Did you know that 80% of breaches could have been prevented if businesses had kept their installed software up-to-date?

A security vulnerability means any weak area of your system that attackers can exploit. There are many types of vulnerabilities:

  • errors in codes,
  • system misconfiguration,
  • weak passwords,
  • lack of input validation,
  • expired SSL/TLS certificate,
  • use of outdated or weak encryption algorithms, or
  • bugs in hardware.

One common security vulnerability is outdated third-party software. After a vulnerability is found or disclosed, the software publisher is expected to fix the issue and publish an updated version of the software. It’s vital to install the updated version as quickly as possible – if you don’t and keep working with the old version, you have an outdated software vulnerability.

When we talk about outdated software vulnerabilities, we are talking about third-party software. With third-party software, you don’t have to fix the error in the software yourself; you’re just responsible for installing the updated version once it is published. These vulnerabilities can affect any type of software, including operating systems, web application servers, CMS, APIs, web browsers, etc. In short, for any third-party software you use, you must keep an eye on the latest versions and keep it updated.

You might be wondering why a third-party application suffering from a security bug makes YOUR system vulnerable. So, let’s examine the security risks of using outdated software.

Outdated Software Security Risks

Hackers are always in search of devices using outdated software. There are even platforms like MITRE and NIST that keep lists of software, their versions, and the vulnerabilities they suffer from (Known as Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures or CVEs).

Con artists use automated scanners that can scan millions of devices, websites, and servers using outdated operating systems, themes, applications, or any other third-party software. They find the scope of the vulnerability, use the unpatched third-party software as the entry point, and attack accordingly.

Check out this example to get an idea of outdated software security risks.

  • A hacker saw this vulnerability on mitre.org. It shows that a WordPress plugin named The Sign-up Sheets‘ version before 1.0.14 doesn’t sanitize or validate the sheet title when generating the CSV for exporting, enabling hackers to deploy CSV injection attacks.
securtiy risks of outdated software

A screenshot from cve.mitre.org showing a vulnerability in The Sign-up Sheets WordPress plugin.

  • Let’s assume the developers at The Sign-up Sheets plugin have already resolved this issue and published a patched version 1.0.15.
  • Now, a hacker gets a list of thousands or even millions of domain names. They create an automated web crawler that visits each website and performs the following steps on each one:
    • Check if the website uses WordPress. If so:
    • Check if the website uses The Sign-up Sheets If so:
    • Check if it is version 1.0.14 or earlier. If so:
    • Execute predefined code snippet in the contact form title.
    • Now, as soon as the targeted website owner exports the contact form data into a CSV file and opens it on their device, the malicious code will be executed automatically, working as per the commands.
    • Save the list of the code injected websites into the hacker’s database for future attacks. Some hackers sell the databases of vulnerable websites on the darknet.
Although all vulnerabilities have different risks, these are some of the common ways an attacker can exploit outdated software vulnerabilities:

  • Deploy attacks like SQL injections, cross-site scripting (XSS), Cross-site request forgery (CSRF), man-in-the-browser attack, man-in-the-middle attack, etc.
  • Access your device remotely
  • Use the device for a botnet
  • Install spyware and keyloggers
  • Intercept the database
  • Encrypt important data for a ransomware attack
  • Steal confidential data
  • Intercept credentials
  • Make financial transactions on your behalf
  • Insert malicious codes into your website

How to Update Your Software

Fortunately, lots of software updates automatically. Hosting companies may also install some updates for you. But for other software, you need to install the update manually.

If you ignore an update for a long time, the software might crash or stop working until you update it. Most software shows reminders so frequently that you might update the software just to get rid of the annoying dialogue box – that’s the idea.

Because various platforms have different ways to install updates, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Here are some quick platform-specific links on how to update software:

For businesses, there are tools available to scan your entire website, databases, and endpoints 24/7 and automatically update everything as soon as new versions are available. Even some vulnerability scanners have auto-patch features which apply security patches for certain types of software.

For WordPress sites, there are plugins available to perform automatic installation of updates for WordPress software, plugins, and themes. Some of the best-known plugins are Easy Updates Manager and WP Auto Updater.

Caution: Please make sure you make a backup of your data before updating any major software. An update could make undesirable changes to your website, or data could be lost. It’s good practice to use an automatic backup tool like CodeGuard that takes daily backups, saves them on a third-party cloud platform, and gives you a one-click restore facility.

Final Words on Outdated Software Vulnerability

People often think updates are just for tweaking appearance or features and forget about the security part: an updated piece of software has bugs and errors patched, and vulnerabilities removed. If you don’t update your software, you give hackers one of the easiest ways to attack your website, network, and devices.

Hackers don’t need to put a lot of research into finding vulnerabilities – they’re already aware of the loopholes in outdated versions of software. So, it’s essential to install updates as soon as possible to mitigate the risks of cyberattacks.

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