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Exploits. How They Work and What You Should Do

Exploits. How They Work and What You Should Do

Have you ever noticed how often developers patching and updating their software? Sometimes they release updates just in a couple of days after the initial software release. But why? And should we update our software every time or can we wait? With no doubt, we should.

Remember that every software has vulnerabilities, which cybercriminals can find and take advantage of, i.e. exploit them.

Exploits allow cybercriminals to gain access to your computer, steal some sensitive information, or install malware, so be aware of this method of attack.

What is an Exploit?

An exploit is a program or code that makes use of the vulnerability in an application or system. These vulnerabilities are hidden and cybercriminals always try to explore them before the vendors could find them. It’s interesting to note, that the exploit itself is not malicious. Exploit is just a starting point of threats and attacks. It’s a tool due to which a vulnerability can be leveraged for malicious activity by cybercriminals.

Cybercriminals can use exploits for different purposes, from malicious tricks to huge computer crimes involving big corporations and enterprises. Thanks to exploits they can block access to your computer, steal your sensitive information and get money out of you.

The fact is that not all vulnerabilities and exploits become known. Sometimes vulnerabilities are exploited for years and you do not know about it. But all this time cybercriminals could steal sensitive information from your system without any trace of it. Only when an exploit becomes known, a vulnerability will be fixed by a patch and users will be protected from this, if they update the software. But how can exploits occur? There are several ways:

  • A remote exploit does not need access to the vulnerable system, because it could attack from another machine.
  • A local exploit runs only when you have access to the system for getting root access.

Generally, exploits are created for damaging the main security basics such as confidentiality, integrity, and availability (CIA triad).

Let us explain how an exploit attack works. You are browsing the Internet and stop on the website with a malicious advertisement, which contains an exploit kit. Of course, you do not know it, because the advertisement looks fine. But this kit is scanning your computer for any weaknesses. If it finds one vulnerability in your system, the ad will use the exploit attack to access your computer through this security flaw. After that, it embeds the malware directly into your system. Now your computer and your information are not secure anymore.

Vulnerabilities and Exploits

These two are connected with each other, but not the same. A vulnerability is any weakness or flaw in a software system. But not all vulnerabilities can be exploited to deliver malware into a computer system. For example, if your other security system prevents outside interference, i.e., someone can do nothing with it. In other words, an exploit is what occurs when cybercriminals take an advantage of the vulnerability without your permission and even knowledge.

Types of Exploits

New exploits are discovered every day. Exploits are divided into known and unknown exploits, according to whether someone is patched the vulnerability.

  • Known exploits are the ones, which have been already explored and patched by developers. All known exploits you can find and try in the Exploit Database. It’s an archive of exploits and vulnerable software. This is a resource for penetration testers, and vulnerability researchers, where they can find the needed information thanks to an easy navigating system. You should not confuse it with the CVE list. The CVE (Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures) is the list of all known vulnerabilities and exposures. Exploit databases are used to test CVEs.

    After the vulnerability was publicly announced, software developers push out patches via security updates. It’s critical to update your system as soon as possible. There was a situation with WannaCry and NotPetya. Both attacks were made after Microsoft has already patched the vulnerability. These attacks were able to cause billions of dollars in damage.

  • Unknown exploits or Zero-Day exploits are created by cybercriminals as soon as they have found a vulnerability. They use this exploit to attack the victims on the same day as the vulnerability was discovered. When a Zero-Day attack happens, developers have no time to patch it. They need some time to update the software and meanwhile, all users are in danger.

What is an Exploit Kit?

Sometimes cybercriminals sell or rent exploit kits. This is a collection of exploits that is simple to use. Even users without much technical knowledge can use exploit kits and spread malware. That is why it’s a popular thing among cybercriminals on the dark web. Moreover, exploit kits could be customizable, so users can add new exploits there.

Previously, a lot of exploit kits focused on browser plug-ins like Adobe Flash, because you need to update it separately from the browser. Nowadays exploit kits are in decline. But despite this fact, some exploit kits are still a highly valued tool for cybercriminals.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

  1. Stay up-to-date. Every specialist will tell you that you need to update your software with every release. Otherwise, you could be a potential victim of cybercriminals. If your device allows automatic updates, turn the process. If not, just update your software as soon as you receive a notification about the update.
  2. Use software only from trusted providers. ou need to be sure that the application, browser extensions, and plug-ins are from reliable developers.
  3. Always back up your files. It will protect you from file-damaging malware. Just store the drive separately from your computer.
  4. Delete unnecessary. If you do not use some software, then delete it. Because if there is no vulnerable software, there is no opportunity to hack you.
  5. Monitor your system. Periodic monitoring of the system will let you detect suspicious behavior. It could be the first sign that someone tries to exploit your system with unknown vulnerabilities. Using third-party applications may prevent the exploitation of your system.

How Can Exploits Affect Your Business?

  1. Give level access to users who need only to do their job and nothing more. This simple security consideration will reduce the possibility of data breaches.
  2. Stay up-to-date with the latest news. For companies, it’s more crucial if someone steals sensitive data. It can lead to financial and reputation loss. Exploits need a security vulnerability to do damage to the system.
  3. Get rid of all old software (Abandonware). Cybercriminals actively seek systems with outdated software to exploit them. Remember, that you always should be up to date and do not use software that is past its expiration day. Get rid of them as soon as possible, otherwise, it could become a nightmare for your business.
  4. Security training for employees. Train your employees to not open attachments from suspicious and unknown senders and email addresses, do not download files from untrusted sources. Also, they need to be wary of phishing attacks.

Exploits and Databases

Databases also can be exploited as average software. It’s crucial to keep it updated and patched, as far as databases contain a lot of sensitive information and private data about your customers, employees, and business.

Some examples of what cybercriminals can do:

  • Delete and modify all available data;
  • Destroy data and even backups;
  • Use data to keeping track of business operations;
  • Elevate privileges with forgotten default accounts;
  • Attack other systems on the same network.

SQL injections are the most common threat among cybercriminals to exploit vulnerabilities in databases. That is why you always need to update your databases, install patches, and delete inactive accounts. Otherwise, you will be solely responsible for a data breach.

With DataSunrise Database Firewall you will have a database access control, real-time threat alerts, blocking of DDoS and brute force attempts, counterattack SQL injections, etc. Moreover, our solution can be easily integrated with third-party solutions such as SIEM systems.


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