Exploit vs Vulnerability: What’s the Difference?


You’ve always asked how a hacker really hacks? Or are you tired of unrealistic movies that without any explanation are full of endless lines of code and keyboard clacking? Seeing that you most certainly googled something to get here along the lines of “exploit vs vulnerability” or “vulnerability vs exploit,” so the response to those questions is yes.

An great way to learn more about how hackers think is to discuss what bugs and exploits are, the discrepancies between them, and how they’re useful to hackers. More significantly, it will help you defend yourself and your company from them better.

But, to get a better sense of what they are and how they vary, let’s compare and break down an exploit vs. a loophole.

Vulnerability vs Exploit: A Short Take

In short, a vulnerability is a vulnerability to find a way to a server, a device that connects to a website, operating systems, web apps, applications, networks, and other IT systems for hackers. An exploit is a particular technique in programming or attack that uses a flaw to execute an attack or obtain unauthorized access. The loophole is the opening and the hack is something that is used to perform an attack using the opening.

When hackers search for bugs to manipulate, the titles are, yes, appropriate. It should be noticed, though, that not all bugs are exploitable. If it is attributable to a shortage of hacker-end resources or external security instruments that make it impossible for the hacker to access the vulnerability, not all vulnerabilities can be exploited. In reality, a 2019 analysis reveals that just 5.5 percent of the 76,000 vulnerabilities that researchers found between 2009 and 2018 were exploited in the wild.

That is the fast reply. Now, let’s look more closely at the issue of exploit vs. vulnerability.

Exploit vs Vulnerability: A Deeper Dive

You first need to learn a hacker to understand bugs and exploits. Each of three things hackers are generally trying to do:

    • Receiving any form of financial, social or political advantage in the short or long term;
    • For personal gratification, wreak havoc; or
    • Those are both factors.

The attitude and techniques of a hacker are somewhat close to those that a home burglar uses. They also (to some degree) scout their target, check for a flaw and exploit it. A burglar, for instance, may search for an open window (vulnerability) and then wait without your permission until you are away to access it (how they hack it). Then they most likely look to take important stuff from there, but there are still intruders who only want to vandalize (like a hacker will do with a website at times).

So, here’s another way to discern between exploit and vulnerability. The big difference between a weakness and an exploit is that a hacker detects an opening in your cyber defenses as a vulnerability. An exploit is what happens if and when, without your knowledge, they actually take advantage of the flaw. This is the distinction between discovering and simply charging into an unguarded gateway to a castle. But let’s take a few moments to discuss a little more in detail both of these words.

What Are Vulnerabilities?

A loophole is, as described, a weak point or channel that may be used by hackers to find a way into your website, operating system, apps, network, or other IT-related systems. (The attack or hack itself is not necessarily a vulnerability.) Bugs could be a flaw that occurs in your software code. And consumers, without even understanding it, may even create certain bugs.

For example, the target of a hacker might be an obsolete or legacy program or device that you haven’t upgraded yet. When a user creates a weak password or reuses a password that is exposed in a hack, another example of a weakness is. A cyber attack, such as a phishing email with a connection which tricks or manipulates you into downloading files containing malicious software or code, may also create a vulnerability.

The idea that there is a flaw that hackers might theoretically manipulate does not alter how the vulnerability is developed. As for what we mean by “exploited” when we say, see our next segment…

What Is an Exploit?

An exploit, as stated, is the use of a particular code or procedure that takes advantage of a flaw that occurs in the IT structures or applications of a target. Essentially, in a manner that allows them unauthorized access to the device, a hacker can exploit the flaw. To exist, exploits require vulnerabilities, which is why it is so necessary to avoid vulnerabilities.

It will be a laborious method of hacking to manually search for vulnerabilities, which is why hackers use automated software to target mass-scale vulnerabilities. Exploiting bugs is very much a numbers game for many hackers. If a hacker detects an obsolete piece of software in a CMS, they may use an automation technique to monitor thousands of websites that use the CMS to check for the flaw so that, usually from several small websites, they can capture large quantities of data.

The first step of learning how to defend yourself is knowing the difference between bugs and exploits.

