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Exploit Vulnerabilities Trends in 2020

Nievedha Karthikeyan's profile image

By: Nievedha Karthikeyan

August 6, 2020

An exploit is a software or code sequence that takes advantage of an error or a vulnerability, typically for malicious purposes. The exploit provides a backdoor access to the network or computer through the installation of malware.

An exploit, when identified, can be fixed with patches. Exploits that do not have existing patches are known as zero-day exploits.

Exploits are usually categorized into networks, software, and personnel. There are many exploits for each vulnerability in their respective categories, but the most common vulnerabilities with exploits that you are most likely to hear this year are as follows.

  • NETWORK: Man-In-The-Middle Attack (MITM)

  • SOFTWARE: Cross-site Scripting (XSS), SQL Injection

  • PERSONNEL: Phishing

As the name suggests, a MITM attack is when a cybercriminal is situated between two users or a user and an application. This gives the criminal the advantage of listening to conversations or impersonating one of the parties involved. In most cases, the MITM is used to obtain financial information from the targeted user. In 2020, because of the secluded work environment, websites are used frequently. Therefore, IP and ARP spoofing are the most recurrent approaches to attack. These attacks primarily modify IP or MAC addresses. Spoofing poses the risk of confidential data being leaked to the attacker’s site. As a final step, the attacker uses HTTPS spoofing or SSL hijacking to decrypt the data that has been leaked. At this stage, the authentication keys of the compromised site are verified during a TCP handshake or connection request.

Cross-Site Scripting is the injection of data into a licit web application that is vulnerable. More often than not, malicious data is injected through a web request. The data content can include an abundance of code segments. This exploit focuses on imitating a user using stolen session cookies. The exploit is separated into two categories: Stored and Reflected. Stored XSS is the most damaging because it is also known as the pPersistent attack. It is when the malicious code (usually Javascript) is permanently stored in the database. The exploit only needs the user to enter the affected website to be hacked, unlike reflected XSS, also known as the Non-Persistent attack. This is when malicious code is reflected off a web application where the user input is sent to the server as part of the request. A click of the link is all it takes to activate the code, which is then sent to the website and reflected off the user’s browser.

SQL injection is an exploit using unauthorized code to manipulate the SQL query. This risks the revelation of data that is not supposed to be returned and allows the modification of data. For starters, the entry point is manipulated with code that assesses for any response. If it indicates an SQL error, we move on to the next step. We can exploit this by changing T SQL statements where extra data is supplied from the features such as the table. We can also modify or delete the database schemas to ensure entry. Changing permissions for privilege escalation is also a typical way to run the exploit. The similarity between all these is that each method uses the injection of malicious code. There is more to SQL injection, and we have just scratched the surface. If interested, continue with Cybrary’s SQL Injection course.

Phishing uses one of the most used exploits: social engineering. In this mode, users are the focus. After all, we don’t say humans are the weakest link for nothing. Here, the attempt to steal data is through fraud by disguising oneself as a reliable person. The attacker masquerades as a known entity, such as the manager. This usually happens through an email where there is a sense of urgency, and there is a link that leads to a malicious site. If the attacker can obtain the user’s trust, they can easily provide the stimuli for further actions. The deceit is usually done through impersonation, where the user is given a story that seems trustworthy. Human error is one of the biggest problems for 2020, as remote work allows the employees to work outside the office where security can be compromised easily. Due to the lack of face-to-face communication, virtual communication has increased, allowing the scammers to lure the users. To understand the craft of this threat context, check out Cybrary’s online Phishing course, which is perfect for a beginner.

As seen above, there are two usual major exploit paths: Injection and Social Engineering. As new malware and vulnerabilities are found, the exploits become more advanced. With the addition of Artificial Intelligence and IoT in networks and applications, the threat surface increases dramatically. Automation gets easier, and malware can be easily distributed through this. Furthermore, malware created nowadays can avoid detection from many antivirus services. Each day, various attack methods and patches are being tested to ensure that we are on top of the recent threat factors.

Exploit kits are a newfound craze that has taken over the internet throughout 2020. This is evidence of how attackers are finding new ways to outsmart end-users. Criminals are getting more creative with various exploit innovations. The constant race to gain new insights from threat intelligence is still a need this year.

As of 2020, we all know the new normal would be a remote workforce. The attackers are much more active due to the presence of security compromises present in virtual workspaces. It is only a matter of time until we are faced with a challenge. We should be ready to face any new exploits that we might face in light of our current situation. As we have always done, we can only hope to find a patch for various exploits as soon as possible.

Security teams are forced to face off against emerging threats. Vulnerability management is in high demand at this time as these teams seek to create an enduring system that understands both external and internal threats.

Whether security professional or not, we all fall under the same category of end-users. It is time for us to be aware of the exploits and vulnerabilities that can affect our daily lives. To further understand the impacts of such exploits, continue this journey with Cybrary’s Offensive Penetration Testing Course, where there are specialized sections on Exploits and more.


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