Security Vulnerabilities vs. Security Threats: What’s the Difference?
September 16, 2019

Threats and vulnerabilities represent some of the cyber risks that organizations face daily.  While these terms are often used interchangeably, they actually have distinct meanings. In order to have a strong understanding on the types of security issues that can affect your organization, learning how threats and vulnerabilities relate to one another is crucial.

Source: EY Global

The Relationship Between Vulnerabilities and threats

Vulnerabilities and threats are both used to determine an organization’s cyber risk. The close relationship between the two is why these terms are often used interchangeably.

To show the relationship between a threat and a vulnerability, take a phishing attack as an example. Hackers target organizations with phishing emails because they know that employees are often an organization’s weakest link and most common vulnerability. Hackers exploit this vulnerability by sending phishing emails to employee inboxes, making the phishing email a threat. Whether the phishing email actually inflicts damage to the organization depends on whether employees click on the email links. If employees are cyber aware and have undergone cybersecurity training, they most likely won’t fall victim to the attack. On the flipside, an employee who may not be paying close attention to the email or is unaware of phishing as a cyber threat is more likely to click on the link (accidentally or not).

What is a Vulnerability?

Vulnerabilities refer to security weaknesses that can be taken advantage of by threat actors. They can exist anywhere in your infrastructure, from your desktop computers to the applications you use and even your employees. Vulnerabilities aren’t inherently dangerous per se but can cause a lot of damage if they are exploited.  The risk of a vulnerability depends on where the vulnerability is and the potential impact on a business.

How to Minimize Vulnerabilities

To minimize vulnerabilities, organizations need to close the security gaps that exist in their infrastructure. Here are three ways organizations can minimize their vulnerabilities:

Patch regularly: Developers and manufacturers are always updating their products which is why it’s important to install security patches as soon as they’re available. The longer you wait to patch a vulnerability, the more time hackers have to exploit the vulnerability and enter your network.

Conduct an assessment: A vulnerability risk assessment is used to help organizations understand the risks in their infrastructure and identify any vulnerabilities. An assessment will help organizations catch security gaps before they can be exploited and provide actionable suggestions to help improve overall security.

Use a VPN: Many organizations allow employees to work remotely and connect to the corporate network with their own devices. However, remote working can leave organizations vulnerable to being hacked if an employee is using an unsecure network. To safely connect employees to the corporate network, it’s vital they use a VPN. VPNs help encrypt traffic and creates a private connection to the network. 

What is a threat?

Threats refer to events that have the potential to harm an organization. There are several different types of threats, such as malware, ransomware, trojans, etc. Threats are actioned by threat actors who try to leverage vulnerabilities to gain access to a system. These threat actors can be external parties like hackers or insider threats who already have access to your internal systems.

How to Defend Against Threats

Threats are harder to stop because they’re out of your control and hackers never stop trying to steal data. In order to protect yourself from the latest threats, you need to minimize opportunities for hackers to exploit vulnerabilities. Here are three ways to defend against threats:

Use secure solutions: Implementing advanced security solutions throughout every part of your infrastructure will ensure you are protecting every entry point. Protecting your perimeter with a firewall will help keep actors out while using a SIEM will help detect suspicious behaviour that can indicate a threat. To learn more about our security solutions, contact us today.

Protect Account Credentials: Your organization’s credentials are the keys to your network and data. Having a good password policy that also includes multi-factor authentication will help secure your accounts. Encourage employees to never reuse passwords across workplace accounts and ensure that all passwords require unique characters and symbols.

Backup data: Your organization’s data is the primary target for hackers which is why it’s important to protect it. Furthermore, events like hurricanes, fires or floods can also threaten your data. Backing up your data regularly will ensure that you always have a copy in the event you are unable to access your files. It will also ensure that the latest documents are saved.

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