What is a Zero-Day Attack? 

The term “zero-day” has been a loud buzzword in the world of cybersecurity in the past few months, but what does it really mean? When an attack is described as “zero-day,” it refers to a flaw that hackers could exploit because it was only discovered during the cybercrime. In other words, the developer did not account for the vulnerability during the design and development of the software, so there are no immediate counterattacks set in place to prevent it from happening. 

A previously undiscovered vulnerability; that’s what a zero-day attack is about. 

How Does a Zero-Day Attack Happen?

No software is perfect, which is precisely why it goes through regular updates that come not just with new features but security patches as well. However, innovations in technology also break new boundaries in the cybercrime landscape. Malicious actors continue to come up with resourceful and creative ways to exploit code, typically through socially engineered avenues like phishing

Zero-day attacks commonly target vulnerabilities in systems of various kinds, including, but not limited to: 

  • Operating systems
  • CMS
  • Browsers
  • Applications
  • Open-source programs

The Zero-Day Attack Timeline

Based on a research study done by Bilge and Dumitras, there are seven points or phases that make up zero-day attacks: 

  1. Vulnerability is introduced.
  2. Malicious actors discover the vulnerability.
  3. The vendor becomes aware of the vulnerability.
  4. The vendor publicly acknowledges the vulnerability.
  5. Anti-virus signatures are released.
  6. The security patch is developed and released
  7. The security patch is successfully deployed.

As you can see from the timeline, a system can be at great risk from attacks from the moment a vulnerability is introduced to the moment the patch gets successfully deployed. Added to it is the fact that once attackers are able to infiltrate the system, they will maximize the available time to do as much damage as they can until a patch closes the window. 

4 Ways to Prepare Against Zero-Day Attacks

While the very nature of zero-day attacks can make it difficult to build a defense strategy, there are still many ways to prepare against it. Here are four best practices you can employ to keep your systems less vulnerable: 

1. Keep systems and software up to date

There are a lot of cyber zero-day attacks that stem from outdated software, one perfect example is the Linux malware that’s exploiting outdated WordPress plugins and themes. Make sure to constantly check for updates as these usually come with security patches. 

2. Invest in a vulnerability assessment tool

Vulnerability assessment tools have the capability to run security checks 24/7. While it recognizes zero-day attacks are usually not part of its features, it does use historical data to archive and analyze trends. 

3. Conduct regular application audit

As your organization grows, it may require additional applications and software. Unfortunately, most tend to neglect to remove unused apps which can also cause vulnerabilities. Schedule regular audits to prune apps that are no longer in use.

4. Educate your whole organization

Last, but not the least, take the time to hold training sessions and workshops designed to educate staff across all levels on what zero-day attacks are and the best ways to protect digital assets from them. 

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