Cyber Insurance Blog

Why Are Unpatched Vulnerabilities a Serious Business Risk?

Why Are Unpatched Vulnerabilities a Serious Business Risk?

Unpatched vulnerabilities pose significant security threats to modern organizations, increasing susceptibility to data theft, financial losses, and reputational damage. According to a 2019 survey from the Ponemon Institute, 60% of breach victims said they were compromised due to known vulnerabilities they didn’t patch. A 2021 industry report also identified unpatched security vulnerabilities as a primary ransomware attack vector, with 56% of older vulnerabilities still actively exploited by threat actors. These statistics highlight the importance of implementing proactive risk management strategies for organizations, including timely updates and software patches.

Cyber security brokers can help clients mitigate these risks through education, policy development, and risk management. This guide dives into unpatched vulnerability risks, real-life examples, and solutions for risk mitigation.

Understanding Unpatched Vulnerabilities and Their Risks

Unpatched vulnerabilities refer to security flaws or weaknesses in software, hardware, or systems that have not yet been addressed through an update or patch. Threat actors can exploit these vulnerabilities to steal data and gain unauthorized access to a network. Software vendors typically release updates or patches to mitigate risks once vulnerabilities are identified. Unfortunately, organizations that fail to implement timely patches and updates leave their systems vulnerable to exploitation by cyber criminals.

Unpatched system vulnerabilities pose the following risks for businesses:

Hooded hacker attempts to exploit a company's unpatched vulnerabilities.

  • Data Breaches: Unpatched security vulnerabilities give attackers an entry point to gain unauthorized access to the company’s sensitive data.
  • System Downtime: Outdated software and systems are more prone to performance issues, crashes, and instabilities, resulting in business interruptions and unexpected downtime.
  • Ransomware Attacks: Ransomware groups exploit unpatched system vulnerabilities to encrypt important files and demand payment for the decryption key.
  • Compliance Violations: Organizations subject to regulatory requirements must maintain a certain level of security. Failure to patch systems can result in compliance violations, leading to hefty fines and penalties.
  • Malware Infections: Threat actors can exploit unpatched software vulnerabilities to infect systems with malware, leading to system disruptions.
  • Reputational Damage: Successful cyber attacks due to unpatched vulnerabilities can damage a business’s reputation, erode customer trust, and lead to costly legal liabilities.

Idle or unused software poses the same security risks, as it may contain vulnerabilities that cyber criminals can exploit. This is particularly true for legacy systems, which may no longer receive updates from the software vendor. To reduce attack vectors, organizations should regularly review their software inventory, remove idle software, and implement timely updates and patches.

Real-World Repercussions of Exploited Unpatched Vulnerabilities

Company employee reports a data breach that occurred due to unpatched software vulnerabilities. There have been several high-profile cyber attacks caused by unpatched vulnerabilities in recent years. The Equifax data breach of 2017 is a prime example, compromising the personal information of approximately 148 million people. Attackers managed to steal sensitive data from the credit reporting agency by exploiting a vulnerability within the company’s system. Equifax failed to patch its systems months after a fix was released for this vulnerability, resulting in successful exploitation.

As organizations fail to patch their systems, old security vulnerabilities remain a common exploit for threat actors. Well-known examples are the collective vulnerabilities found in Microsoft’s Exchange servers: ProxyLogon, ProxyShell, and the most recent ProxyNotShell, which was discovered in 2022. Cyber criminals consistently exploit these vulnerabilities to access Exchange server email accounts, steal confidential data, and enable remote code execution. In the first quarter of 2023, more than 60,000 Microsoft Exchange servers have gone unpatched against these vulnerabilities.

Organizations also face significant risks when they continue to use old software and applications, as illustrated in the case of Internet Explorer. While Microsoft has discontinued support for the browser, some organizations still use it or have legacy applications tied to it. In 2021, a security vulnerability was discovered in Internet Explorer, allowing attackers to execute arbitrary code in a user’s system and steal confidential data by tricking them into opening a specially crafted file. This vulnerability also affects Edge, Microsoft’s new browser.

Help Your Clients Manage Cyber Risks with ProWriters

 Information technology specialists devise a plan to keep the company data network secure. Unpatched vulnerabilities and outdated systems remain significant threats to modern businesses in today’s threat landscape. Brokers help clients mitigate these risks by educating them, providing expert guidance, and helping them find the right cyber policy. ProWriters can help you get there.

At ProWriters, we equip brokers with cutting-edge technologies and useful resources to help them become the experts their clients need. Our Cyber IQ Comparative Rate Platform allows you to generate multiple quotes from top carriers in minutes. Additionally, we offer expert underwriting services to help your partner businesses evaluate their unique risks and exposures. Reach out today to learn how we can elevate your broker services!

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