Learn what causes zero-day exploit attacks and how you can take proactive steps to secure your network.
A zero-day exploit attack is a type of cyber attack that occurs when a hacker exploits a software vulnerability that potentially even the developers are unaware of. The name "zero-day" comes from the fact that once the developer learns of the vulnerability, they have zero days to create a software patch as every second spent could provide hackers with more time to do damage.
By nature, this type of digital attack is incredibly difficult to defend against since developers realize the vulnerability only after they've been breached. This rush to put out a patch can cause businesses to panic and not address the breach effectively which makes attacks especially dangerous.
In this article, we'll discuss what causes zero day exploits, the usual vulnerability timeline, examples of exploits, and how to protect your business against them.
Zero-day exploit attacks are tied to hackers finding weaknesses in software or hardware before anyone else realizes that there's something wrong. These vulnerabilities could stem from many issues, including improper security or computer configurations and programming errors. If left unpatched, these vulnerabilities can lead to a gaping hole in your security, inviting cybercriminals to steal your data.
In some instances, software developers may actually know about the existence of a vulnerability but don't yet have a patch in place. In the worst cases, the developers only catch the vulnerability after the customers inform them of identity or information theft.
Typical targets for this type of cyber attack include businesses that store valuable business data such as customer payment information or personal details.
Timeline of a Zero-Day Attack
One of the most high profile examples of a zero-day attack is the Stuxnet Iran attack. This attack in 2010 happened when a self-replicating computer worm called Stuxnet infected industrial computers in Iranian uranium enrichment plants, sabotaging operations in multiple plants. The worm infected the computers through vulnerabilities in Siemens Step7 software, a software that ran on Microsoft Windows. By the time the staff at the plants realized what had happened, the nuclear facilities were rendered unusable.
Another more recent zero-day attack was with Sony Pictures in 2014. The attack led to the release of sensitive corporate data on file-sharing sites. Compromised data included details of upcoming movies, market plans, and senior Sony executives' personal email addresses. The details of the exact vulnerability exploited in the Sony attack still remains unknown.
Because zero-day exploits stem from unknown vulnerabilities in software, they can be incredibly difficult to detect. It is not impossible however, to proactively take steps to limit and patch existing vulnerabilities to block threats. Here are some common prevention strategies you can use.
While zero-day attacks can be devastating for any affected business, the likelihood of an attack can be largely reduced through taking precautionary steps to secure your network. As in all aspects of cybersecurity, complacency is the real killer, and assuming that such an attack won’t happen to your business can be a critical mistake down the line.