Digital Bugaboo – How To Deal With Vulnerabilities

The “hack or get hacked” motto becomes popular among those IT experts who clearly understand how lucrative can be oftentimes the semi-legal or “gray” business of fixing the vulnerabilities of software products. If you have not been hacked yet, it means hackers do not consider your app or computer worth hacking. It is odd, but the fact is that an effective marketing enlarging popularity of software makes it more vulnerable for threats. The more software popular, the more it is attractive for attackers to exploit.

As gadgets become more numerous now, people load more and more personal data on the Internet every day. The consumer data is the very prey hackers are hunting upon actually. Yahoo lost about a billion of users’ accounts in 2016.

The trend becomes a norm leading to such methods of counteracting as the end-to-end encryption or fingerprint sensors for instance.  Nonetheless, it is hard for developers to confront cyberattackers because hackers apply all their efforts looking for errors and holes in software.

Being suffocated with deadlines, developers often have to devote insufficient attention to their software security issues. They simply have no time to test each open source component they use in coding for example. However, sometimes vulnerabilities are hidden inside the seemingly secure components in fact.  

Understanding the subject

As vulnerability is just an error in a software which can be exploited somehow, two camps of professionals use this bugaboo playing the game: the antivirus specs on the one hand and hackers on the other hand. It is impossible to stop developers from coding or changing codes as well as hackers from plotting.

However, being aware about the contemporary vulnerabilities and threats can make it harder for attackers to exploit software with malicious goals. Both legal and underground markets of knowledge about vulnerabilities allow developers to repair holes in software preventing a damage of a customer’s reputation.

The vulnerability subject is ample enough to be discovered with a detailed research having a volume that exceeds the present post’s scope. However, basic information about several frequent contemporary vulnerabilities is worth mentioning to make a wide audience less sensitive to a daunting prospect of being hacked.

• Backdoors in Open Source-based software

Incorporating Open Source components for better customization such as an administrator access for debugging, for example, many companies leave the so-called “backdoor” in a code. This is not an error or a mistake in itself being a deliberate function, which can potentially lead to a security vulnerability nevertheless. A debugging feature left enabled on default can result in a customer’s device compromised by a malicious application.

Using a backdoor, such an application can run as root enabling someone to spy messages or steal private photos. A suchlike backdoor was found, for example, in a publicly accessible source code of Mali graphic chips on the manufacturer’s website. Smartphones, tablets, IoT devices, and other smart appliances can be vulnerable to the illegal exploit of the code backdoors.

Preventing negative consequences of such a practice, the developers, customer protection organizations, and probably dedicated governmental authorities should provide a public audit of a source code of the Open Source projects for reviewing and improvements up to a de-certification in case of noncompliance.

• Zero-day vulnerability

Disgraceful activities such as a hidden intrusion into a network conducted before the moment those activities are discovered bear the title “zero-day attacks”. The name means that developers have zero time to detect a malware and defeat their software from the hacking activity. Using holes in a software code, the attackers usually try to keep them uncovered as long as possible to be able to plant viruses, Trojans, or other malware that makes a computer or a device vulnerable. Sometimes intruders remain undetected for months making networks compromised.

During January-February 2015, the zero-day attackers on Adobe Flash Player remained undetected for about two months redirecting users to malware sites. The principal privilege that zero-day attackers have is their awareness about the holes in code unknown to the software developers and legal users.

The countermeasures to be applied against the zero-day vulnerability include using profound antivirus programs with the process threat emulations capable of protecting computers or devices from both already known threats and the ones that have not been detected yet.

Besides, such a simple and prosy type of defense as a software updating can immunize software against future possible infections. Especially as many software vendors automatically install necessary patches against newly discovered vulnerabilities.

• Third Party access

There are numerous apps requiring user’s permissions to get access to other applications. Users often provide such permissions without hesitation and regret about it later. The problem lies in rather simple techniques of getting an unauthorized access to sensitive data by some third party. It is strongly recommended to check the access permissions content before clicking the “accept” button.

• Passwords and Cloud synchronization

Once cloud-based services and applications are gaining momentum rapidly, the leakage of personal data seems the main security concern while gadgets synchronizing data with clouds. Despite the convenience and popularity of the cloud-based solutions, it is not always necessary to keep constant data synchronization between a device and a cloud actually.

Password security and cloud synchronization

Potentially, there is always a chance your application can meet some harmful software synchronizing the same cloud. The fault destination server can be dangerous even if your device is covered with an advanced security solution. In order to diminish such vulnerability, users should apply totally dissimilar passwords for different applications. This can prevent cross-connection between different servers.

A unique password is concerned as one of the most reliable security tools keeping your applications and gadgets much less vulnerable for threats when it comes to the cloud synchronization issue.

Making the bugaboo defeatable

In general, creating reliable, secure and easy-maintainable code is always a big challenge for developers. They hardly ignore security assessments intentionally. Often, the reason of leaving security behind is a lack of a security culture or simply tight deadlines. Sometimes the well-known conventional wisdom is worth reminding making some home truths about security unexpectedly effective.

For example, it would not be redundant to make sure that a fresh version of Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is administered and applied correctly. Another obvious matter, which is often ignored, is that end-to-end encryption must be a standard to protect both customers and applications from wiretapping and data leakage.

Citing editor of ‘Code for Aotearoa’ Peter Jacobson that “…creating a quietly insecure application is like selling cigarettes and not mentioning lung cancer” Indeema is to encourage the app development workmates not to give up when face a certain malware and hackers evolution.

Observing the situation with software vulnerabilities, it sometimes seems that things are getting worse. The proliferating software developers propagate applications enlarging the field of activity for hackers.

The popularity of the Open Source solutions seemingly invokes using holes and errors of code making software solutions potentially vulnerable. However, the reason of keeping users’ confidence regarding their apps’ security lies in the very nature of the market economy we all are acting in.

The more efforts developers attempt making software reliable and safety, the more customers trust their products and, consequently, the more profitable business allows spending larger resources for improving the software security features.

Such a “non-vicious circle” resonates well with the advanced approaches that true professionals apply to software development. Tactically, the only task of customers comes down to selecting of the profound developers. However, that is the subject of a different discussion.

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