Zero-Day Vulnerabilities and Exploits

So, what happens if there is a flaw that you have found but have not fixed yet within your own application? Or what if a cybercriminal has built malware or some way that no one has seen before to hack your application? Both of these two cases, respectively, are known as a zero-day vulnerability and a zero-day exploit.

An exploit that you may or may not know about yet have not yet had time to fix is a zero-day vulnerability. There are organizations and blogs that maintain databases of documented vital flaws and exposures, such as MITRE, NIST, and vuldb.com. However, after a fix for the vulnerability is issued, it is no longer treated as a zero-day vulnerability.

A zero-day hack is where an unpatched or unexplained flaw is exploited by a cybercriminal to their benefit. By generating new malware that they produce or using phishing tactics to direct users to compromised websites, they may do this. The assaults of “Zero Day” are particularly risky because they capitalize on unsolved or unpatched problems that have yet to be addressed. They’re still usually undetectable because they’re not searching for conventional antivirus and anti-malware applications.

Examples of Vulnerabilities and Exploits

So, now that you know what bugs and exploits are, you’re probably going to want a few more explanations you might come across. Here are a few examples of how a hacker could use and exploit a vulnerability:

Example 1

Vulnerability: You have not changed a WordPress plugin that has an error in the file.

Exploit: The flaw is used by a programmer to initiate a SQL injection attack.

Example 2

Vulnerability: A site administrator has a bad password that does not follow the requirements for NIST passwords and lacks complexity. See NIST SP 800-63B Authentication and Lifecycle Management, section 5.1.1. (See NIST SP 800-63B Authentication and Lifecycle Management, section 5.1.1.) Some common best practices for generating passwords require the use of long passwords that include a mixture of upper and lower case characters and at least one special character and number.

Exploit: To break the password, a hacker uses a’ cracker tool’ and now runs the website. It is worth remembering how open these “cracker tools” are. Actually, there are top 10 lists that rate password cracking software that range from those that help with brute force attacks to tools that can break hashes of LM and NTLM!

Example 3

Vulnerability: A website has an environment that encourages users, without restrictions or limitations, to upload invalidated files.

Exploit: A hacker uploads a file containing executable code and now has access to the source code and database keys of your website (basically controlling your website).

The CIA Triad: What It Is & Why You Should Use It

So, now that you know the difference between an exploit and a loophole, you may be semi-worried about someone using them against you. We’ve got you covered. Don’t panic (or even be semi-worried) Let’s begin with the triad of the CIA, or what is sometimes called the triad of the AIC. This model presents a perfect starting point for reacting to threats to information security.

The triad is a valuable and precise way to recall the three cornerstones of a successful cybersecurity scheme, no matter what you want to call it:

  1. Confidentiality-Keep your data/info private and secure from unwanted access, such as HR documentation, client records, and passwords.
  2. Integrity-Maintain the data assets’ integrity to deter hackers from altering, removing or manipulating them in any way.
  3. Availability: For those who have legal access, the data and systems should still be available. Do not encourage hackers to block users from your website or systems or allow others to totally take them out.

Pro Tips for Dealing with Vulnerabilities and Exploits

The CIA triad, as described, is an excellent barometer for what methods and protocols for cybersecurity you can enforce. So it’s important to search for approaches and protocols that comply with the CIA triad as you want to prevent weaknesses from being something, and can help you avoid becoming a hacker’s target.

Here are a couple of tips and ideas we hope could help:

Get an SSL/TLS Certificate

Made sure that the stable HTTPS protocol is used across the entire website. To ensure that your site shares data through a secure, encrypted connection, this is imperative. Do this by downloading an SSL/TLS certificate through your control panel for web hosting. Adjust your CMS to use HTTPS URLs after that, and then set your HTTP URLs to point to their HTTPS secure equivalents (using 301 redirects).

Use End-to-End Encryption

Cybercriminals enjoy email targeting because it’s a common way for organizations to internally connect and exchange information. Unfortunately, many companies opt by email to exchange confidential details, and this may render their information accessible to cybercriminals.

Until you press the end button, you will encrypt the email address and attachments (using asymmetric encryption) by using an email signature certificate. This ensures that your data is protected from prying eyes, regardless of whether the email is transmitted through stable or unreliable networks, and only the user will be able to access the email using their private key.

