In March of last year, SolarWinds fell victim to a breach that went undetected for almost nine months. Because of this breach, approximately 18,000 businesses that used the Solarwinds platform were vulnerable to attackers. Once this vulnerability was discovered, many businesses became aware of the ways their third-party software could leave them open to outside attacks. To help you protect your business, let’s look at the third-party vulnerabilities that could exist in your tech stack – and how to protect yourself from them.
Identifying third-party vulnerabilities
- What are third-party vulnerabilities?
- How to identify third-party vulnerabilities
- Examples of third-party vulnerabilities
- Protecting against third-party vulnerabilities
Many third-party vendors, like those that host your ERP or IT management systems, need access to internal data and applications to perform their necessary functions. Because of this access, no matter how secure your own network is, if the third-party hasn’t taken the proper steps to secure their own application, your company is at risk for a breach. Since your company doesn’t have control over your vendor’s security, each third-party that you allow to access your critical data is a vulnerability.
Approximately 25 percent of businesses use over one hundred third-party vendors with many accessing their internal data. That means each of those businesses potentially has over one hundred third-party vulnerabilities that could be exploited.
Also read: Public Cloud Vulnerabilities Abound
Third-party vulnerabilities are pretty easy to spot. If you have a third-party application that needs access to sensitive data or other mission-critical applications, you have a third-party vulnerability. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it will lead to a breach, but you should take precautions to insulate that vulnerability instead of relying on the vendor to have the necessary security.
Standalone third-party applications, like graphic design software or word processing software, typically don’t need access to internal data. While these applications might collect things like billing information and email addresses that attackers could compromise, they aren’t accessing your network. Therefore, they do not count as third-party vulnerabilities.
Most-third party applications need access to other applications or internal data. Let’s look at a few that have the biggest implications.
Your enterprise resource planning (ERP) software is a huge system that connects to your financial and sales data, customer information, and HR platform. This means it gets access to your entire customer list, banking information and financial records, and sensitive information about your employees. If an attacker breached a vulnerability that your ERP system created, they would get a plethora of information that would be devastating to your company if it leaked.
IT management software
Your IT management software has access to all of the devices on your network, any installed software, and the network itself in order to scan them and perform necessary maintenance. If it gets breached, the attacker will be able to easily get into any part of your network and take or encrypt the data they want. They also may be able to hide their tracks, leaving your team unable to determine if the attacker is still in the network or what they accessed.
Electronic health records (EHR) software is a fairly niche category, used mostly by hospitals and medical practices, but it carries a lot of patient medical data that would be harmful if an attacker were able to breach it. The software also accesses billing records and financial data. HIPAA protects patient privacy, meaning that a leak could devastate a small clinic.
Even though third-party vulnerabilities are basically a given in the current tech landscape, there are precautions that your organization can take to protect against them. First, you should install patches for your third-party software as soon as they become available. Patches, unlike updates, are created to fix newly discovered vulnerabilities in the software to make them more secure.
Additionally, you need to implement least-privileged access procedures within your network or zero trust principles. While some applications need access to a lot of data, others will only need a few things. Ensure that your third-party applications only get access to what they need, rather than the entire network.
Implement cybersecurity tools that will automatically scan your applications and network at regular intervals to find any vulnerabilities and ensure that no breaches currently exist. You might also consider a cloud access security broker (CASB), which provides an extra layer of security between users and cloud applications. These tools will also prioritize any vulnerabilities or risks to help you determine what you should focus on first. Using these scans, you can fortify your network against potential attacks and keep your data safe.
Unfortunately, third-party vulnerabilities aren’t always treated as seriously as they should be, with many believing their vendors have security under control. Between regular patches, least-privileged access, and the right cybersecurity tools, you should be able to protect your data from breaches stemming from third-party vulnerabilities. Don’t leave it up to outside vendors to protect your data; take your business’s security into your own hands.