Comparing Risks & Vulnerabilities

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As a security professional, you need to be aware of the different security issues associated with threats, vulnerabilities, and risks, and the tools available to combat them.  If you’re planning to take the Security+ exam, risks and vulnerabilities are important topics for the exam.

For example, can you answer this question?

Q. Which of the following is most closely associated with residual risk?

A. Risk acceptance

B. Risk avoidance

C. Risk deterrence

D. Risk mitigation

E. Risk transference

More, do you know why the correct answer is correct and the incorrect answers are incorrect? The answer and explanation is available at the end of this post.

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Additional Security+ questions to help you prepare for the new performance based questions. These are included with the full bank of Security+ practice test questions and are divided into different sections. For example, you'll have access to the following links:

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Identifying Risks

Risk is the likelihood that a threat will exploit a vulnerability. A vulnerability is a weakness, and a threat is a potential danger. The result is a negative impact on the organization. Impact refers to the magnitude of harm that can be caused if a threat exercises a vulnerability.

For example, a system without up-to-date antivirus software is vulnerable to malware. Malware written by malicious attackers is the threat. The likelihood that the malware will reach a vulnerable system represents the risk. Depending on what the malware does, the impact may be an unbootable computer, loss of data, or a remote-controlled computer that has joined a botnet.

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However, the likelihood of a risk occurring isn’t 100 percent. An isolated system without Internet access, network connectivity, or USB ports has a very low likelihood of malware infection. The likelihood significantly increases for an Internet-connected system, and it increases even more if a user visits risky web sites and downloads and installs unverified files.

It’s important to realize that you can’t eliminate risk. Sure, you can avoid information technology (IT) risks completely by unplugging your computer and burying it. However, that’s not very useful. Instead, users and organizations practice risk management to reduce the risks.

You probably practice risk management every day. Driving or walking down roads and streets can be a very dangerous activity. Car-sized bullets are speeding back and forth, representing significant risks to anyone else on the road. However, you mitigate these risks with caution and vigilance. The same occurs with computers and networks. An organization mitigates risks using different types of security controls.

Comparing Risks & Vulnerability

Vulnerabilities

A vulnerability is a flaw or weakness in software or hardware, or a weakness in a process that a threat could exploit resulting in a security breach. Examples of vulnerabilities include:

  • Lack of updates. If systems aren’t kept up to date with patches, hotfixes, and service packs, they are vulnerable to bugs and flaws in the software.
  • Default configurations. Hardening a system includes changing systems from their default hardware and software configurations, including changing default usernames and passwords. If systems aren’t hardened, they are more susceptible to attacks.

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  • Lack of malware protection or updated definitions. Antivirus and anti-spyware methods protect systems from malware, but if they aren’t used and kept up to date, systems are vulnerable to malware attacks.
  • Lack of firewalls. If personal and network firewalls aren’t enabled or configured properly, systems are more vulnerable to network and Internet-based attacks.
  • Lack of organizational policies. If job separation, mandatory vacations, and job rotation policies aren’t implemented, an organization may be more susceptible to fraud and collusion from employees.

Not all vulnerabilities are exploited. For example, a user may install a wireless router using the defaults. It is highly vulnerable to an attack, but that doesn’t mean that an attacker will discover it and attack. In other words, just because the wireless router has never been attacked, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t vulnerable. At any moment, a war driving attacker can drive by and exploit the vulnerability.


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Q. Which of the following is most closely associated with residual risk?

A. Risk acceptance

B. Risk avoidance

C. Risk deterrence

D. Risk mitigation

E. Risk transference

Answer is A. Residual risk is the risk that an organization accepts after implementing controls to reduce risk.

An organization can avoid a risk by not providing a service or not participating in a risky activity.

Risk deterrence attempts to discourage attacks with preventive controls such as a security guard.

Risk mitigation reduces risks through internal controls.

Purchasing insurance is a common method of risk transference.

See Chapter 8 of the CompTIA Security+: Get Certified Get Ahead: SY0-401 Study Guide for more information on managing risk.

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