What is the Difference Between a Threat, a Vulnerability, and a Risk?

Those who don’t quite know the nuts and bolts of web security might use certain terms interchangeably. Logically, it makes sense in some cases. For example, a “vulnerability” sounds a lot like a “risk”. But in web security terms, they are not the same thing.

Whether you’re talking about a website or a house, understanding proper security terms can help you better understand the safety and security of the things you are protecting. We’re going to look at the common terms used in security and how they are actually different from one another.

But first, we need to define a very important word that is used with them.

Asset: What you are protecting

In almost any context, an asset is a positive thing, and it often has worth. Money is an asset, for example. When you list assets and liabilities, assets are all things that have value.

In broad terms, an asset can be people, property, or information. For web security purposes, we’re referring to your website here. But it can also include your online reputation or a database of customer information. Financial records are also assets.

Anything that needs to be protected is an asset.

Threat: Something that can damage or destroy an asset

If an asset is what you’re trying to protect, then a threat is what you’re trying to protect against.

Let’s use the example of home ownership to illustrate these. Your home would be your asset. A threat would be a burglar, or even the tools that a burglar might use, like a lock pick. These threats can do damage to your home if not protected against.

Online, let’s look at your website as the asset. A threat to your website would be a hacker, and potentially the tools that a hacker would use, for example a piece of malicious code, like malware, that can be installed on a site. That code can infiltrate your site and install viruses or bring down your website in an attack.

But this can only be done if your asset has a vulnerability.

Vulnerability: A weakness or gap in your protection

The only way a threat can do damage to your asset is if you have an unchecked vulnerability that the threat can take advantage of.

In the house example, a vulnerability could be a security system that relies on electricity. If there is no battery backup, the burglar could take down the power and then have free access to the home. Or another vulnerability could be something as simple as an unlocked window. Anything that a burglar could take advantage of is a vulnerability.

By that same token, your website could have vulnerabilities that hackers could take advantage of. Old code or plugins that aren’t updated or maintained can be as dangerous as leaving a door unlocked in a house. If you aren’t updating your site regularly, you could be leaving vulnerabilities wide open for hackers to walk right through.

Put all of this together, and you have risk.

Risk: Where assets, threats, and vulnerabilities intersect

Risk itself is a function of threats taking advantage of vulnerabilities to steal or damage assets.

Understanding these separate concepts help you understand how safe your website really is.

Threats, like hackers, may exist. But if you have no vulnerabilities, then your risk is very low.

You may have vulnerabilities on your site, but if threats don’t exist, then you still have little risk (this is not really an option, however, as hackers are very prevalent online).

For web security, your goal is to close off any vulnerabilities so that your asset can remain safe. The best way to do this is with Sectigo Web Patch, which scans your site every day to detect vulnerabilities that it can patch and close off before the threats find them.

With the right software, you can render threats irrelevant and keep your risk low.

NOTE:: This is article is copyright by Sectigo and we are used it for education or information purposes only.

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