There are dozens of ways in which hackers can compromise your devices and data. This means that your personally identifiable data (PII) and the stability and integrity of your computer and smart devices are at risk. Especially, in the event of vulnerable software. After all, the software is the brain of everything you interact with on your screen.
However, what exactly is vulnerable software? What does the term software vulnerability refer to? Most of us that peruse the internet and applications will know what software is. However, not many people will have heard of software vulnerability. It is most likely the tech-savvy among us know what these are, though.
For one, all software is not always coded securely and two, cybercrime is always lurking around the corner. Combine those two concepts and you have yourself a catastrophe waiting to happen. To illustrate this point further, improper software, or shall we say, incomplete causes all sorts of technical issues and compatibility issues. However, it can also risk your devices and your data which can ultimately reflect in issues for you, your friends, and your family.
What is more, there are several types of software vulnerabilities that can arise for different reasons. This may seem quite complicated, but we will break it down into an easily manageable explanations. Simply keep reading to learn all about the world of software vulnerabilities.
In the world we live in today, not much would function without software. The ware suffix attaches to soft, making up the word software. This defines computer products or tools, and is a term that has stuck since the birth of commercial, modern computers and the internet in the 1990s. The screen that is helping you view this article and read it would not display anything if it wasn’t for software. Your operating system would not exist. And the hardware inside your device (whether that be a laptop, smartphone, or otherwise) would have nothing to give it instructions.
Where software and hardware shake hands is at the silicon chip level, or what is known as the motherboard. This is where electrical impulses are turned into binary 1s and 0s for software to interpret. Thanks to the revolutionary technology that is computing, we can interact with programs, applications, and the internet via operating systems (which are themselves, software) such as macOS, Windows, Linux, and mobile OSs such as Android and iOS. All of the former is software. Your hardware would be your processor, graphics unit, memory, power supply, and so forth.
Now that we have explained why software is key, let’s try to understand what a software vulnerability is.
A software vulnerability can mean a few things. First, vulnerability is not a trait that any manufacturer, brand, or software team wants to see in their product. As such, a software vulnerability can be a security flaw in the software itself. Because software code is in programming languages, the issue could be a piece of code that hackers exploit before software developers can patch the error. This could affect millions of users (depending on the popularity of the software). This type of vulnerability, for instance, is known as a zero-day exploit.
Software vulnerabilities can affect hundreds of different programs, varying vastly in usage and popularity. For example, there could be a software vulnerability in Mozilla Firefox. This is one of the most popular browsers in the world. Therefore, this vulnerability could be an injection flaw or a buffer flow. Here’s another example; a third-party web browser plugin that helps you backup your Android phone could have broken access control or some sort of other bug.
Next, let’s talk about what can happen if there is a software vulnerability. Like we said earlier, sometimes these are found immediately and addressed in an update or security patch for a particular application. Other times, hackers catch an exploit and misuse that code to target users i.e. steal their credentials, orchestrate identity theft, hack their cryptocurrency wallets, and more.
Code can’t be perfect all the time and completely leak-free. This is because new features and fixes are being added to software all the time, and sometimes the software development teams are rushed to finish the job. After all, we are humans, and it is humans that create software, not robots.
Software developers are individuals or (most often) teams of people who code various types of software in various programming languages (C++, Java, Python, etc). Software vulnerabilities are not the responsibility of the user. Just as the security systems of a car are not. Although, there are some cybersecurity measures users can undertake, as well as common-sense measures. These ensure they are being as careful as possible in the case of a software vulnerability. This means using cybersecurity tools such as antimalware, VPNs, firewalls, and good password hygiene. It also means not downloading random programs and applications.
As far as the developers’ responsibility, it is critical that you test, design, and certify all software to existing standards. Security standards exist to support the development phase so that the software is of high quality, compatible and safe to use.
As above, software vulnerabilities are inevitable. There is so much software out there across so many platforms at such speed that, sometimes it is easy for even the most experienced developers to come up with an imperfect product. The best software development teams will distinguish themselves by quickly detecting any anomalies. They will then release a software patch or software update (such as asking users to update their v.10 software to v.11).
Other than that, it is most important that you do not download unverified and untested software in the first place. This is the greatest tactic of defense against software vulnerabilities affecting you.