Software VM

What is the difference between a software vulnerability and a security misconfiguration?

Pallavi Vishwakarma
July 3, 2023

Why is it important to distinguish between software vulnerability and security misconfiguration?

It is important to distinguish between software vulnerability and security misconfiguration because it affects the allocation of resources for remediation and risk management. If a security incident is caused by a software vulnerability, resources may need to be allocated for patching or upgrading the affected software. However, if the root cause is a security misconfiguration, resources may need to be allocated for training and educating employees on secure configuration practices, as well as for reviewing and updating policies and procedures.

Recognizing the root cause of a security incident as either a software vulnerability or a security misconfiguration can inform the appropriate response and help prevent future incidents.

Some examples of incidents where it was important for an organization to recognize whether it is vulnerability or misconfiguration to mitigate the issue:

  • Canva data breach (2021): A hacker accessed the personal and financial information of over 139 million Canva users due to a misconfigured firewall in the company's AWS cloud infrastructure.
  • Marriott International data breach (2018-2019): Marriott announced a data breach that impacted the personal and financial information of up to 500 million guests. The breach was due to a misconfigured firewall in the Starwood Hotels reservation system.
  • Uber data breach (2016): Hackers accessed the names, email addresses, and mobile phone numbers of 57 million Uber users and 600,000 drivers, due to a misconfigured Amazon Web Services (AWS) S3 bucket.

A significant component of any information security program is maintaining and mitigating known software issues in your tech stack, but it's also crucial to ensure that your apps and tools are initially configured correctly.

What is software vulnerability?

A software vulnerability is a flaw or security hole in a computer program or system that a malevolent attacker could use to damage a user. It describes a problem in a software program's conception, execution, management, or operation that makes it vulnerable to intrusion, data theft, or other malicious acts. Simply said, it's a flaw in the program that makes it simpler for malicious users to damage the system or steal data.


  • Suppose in your software you have a plugin or library which causes your software fails to validate or sanitize user input, allowing malicious data to be processed as trusted input.
  • When a program tries to store more data in a memory buffer than it can hold, causing data to overflow into adjacent memory locations.
  • when a program deserializes untrusted data, potentially leading to arbitrary code execution or other malicious actions.

In all these examples, you can understand that all these vulnerabilities are caused due to the failure in the functioning of the software which can be sometimes resolved by mitigating the vulnerability. However, you can’t completely resolve all your software vulnerabilities but they can be reduced by proper monitoring and by using full-stack security tools.

What is security misconfiguration?

Misconfigured security settings, controls, or parameters in the software, systems, or networks are referred to as security misconfiguration. This might happen as a result of errors, omissions, or a lack of focus during the setup process, leaving a system or application open to security vulnerabilities.


  • Open S3 buckets: Not properly securing Amazon Web Services S3 buckets can result in sensitive information being publicly accessible.
  • Misconfigured network devices: Improperly configured network devices, such as routers, firewalls, and switches, can allow unauthorized access to a network.
  • Unsecured database servers: Neglecting to secure database servers can expose sensitive information to unauthorized access.

From all these examples, you can understand that all these vulnerabilities are caused due to not setting proper configuration in the products it was using. In this situation, you can’t identify who is responsible for configuring systems and applications making mistakes or oversights, or when employees are unaware of best practices for security.


You can now understand that there might be a third-party library that is causing you a software vulnerability but for the vendor of that library, it might be the security misconfiguration issue.

So, therefore it's important to have a clear understanding of these to initiate proper risk management in place.

SecOps Solution is an award-winning agent-less Full-stack Vulnerability and Patch Management Platform that helps organizations identify, prioritize and remediate security vulnerabilities and misconfigurations in seconds.

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