Welcome back to our ten-part blog series on the OWASP Top Ten list of 2021, where we are taking a light look at the common threats in the digital space that organisations face. In the sixth instalment of the series, today’s focus is on Vulnerable and Outdated Components.

What are Vulnerable and Outdated Components?

If we imagine that the software, libraries, and other building blocks that make up your digital infrastructure are arranged into a chain, then vulnerable and outdated components are essentially weak links in that chain. They are software elements, libraries, or dependencies that are either outdated or have known security vulnerabilities. Just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, your digital infrastructure’s security is only as robust as its most vulnerable component. These weak links can be the entry point for attackers, exposing your systems to various security risks, including data breaches, system takeovers, and more.

Common Risks Associated with Vulnerable and Outdated Components

  1. Known Vulnerabilities:
    Using components with known vulnerabilities is just like leaving your door unlocked. If an attacker tries this “door”, they can quickly realise it is open.
  2. Outdated Software:
    Failing to regularly update software means missing out on critical security patches.
  3. Incompatible Dependencies:
    When dependencies are not properly managed, it can lead to conflicts and vulnerabilities.
  4. Lack of Vendor Support:
    Using software that no longer receives updates or support from vendors increases risk, often labelled as “End-of-Life” software. Think older operating systems such as Windows XP.
  5. Transitive Dependencies:
    Sometimes, vulnerabilities are not in the direct dependencies but in those one or two levels deeper, often overlooked.

Strategies to Manage Vulnerable and Outdated Components

To effectively tackle these risks, a multi-layered approach is necessary:

  1. Inventory Management:
    Keep a detailed inventory of all components in use, including their versions and update status. Tools like OWASP Dependency-Track can help in this process. Additionally, CyberWhite offer services which can help with patch management and threat scanning within your infrastructure.
  2. Regular Vulnerability Scanning:
    Use tools like OWASP Dependency-Check or commercial alternatives to regularly scan for known vulnerabilities in your components.
  3. Timely Updates and Patch Management:
    Develop a robust process for regularly updating and patching components. Automate this process where possible to reduce delays.
  4. Policy for Using Third-Party Components:
    Establish clear guidelines for selecting and using third-party components, ensuring they are from reputable sources and well-maintained.
    Regularly revisit these guidelines to ensure that previous choices are still from maintained resources.
  5. Continuous Monitoring and Testing:
    Implement continuous monitoring and testing for any anomalies or new vulnerabilities in the components used.
  6. Developer Education:
    Educate your development teams about the risks associated with the use of vulnerable components and best practices for secure coding.
  7. End-of-Life Planning:
    Have a plan for when components reach end-of-life. This should include strategies for replacing these components entirely, if necessary.
    It is a good idea to leave enough time to integrate the new tool into the business, as it may achieve the same functions but in different ways.

Closing Summary

We like to imagine that building your digital infrastructure is akin to building a castle. It’s all very well having a well-maintained VPN as your gates, a secure database as your keep and a seemingly impenetrable firewall for your walls. However, if those elements are not maintained properly then getting into your “castle” may be as simple as accessing a trapdoor in the walls.

Doing away with metaphors, it is crucial to understand that no software is ever 100% secure. However, by managing these components diligently, you can significantly reduce the risk and impact of cyber-attacks. It is important to remember that cybersecurity is not a one-time effort; it is a continuous journey towards a safer digital environment.

When conducting penetration tests against a client’s web application, the team at CyberWhite follow the OWASP framework closely. This allows us to check applications against the OWASP Top Ten list, including vulnerable and outdated components as explored in this blog post.