Managing the Growth of Software Vulnerabilities

by Maja Cizmic
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No matter how effective and well-designed a piece of software might be, it’s doubtful that it’s technically perfect. Virtually every piece of software has flaws, and the larger and more complex the software, the more flaws it’s likely to have.

Flaws refer to bugs or errors, meaning instances in which a piece of software behaves in ways unintended by its creator or users – often with the software resulting in unexpected or incorrect results that can be highly detrimental to the user experience.

Software flaws are irritating. However, software vulnerabilities are considerably worse. The difference between a software flaw and a software vulnerability is the difference between having creaky stairs in your home and a front door that doesn’t lock correctly.

Two women sitting in front of PCBoth may result from design failures, but only one poses the risk of letting unwanted people into your home. In the case of software vulnerabilities, this means a software error that malicious actors can exploit in some way. Whether that’s accessing systems, stealing files, modifying data, or installing and running malware.

Without tools like WAF, the results of a software vulnerability can be highly damaging for victims of an attack.

What is WAF? Short for Web Application Firewall, it’s one of the first lines of defense when it comes to protecting organizations that offer services or products online. It can help to protect sensitive data, whether that’s payment card information, proprietary data, customer records, and more.

Attacks Are on the Rise

While cyber security awareness is more significant than ever (unfortunately, probably due to the number of high-profile attacks and data leaks in recent years), so too is the number of software vulnerabilities on the rise.

According to one recent report, in 2021, the number of software vulnerabilities increased by approximately 20 percent compared to 2020 – with the HackerOne bug bounty platform uncovering more than 66,000 valid vulnerabilities over the year.

two girls working on pcThis opened up fresh – and alarming – opportunities for bad actor hackers to strike. Coming at a time when the world relies more than ever on online services, this is highly concerning.

The good news about vulnerabilities is that they don’t necessarily hang around for long. To return to the home analogy, if you were to hear that burglars were targeting your area. In particular, houses with easily forceable ground floor windows, in that case, you’d probably make sure that you adequately secured your windows.

The same happens with software vulnerabilities. When developers are alerted to a vulnerability in their software, the overwhelming majority will quickly remedy it and issue a patch update to protect users of the software in question.

The Patching Problem

The problem is that users must download and install the patch to be protected. That might not sound like hard work, but when you’re reliant on multiple pieces of software, it is highly time-consuming and, if you’re paying IT staff and potentially suffering downtime during updates, also expensive.

man using laptopIT staff must identify applicable patches, test them, deploy them, and test again. That’s on top of the myriad other tasks they have to carry out. If they’re not cyber security experts, they may not necessarily be aware of the latest threats posed by specific vulnerabilities – and therefore struggle to prioritize.

This manual vulnerability management becomes unsustainable as infrastructure grows more complex and vulnerability counts rise.

However, if organizations are not keeping up to date in this area, they are putting themselves – and, by extension, their employees and customers at considerable risk.

group of hackersBecause many cyber attackers know that organizations struggle to keep on top of the patching backlog, they will continue to exploit patched vulnerabilities through malware. Confident in the fact that a large proportion of would-be targets will not be adequately protected.

Managing the Risk With the Right Tools

What’s needed is a more thoughtful way to manage and mitigate software vulnerabilities. Thankfully, the right tools exist to help. WAF/WAAP (Web Application Firewall/Web Application & API Protection) can virtually patch vulnerable software, enabling remediation at scale.

Virtual patching functions not as a traditional patch but rather as a series of rules designed to block lousy behavior that seeks to inflict damage. It can be an excellent defense to the problem of unpatched vulnerabilities. Furthermore, safeguarding users even in cases where no patch has yet been released, let alone installed.

The threat of software vulnerabilities is highly unlikely to go away any time soon. But by seeking out cyber security experts equipped with the right tools to help, businesses and other organizations can stave off the threat of attacks.

It’s an investment that makes absolute sense for anyone who’s at risk of a cyber-attack. Which, unfortunately, is likely to be everyone reading this.

Make this a priority for the year to come, and everyone will thank you for it.

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