Have a Strong & Unique Password (For Everything)

Nothing, like a bad password, makes it easier for hackers. Using a long password with numbers, capital letters, lowercase letters, and special characters (like 12-20 characters long). Often, choose a different password that is not equivalent to anything on other accounts that you use. Through having a specific password for each account you use, all the passwords are always protected even though the password for one account is hacked in a data breach.

Implement Access Controls

It’s necessary to monitor your CMS user accounts as a web admin. There are two ways for this to be done.

    • Restrict connectivity on a need-only basis. So, if you have a writer on your website who writes blogs, they don’t need complete access to all the functionality contained in your CMS backend. That way, if a hacker can access their login data, their capabilities are also limited.
    • Remove accounts that are unused. If the need for an account no longer exists, it’s necessary to uninstall it. The concept here is to delete all unwanted outlets that hackers may use to break into your website.

Update Your Software, Hardware, and Plugins

The most significant tip of the bunch maybe this. As obsolete software is a very popular weakness hacker can target, it is essential you keep your software current. Generally, to manage upgrades with your operating system and server applications, you would need to guarantee that your CMS and CMS add-ons (themes, extensions, etc.) are upgraded whilst keeping your web host responsible.
Review and Test Your Code

When designing new sites and apps, updating and checking the code for vulnerabilities is a vital component of the project lifecycle. A stable code analysis should involve this procedure. Don’t miss or skimp on this critical step, as doing so may lead to data breaches or cyber threats that you may otherwise have avoided.

Perform Vulnerability Assessments

The act of identifying, assessing, and categorizing weaknesses in your website, computers, and other structures is a vulnerability evaluation. A common method of attacking this challenge is to use automatic software, such as a vulnerability scanner.

If you go down the path of the vulnerability scanner, I recommend searching for a vulnerability scanner that maintains an updated database of documented vulnerabilities, one that is unique to the CMS you are using and one that searches for vulnerabilities in execution. There are also website scanners like the HackerProof Confidence Mark of Sectigo, which checks the website every day and gives advice about how to patch them.

Use Penetration Testing

Pentesting effectively simulates a cyberattack to see whether there are any bugs and whether they can be exploited/how. With this capacity, you can not only mention what vulnerabilities exist but also calculate what tactics can be used by cybercriminals to manipulate the vulnerabilities. This extra layer of expertise would make vulnerabilities in patching more precise and efficient.

Put a Web Application Firewall (WAF) in Place

A Web Application Firewall in the field of websites is a longstanding best practice. It’s simply a shield that lies between consumers and the website. I propose a cloud-based WAF for small companies. It makes both convenience and customizability possible. WAFs are all about the rules you set to detect threats and combat them (and how you evolve the rules over time as well).

The CDN/WAF organization can handle and upgrade the rules for you for a cloud-based WAF, but you will have the option to even apply your own rules.

Conclusion on the Topic of Vulnerabilities and Exploits (TL;DR)

I hope this post gives you more insights into exploits vs. vulnerabilities! For those of you who like to skim to grasp an exploit vs. a flaw, to rapidly recap:

    • A flaw or loophole in the protection that could be abused is a vulnerability. From websites and servers to operating systems and applications, bugs will appear in anything.
    • An exploit is where a cybercriminal exploits a loophole in order to achieve unauthorized access.
    • Not all bugs are abused, but the resulting damage can be enormous when they do so.
    • It is important for the cybersecurity of the website and the company as a whole to regularly roll out upgrades and patches.
    • There are also ways to avoid bugs and repair them. To ensure that the web, applications, network, and other IT-related processes are as safe and secure as they can be, the trick is to find a routine and method that combines a number of techniques (like the ones listed above).

It is important to realize what the distinctions between bugs and exploits are and help you fix them before they become security problems. And now that you learn more about them, make sure that these best practices are applied to make the company a tougher and less vulnerable target. Oh, good luck!

Melina Richardson
Melina Richardson is a Cyber Security Enthusiast, Security Blogger, Technical Editor, Certified Ethical Hacker, Author at Cybers Guards. Previously, he worked as a security news reporter.