What are Zero-day Attacks?
Zero-day attacks are a comparatively lesser-known type of cyberattack that exploits zero-day vulnerabilities in software. These attacks can be dangerous due to their unpredictable nature. In this article, our cybersecurity team explains zero-day attacks and how you can identify and protect yourself from them.
What is a zero-day vulnerability?
In simple words, a zero-day vulnerability is a newly discovered flaw in a software’s security configuration. The software vendor might be aware of this vulnerability but doesn’t have a patch to fix the issue, making the software vulnerable to exploitation by cybercriminals. The term “zero-day” signals that software developers have zero days to fix this flaw.
Most of the time, the developers only become aware of the vulnerability only once the hackers make it public for their gain, giving the developers a very tight time frame to find a solution. At times they fail to create a patch before the hackers exploit the vulnerability, leading to a cybercrime called a zero-day attack.
What is a zero-day attack?
A zero-day attack is defined as a cyberattack that targets an unpatched software vulnerability that may or may not be known to the general public. The attackers often expose the security flaw on the same day they take advantage of it, giving developers “zero-day” to come up with a patch update.
When the attackers spot a software vulnerability before the software developers, they implement exploit-code to take advantage of this security hole. To trap their victims, they use social engineering methods, like phishing, which prompts the target to open a file or visit a website that downloads malware to the target’s device. The attackers then gain access to confidential data for attempting cybercrimes such as identity theft.
How can you identify zero-day attacks?
Zero-day attacks have a wide range of potential victims due to the variety of systems they can exploit. The attacks can be targeted towards a high-profile victim or non-targeted, aimed at users of flawed software. They can take advantage of any digital entities, including:
- Operating systems
- Web browsers
- Open-source applications
- Internet of Things (IoT)
So, how can you identify such attacks? Since zero-day vulnerabilities have many forms, including but not limited to broken algorithms, bugs, data encryption issues and password protection issues, detecting them is a challenging task.
However, there are always crumbs that can help you trace the initial point. Organisations that are targets of zero-day attacks can usually see strange spikes of traffic and suspicious scanning activities from a client. Tracking this information and the following techniques can help detect zero-day attacks.
- Use existing databases of malware to observe behavioural patterns. Though databases get updated frequently, the information from such databases is limited since zero-day exploits are, by definition, new, unknown threats.
- Check for characteristic interactions. This technique examines the new software’s interactions with existing software and concludes if it’s malicious or not.
How can you protect yourself?
Zero-day vulnerabilities are hard to detect, making zero-day unpredictable. Therefore, to protect your computer and yourself, you should take proactive and reactive security measures. Here is a checklist of the best cybersecurity practices for you.
- Ensure all your software and OS are up-to-date.
Always update your security patches to the latest versions. The software vendors release new updates to cover the vulnerabilities they recently discovered. Downloading and installing the latest security patches will ensure your system is safe from bugs that the previous versions had missed.
- Configure effective security settings
Configure the security settings of your operating system, browsers and the software you use to options that provide maximum protection. Enable firewall in your system.
- Use antivirus software
Most OS will have antivirus auto-installed. Make sure the in-built antivirus software is updated to the latest version. However, we recommend installing comprehensive antivirus software to detect and block threats. A reputed antivirus application helps in identifying and protecting against most types of cyberthreats.
- Educate your employees
Zero-day attacks often succeed due to human errors. Awareness will, therefore, help in preventing such attacks. Ensure your staff is regularly trained on current cybersecurity practices. Encourage your staff to report suspicious activity or emails to the IT team immediately.
- Practice safe online security habits
Try to be as careful as possible when your browse online. Avoid saving your passwords and other sensitive data in your system. Use MFA wherever possible. Reply to unknown mails only after verifying they’re legit. Learn more about safe cybersecurity practices.
Zero-day attacks may be hard to combat due to their undetectable nature. However, through awareness and safe cybersecurity practices, you can protect yourself and your organisations from them. If you’re looking for a team to help you foolproof your cybersecurity systems, look no further. Contact us or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. With over 20 years of experience in the field, our experts will guarantee you creative solutions for all your digital troubles.
Computing Australia is a member of The Computing Australia Group of Companies.
Malware: Malware is malicious software intentionally designed to damage a computer, server, or network.
IoT: The Internet of Things, or IoT, refers to the physical devices around the world that are connected to the internet.
MFA: Multi-factor authentication is an authentication method in which a user is granted access to a website or application only after successfully verifying two or more identity proofs.