What are zero-day attacks, and how do you protect against them?
Let’s dive right in:
The Definition of Zero-Day Attacks
What does “zero-day” mean, and how can it impact your organization’s cybersecurity infrastructure?
A zero-day attack (also referred to as “Day Zero” or “0 Day”) is a type of cybersecurity threat that exploits software security weaknesses that the developer, vendor, or both may be unaware of. These exploits can range from minimal to severe.
These types of attacks frequently target:
Operating Systems: As the most common target of a zero-day attack, threat actors frequently use an OS exploit to gain access to the user’s overarching system
Hardware: Routers, network appliances, and switches are all common hardware targets for hackers
Web Browser: As seen in Google Chrome, threat actors can discreetly target an unpatched vulnerability on a web browser to run an executable file or script
Internet of Things (IoT): Employee devices like tablets, laptops, and smartwatches are a constant exploitable threat to a company’s cybersecurity due to not requiring software updates to guarantee up-to-date security measures
Office Applications: Zero-day malware may be embedded in documents, files, and more to exploit the underlying application and wreak havoc on your organization
The name “zero-day attack” stems from the number of days that the software developer has been aware of the problem… and the number of days they have to fix it before it begins to wreak havoc. Because of this lack of awareness of the threat, developers must then hasten to resolve the exploited weaknesses as soon as possible to stop its spread–called a “software patch.”
Subsections of zero-day attacks include “zero-day vulnerabilities,” which are software vulnerabilities that threat actors discover before the vendor, and “zero-day exploits,” which are methods used by threat actors to infiltrate the system through a zero-day vulnerability.
What Does a Zero-Day Attack Entail?
Part of the danger of zero-day attacks is their versatility: they commonly involve adware, malware, spyware, unauthorized access to user information, or a combination of two or more types of threats.
These vulnerabilities may exist months before detection, providing threat actors ample time to prepare and execute attacks.
The types of damages generally resulting from zero-day attacks include, but aren’t limited to:
Stolen credentials, data, and/or identities
The access of enterprise systems and customer information
Remote control of crucial devices
The installation of spyware for organizational espionage
Due to a zero-day attack being previously unknown by the vendor or developer, the victim usually has no defences to prevent the strike–increasing its likelihood of succeeding. Some zero-day attacks–if an organization has no cybersecurity infrastructure–are detected months or years later.
How to Protect Against Zero-Day Exploits
Here are our top-recommended ways to protect you and your organization from the damages of a zero-day attack:
1. Have Monitoring in Place
Although threat actors commonly find vulnerabilities first, it doesn’t have to be that way: organizations can beat them to the punch by partnering with white or gray hat hackers to “stress test” their systems, devices, and more in order to pinpoint both existing and potential security threats.
Red teaming is one of the many ways to assess potential attack paths and detect impending disasters. By closely monitoring the software and hardware your organization uses, you could save your organization millions in reputational and financial losses.
2. Employ Patch Management
While patch management cannot prevent zero-day attacks and exploits, it can pull double-duty by reducing your exposure window and speeding up detection time.
In essence, patch management is the process of identifying–and addressing–bugs and detrimental IT system codes. Both can leave your organization vulnerable to cyberattacks.
When done right, patch management policy is rigorous, robust, and aligned across all teams (employees, IT, and security.) Ideally, patch management is automated in order to save time and keep the process running smoothly and continuously.
3. Implement Next-Gen Antivirus Solutions (NGAV)
The bad news? While traditional antivirus software can–and often does–detect low-level malware, it’s ineffective against zero-day exploits until the specific vulnerabilities have been added to its database.
The good news? NGAV solutions are an ethical hacker-approved way of establishing routine behaviour of both patterns and systems… making it that much easier to detect (and act on) anomalies.
NGAV's primary benefits are:
Not requiring signature updates
Being able to be deployed in minutes, not months
Working without impacting endpoint performance
And being cloud-based, making it easier to both monitor and maintain
Once a threat is successfully identified, NGAV can automatically block processes to prevent the threat from spreading elsewhere.
With over 800,000 cyberattacks per year (and counting), it's crucial know the impact of zero-day attacks in order to avoid becoming part of the percentage.
Here at Packetlabs, we recommend a Compromise Assessment to determine your organization's zero-day risk levels. As a penetration test focused on identifying if undetected threat actors are currently or have ever been in your network, compromise assessments include both automated and manual inspections conducted across firewalls, endpoints, and servers to ensure a thorough examination of your IT infrastructure systems and applications.
Our ethical hackers utilize 95% manual processes to unveil threats like zero-day malware, trojans, ransomware, and other anomalies that may go undetected in standard automated vulnerability scans.
Ready to strengthen your security posture? Get the ball rolling on your compromise assessment today.