Professional VPN vulnerabilities in the spotlight


Virtual private network (VPN) services have become essential tools for modern businesses in recent years, doubly so since. help save the day for many of them amid the jumble fueled by the pandemic rush to remote work in 2020. By creating an encrypted tunnel for corporate data flowing between company networks and employee devices, VPNs help secure sensitive information without compromising employee productivity or crippling critical business operations. As many organizations have since settled in a hybrid working model that blend in-office and on-the-go work, remote access VPNs have remained a staple in their network connectivity and security toolkits.

On the other hand, VPNs are also under increasing scrutiny due to an increase in security vulnerabilities and exploits that sometimes even target them. before patch deployment. Given that VPNs potentially represent the keys to the corporate kingdom, their appeal to both state actors and cybercriminals is undeniable. Adversaries are devoting significant resources to finding weak spots in enterprise software stacks, putting additional pressure on organizations and underscoring the importance of strong risk mitigation practices.

At a time when the massive exploitation of security vulnerabilitieslarge scale supply chain attacksand other breaches of enterprise defenses are becoming more common, concerns are growing not only about the ability of VPNs to protect enterprise data from malicious actors, but also that this software itself constitutes another source of cyber risk.

This begs the question: could business VPNs be a liability that increases your organization’s capacity? attack surface?

The keys to the kingdom

A VPN routes user traffic through an encrypted tunnel that protects data from prying eyes. The main purpose of a professional VPN is to create a private connection over a public network or the Internet. In doing so, it allows geographically dispersed staff to access internal networks as if they were sitting at their desk, essentially integrating their devices into the corporate network.

But just as a tunnel can collapse or leak, a vulnerable VPN appliance can also face all sorts of threats. Outdated software is often the reason why many organizations fall victim to an attack. Exploiting a VPN vulnerability can allow hackers to steal credentials, hijack encrypted traffic sessions, execute arbitrary code remotely, and give them access to sensitive company data . This VPN Vulnerabilities Report 2023 provides a practical overview of VPN vulnerabilities reported in recent years.

Indeed, like any other software, VPNs require maintenance and security updates to correct vulnerabilities. Businesses, however, seem to have difficulty keeping up with VPN updates, particularly because VPNs often have no scheduled downtime and are expected to be up and running at all times.

Ransomware groups are often known target vulnerable VPN servers, and by accessing it at least once, they can move around a network to do whatever they want, such as encrypting and holding data for ransom, exfiltrating it, conducting espionage, etc. In other words, successful exploitation of a vulnerability opens the door to additional malicious access, potentially leading to widespread compromise of the enterprise network.

Uplifting stories abound

Recently, Global Affairs Canada began a data breach investigation caused by a compromise of its VPN solution of choice, which had been going on for at least a month. The hackers allegedly gained access to an undisclosed number of employees’ emails and various servers their laptops were connected to starting December 20.th2023, until January 24th2024. Needless to say, data breaches carry immense costs – $4.45 million on average, according to the IBM study. Cost of a Data Breach 2023 report.

In another example, in 2021, threat actors aligned with Russia targeted five vulnerabilities in enterprise VPN infrastructure products, necessitating a public warning from the NSA urging organizations to apply patches as soon as possible or risk hacking and espionage.

Another concern is design flaws that are not limited to a given VPN service. For example, TunnelCrack Vulnerabilitiesrecently discovered by researchers and affecting many enterprise and consumer VPNs, could allow attackers to trick their victims into sending their traffic outside the protected VPN tunnel, by spying on their data transmissions.

Critical security updates are necessary to close these types of security vulnerabilities, so it is essential to keep them under control. The same goes for employee awareness, as another traditional threat involves bad actors using deceptive websites to trick employees into giving away their VPN login credentials. A scammer can also steal an employee’s phone or laptop to infiltrate internal networks and compromise and/or exfiltrate data, or discreetly spy on company activities.

Secure data

A business should not rely solely on its VPN to protect its employees and internal information. A VPN does not replace traditional endpoint protection or other authentication methods.

Consider deploying a solution that can help you vulnerability assessment and fixes as the importance of staying on top of security updates released by software manufacturers, including VPN providers, cannot be emphasized enough. In other words, regular maintenance and security updates are one of the best ways to minimize the chances of a successful cyber incident.

It’s important to take extra steps to protect your VPN of choice from compromise. The United States Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the National Security Agency (NSA) have a practical brochure which describes various precautions that do just that. This includes reducing the attack surface, using strong encryption to scramble sensitive company data, robust authentication (such as an additional second factor in the form of a one-time passcode), and monitoring of VPN usage. Use an industry-standard VPN from a reputable provider with a proven track record of following cybersecurity best practices.

No VPN software guarantees perfect protection and a company would be ill-advised to rely solely on it for access management. Organizations can also benefit from exploring other options for supporting a distributed workforce, such as zero trust security model which relies on continuous user authentication, as well as other controls, which include continuous network monitoring, privileged access management and secure multi-layer authentication. Add endpoint detection and response Adding to this is that it can, among other things, reduce the attack surface and its AI-based threat detection capabilities can automatically highlight suspicious behavior.

Additionally, consider the VPN security you have or want. This means that VPNs can differ in what they offer, as there is much more beneath the surface than just creating a simple connection to a server, as this can also include various additional security measures. And VPNs can also differ in how they manage user access: one may require constant entry of credentials, while another may be a one-time operation.

Parting thoughts

Although VPNs are often a crucial element for secure remote access, they can be – especially in the absence of other security practices and controls – lucrative targets for attackers looking to break into corporate networks. . Various advanced persistent threat (APT) groups have recently exploited known vulnerabilities in VPN software to steal user credentials, execute code remotely, and extract corporate crown jewels. Successful exploitation of these vulnerabilities typically opens the door to additional malicious access, potentially leading to large-scale compromises of enterprise networks.

As working patterns evolve, the demand for remote access persists, underscoring the continued importance of prioritizing the security of a distributed workforce as a fundamental part of strategy security of an organization.

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