Zero-day attack: An attack that can spread faster than defenders can react

  • A zero-day vulnerability is a weakness within a computer network or software program that is unknown to the developers.
  • The term ‘zero-day’ indicates that the developers do not get any time to react since the attackers may have already exploited it.

Zero-day attacks come without warning. Such attacks can pose a high risk for a company or businesses if appropriate actions are not taken at the right time. It can even lead to loss of millions of dollars and put untold volumes of private info at risk.

What is zero-day vulnerability?

A zero-day vulnerability is a weakness within a computer network or software program that is unknown to the developers or parties responsible for patching the flaw.

The term ‘zero’ here indicates the same-day window in which exploits often occur. For example, a global site host has released an updated version of the platform on a specific day. Within 30 minutes of the launch, a hacker has discovered a vulnerability in the new version before the site developers have time to suspend the launch and develop a patch.

This weakness can easily be exploited on the same day of the discovery, thus resulting in a zero-day attack.

How prevalent is it?

According to a study by Ponemon Institute, around 76% of the respondents claimed that the type of attacks suffered by their organizations in 2018, were new or unknown zero-day attacks.

With the passing years, experts predict that the frequency of these threats and attacks is only going to worsen. Cybersecurity Ventures has predicted that by 2021, there will be one new exploit every day.

How does it occur?

A zero-day attack happens once the flaw or software/hardware vulnerability is exploited and attackers release malware before a developer has an opportunity to create a patch to fix the vulnerability.

Let’s take a look at a common zero-day attack scenario.

  • A company’s developers create software but are unaware of the vulnerabilities it contains.
  • The threat actor spots the flaw before the developers can react or have a chance to fix it.
  • The attacker writes and implements exploit code while the vulnerability still exists.
  • Once the exploit code is deployed, the public recognizes it either in the form of identity or information theft.

How to tackle it?

Organizations at risk from such exploits can employ several means of protection such as using virtual local area networks (LANs), firewalls, a secure Wi-Fi system. This will help them to prevent wireless malware attacks.

Other preventive steps include:

  • Employing the most advanced security software;
  • Keeping security software up-to-date;
  • Updating the browsers;
  • Implementing security protocols.

Also, individuals can minimize the risk by keeping their operating system up to date and using websites with SSL (Security Socket Layer) protection. The SSL secures the information being sent between the user and the site. However, it still does not guarantee complete and total security from zero-day attacks.