, might compromise an entire company's proprietary data. These unwitting acts of ignorance make it possible for cyberattackers to execute malicious code.

Furthermore, employee ignorance may leave a company vulnerable to a whole host of other cyber threats, including Structured Query Language (SQL) exploitation and buffer overflow vulnerability. SQL injection attacks utilize malicious SQL code to modify a backend database via a susceptible application.

Buffer overflow, on the other hand, is what occurs when software on any operating system writes more data to a buffer than it can contain. Both of these security vulnerabilities may be caused by legitimate user input mistakes, but there is a potential risk of attackers gaining more access to valuable data in either case.

Cyber security staff need the proper tools and techniques to address ongoing security issues. Conducting frequent vulnerability scans and assessments is one way to mitigate security concerns.

Taking additional steps, like upgrading antivirus software and taking steps to fix unpatched software, helps to defend against threat actors as well. Endpoint detection, the use of a vulnerability management tool, and digital traffic monitoring are also important for recognizing unexpected patterns that may suggest vulnerabilities in the organization's cybersecurity posture.

Finally, security vulnerability specialists must teach workers about operating systems, network traffic, and IT infrastructure risks. This training should stress technical factors and the risks of unwitting behaviors that may increase cybersecurity vulnerabilities and permit unauthorized access by attackers.

For example, employee training should cover core cybersecurity topics, such as software defects and the different types of vulnerabilities, including zero-day vulnerabilities. Equipping workers with this information further protects against data theft and network access attempts.


Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities Management through Higher Ed

Organizations must ensure that their staff is well-educated in cybersecurity in order to best mitigate security risks. Ultimately, a staff that’s well-trained in the basics of cybersecurity will be prepared to respond to potential threats in a timely manner and prevent an attacker from having the opportunity to steal data.

Quality cybersecurity education incorporates both theory and practice. Training employees in vulnerability management tools and assessments and conducting regular penetration testing is also key for securing IT infrastructure.

Similarly, employees must be taught how to use antivirus software. This training will minimize security vulnerabilities across an organization’s whole network, including mobile devices and other endpoints.


Ongoing Education Is a Necessity for All Organizations

Cyber security and hostile actor strategies are proliferating day by day, so ongoing education is essential for reducing security vulnerabilities. Security professionals must stay abreast of all the latest cybersecurity threats in order to carry out their professional duties.

I cannot emphasize enough how important cybersecurity education is for reducing risks. Well-informed employees simply make fewer errors; they understand common vulnerabilities linked to data exposure, an operating system, and other security issues.

Cybersecurity education makes a company’s workforce the first line of defense against cyber threats. Workers who might have been security vulnerabilities themselves can instead apply their strengths and knowledge to protect the organization from attackers.


The Role of Education in Cybersecurity Vulnerability Management

Educational institutions can contribute greatly to employers’ training efforts by incorporating vulnerability management into cybersecurity courses. Discussing human vulnerabilities and relevant security tools in today’s classrooms will help prepare tomorrow's security experts to defend against cyber threats.

With a proper education, employees can each do their part to reduce the human aspect of cyber security vulnerability. Higher education curricula must, therefore, cover everything from computer system and application vulnerabilities to network traffic and endpoint detection. Presentations should also stress deploying security measures quickly to prevent zero-day attacks and other cyber dangers.

Organizations have already begun integrating education into their cybersecurity vulnerability management, and those efforts have been successful so far. Several notable case studies demonstrate how an employees applied their cybersecurity knowledge to prevent significant data compromises.

American Public University's School of Security and Global Studies currently offers two online courses that each offer a deep dive into cybersecurity vulnerabilities and vulnerability management: ISSC452 (Cybersecurity) and ISSC481 (IT Security: Planning and Policy). In these courses, students learn how to mitigate cybersecurity risks and take security measures to help prevent cyberattacks.

These courses are a part of our online bachelor of science in cybersecurity at APU. For more information, visit our website.


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About the Author
Dr. Andre Slonopas
Dr. Andre Slonopas is an Assistant Department Chair in the Department of Strategic Intelligence. From the University of Virginia, he holds a B.S. in aerospace engineering, a M.S. in mechanical and aerospace engineering, and a Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. He also holds a plethora of relevant certifications, including Certified Information Security Manager (CISM®), Certified Information System Security Professional (CISSP®), Certified Information Security Auditor (CISA) and Project Management Professional (PMP®).

CISM is a registered trademark of Information Systems Audit and Control Association, Inc.
CISSP is a registered trademark of International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, Inc.
PMP is a registered trademark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

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