Zero-Day IT Attacks and How They Work?
When a program doesn’t operate accordingly, we usually attribute that to bugs. No software is perfect, after all.
However, while operational discomfort is annoying, some bugs can uncover exploitable vulnerabilities with severe consequences. Attackers can use vulnerability exploits for various malicious purposes – remote machine access, escalating privileges, executing network attacks, initiating a data breach, and more.
Software developers continuously monitor their products for vulnerabilities and usually issue patches to fix weak entry points. Nonetheless, zero-day IT attacks exploit software weaknesses yet undiscovered by vendors.
Such attacks can be sinister and require an immediate response to counter them.
This article will study zero-day attacks – their structure, approach to malicious actions, potential harm to companies and individuals, and how to protect against them most effectively.
What Are Zero-Day IT Attacks?
A zero-day attack is a process of using zero-day vulnerability exploits to penetrate a system and compromise it in any way.
Typically, the attack proceeds as follows:
- Vulnerability Hunt
Attackers monitor and test the code of designated applications to find vulnerabilities. They can do it manually or buy unveiled vulnerabilities on the black market.
- Exploit Code Creation
Hackers proceed to create malware to exploit a vulnerability.
- Vulnerable Systems Search
Attackers look for systems suffering from identified vulnerabilities manually or via bots and automated scanners.
- Attack Planning
In a targeted attack, hackers may carry out detailed structure to compromise a vulnerable system. In a non-targeted attack, they may use an army of bots or a massive phishing campaign to infiltrate as many exploitable systems as possible.
- Infiltrating the System
Afterward, attackers get through system defenses and penetrate devices or a whole network.
- Launching a Zero-Day Exploit
After successful infiltration, attackers can execute malicious code remotely within the compromised system.
The major threat actors who construct and carry out zero-day IT attacks are cybercriminals, hacktivists, corporate espionage specialists, and cyber warfare teams.
What Are Zero-Day Vulnerabilities?
Vulnerabilities in computing systems represent potential entry points for hackers to gain unauthorized access to compromise a system.
Software vendors and security researchers are continually monitoring products to find vulnerabilities and “patch” them before attackers can exploit them.
Zero-day (0-day) vulnerabilities are software vulnerabilities discovered by attackers before vendors are aware of the weak entry point. No patches are in action at this point, so hackers can exploit the vulnerability to cause a security threat.
A common tactic to benefit from a vulnerability is social engineering. Attackers send out mass email or message, supposedly from a legitimate source, while targeting to activate the exploit and infiltrate the exposed network.
What Is a Zero-Day Exploit?
Once attackers identify a zero-day vulnerability, they can exploit it to attack a system.
Zero-day exploits are more dangerous than attacks against already established vulnerabilities. When a vulnerability goes public (on day zero), organizations have not yet issued a patch to fix the vulnerability, making the attack more likely to succeed.
Also, zero-day exploits enable cybercriminals to strategize their approach. More often than not, cybercrime groups “reserve” zero-day exploits to target high-value institutions (medical, financial) or even government organizations.
The less likely the victims to identify the vulnerability, the bigger the lifespan of the exploit.
Besides, even when vendors release a patch, all users must update their systems before neutralizing the zero-day exploit.
Common Zero-Day Attack Vectors and Targets
Typical attack vectors for zero-day IT attacks include web browsers, executable email attachments (apps, links), specific file types (Word, Excel, PDF), or zero-day malware. A virus with particular software signatures yet to be identified by cyber-protection software.
As for targets, they include:
- Large enterprises
- Government departments
- Hardware devices, firmware, and IoT (Internet-of-Things)
- A large volume of home users connected to a vulnerable system (browser, OS)
- Individuals granted access to sensitive business data (trade secrets, intellectual property)
- Individuals, organizations, or countries who governments consider a threat to national security
How to Protect From Zero-Day Attacks?
0-day attacks present a serious risk to individuals, businesses, and large enterprises.
Having a robust security plan is crucial to protect your personal, financial, and company information. To counter a potential data breach, it’s smart to be proactive and set security measures on all of your systems.
- Comprehensive Security Software
Traditional antivirus software struggles to counter zero-day exploits. However, top-tier cybersecurity solutions monitor and analyze program behavior, code, and potential weak entry points to negate the risk of a successful zero-day attack on your system.
Additionally, you can choose to backup all of your data to a multi-layer protected cloud and recover it even in the event of a successful breach.
- Patch Management
Automating patch management under a strict schedule can help companies keep their systems updated at all times. Additionally, quick patch application minimizes or completely negates active zero-day exploits within your network.
- Company-wide Zero-Day Awareness
Security awareness training emphasizing recognizing social engineering, phishing, spear-phishing campaigns, and malicious websites would educate your employees and minimize the risk of being part of an exploitable vulnerability.
- Security Controls
Configure stellar security settings for OSs, browsers, and security software. Moreover, monitor and audit connectivity and user activity to define and detect software anomalies.
- Stable Incident Response, Recovery, and Back-Up Plan
Develop and implement a specific zero-day-focused plan. Such an approach can reduce the confusion during an attack, mitigate the breach’s span, and reduce the damage caused by a zero-day exploit
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