Leon Best and Lewis Dunk had the best chances for Chris Hughton’s men in a game where there were no shots on target in the opening 50 minutes.
Millwall’s win at Birmingham means the Seagulls are out of the bottom three on goal difference.
Cardiff, whose clearest opportunity fell to Aron Gunnarsson, are only six points away from the drop zone after one win in 11 league games.
On a night of few positives, Cardiff boss Russell Slade was at least able to call on captain David Marshall as the goalkeeper returned after a month out with groin and ankle problems, while Craig Noone came into the side instead of Eoin Doyle.
Hughton brought Beram Kayal, Jake Forster-Caskey and Leon Best into his starting line-up.
It hardly had the makings of a classic, but the lack of energy and guile produced by both sides during a soporific opening half was alarming.
The lifeless Bluebirds showed no desire to take the game to their struggling visitors.
It took 17 minutes for there to be even a glimmer of goal-mouth action, with Sean Morrison heading Peter Whittingham’s corner into the ground and over David Stockdale’s crossbar.
It was another 25 minutes before the next meaningful incident, with Kenwyne Jones popping up in his own six-yard box to clear away Rohan Ince’s off-target strike after the midfielder had worked some room on the edge of the area.
Slade sent on Doyle at half-time to give Jones some support and Cardiff were instantly more positive.
A deflected Gunnarsson shot was saved by Stockdale to ironic cheers from the home fans, before Doyle turned the ball straight at the Brighton keeper from Noone’s cross.
There was finally some life in the contest and Brighton responded as Joao Teixeira’s free-kick forced Marshall into his first stop before they worked a great chance.
Scott Malone’s poor defensive header was seized upon by Inigo Calderon and he looked to have laid an easy finish on for Best.
But Bruno Manga’s challenge from behind as the striker prepared to pull the trigger went unpunished by referee Iain Williamson, although there were surprisingly few appeals from Best’s Brighton team-mates.
Centre-half Dunk had a good chance of his own when picked out by Teixeira’s inviting cross, but he could only steer his header wide of Marshall’s right-hand upright.
Gunnarsson was similarly wasteful at the other end, heading over from close range, to sum up the night’s fare.