Cyber defenders are at a loss for words as cyber criminals focus on zero-day attack tactics.
“Zero-day” is a broad term that describes recently discovered vulnerabilities that cybercriminals can use to attack systems. The term “zero-day” refers to the fact that the vendor or developer just found out about the bug – meaning they have “zero days” to fix it. A zero-day attack occurs when hackers exploit the flaw before developers have a chance to fix it.
Zero-day is sometimes written as 0-day. The words vulnerability, exploit, and attack are typically used with zero-day, and it’s helpful to understand the difference. A zero-day vulnerability is a software vulnerability that is discovered by attackers before the vendor is aware of it. Because vendors don’t know this, there is no patch for zero-day vulnerabilities, so attacks are likely to be successful.
Software often has security flaws that hackers can exploit to wreak havoc. Software developers are always looking for vulnerabilities in order to “patch” them – that is, they develop a solution that they publish in a new update. However, sometimes hackers or malicious actors discover the vulnerability before the software developers do. While the vulnerability is still open, attackers can write and implement code to exploit it. This is called exploit code.
The exploit code can lead to users of the software becoming victims – for example through identity theft or other forms of cybercrime. Once attackers have identified a zero-day vulnerability, they need to reach the vulnerable system. They often do this via a socially engineered email — that is, an email or other message that purports to come from a known or legitimate correspondent but is actually from an attacker. The message tries to convince a user to take an action like opening a file or visiting a malicious website. In doing so, it downloads the attacker’s malware, which infiltrates the user’s files and steals sensitive data.
When a vulnerability becomes known, developers try to patch it to stop the attack. However, vulnerabilities are often not discovered immediately. It can sometimes take days, weeks, or even months for developers to identify the vulnerability that led to the attack. And even when a zero-day patch is released, not all users are quick to implement it. In recent years, hackers have been quicker to exploit vulnerabilities soon after their discovery. Exploits can be sold for large sums on the dark web. Once an exploit is discovered and patched, it is no longer considered a zero-day threat.
Zero Day Attacks are particularly dangerous because the only people who know about them are the attackers themselves. Once they infiltrate a network, cybercriminals can either attack immediately or wait for the most opportune moment to do so. Targeted zero-day attacks are carried out against potentially valuable targets – such as large organizations, government agencies or high-profile individuals. Non-targeted zero-day attacks are usually carried out against users of vulnerable systems such as operating systems or browsers.
Even when attackers don’t target specific individuals, zero-day attacks can still affect many people, usually as collateral damage. Non-targeted attacks aim to capture as many users as possible, meaning the average user’s data could be compromised. Since zero-day vulnerabilities can take various forms – such as B. lack of data encryption, lack of authorizations, buggy algorithms, bugs, problems with password security, etc. – they can be difficult to detect. Due to the nature of these types of vulnerabilities, detailed information about zero-day exploits is only available after the exploit has been identified. Organizations targeted by a zero-day exploit may see unexpected traffic or suspicious scanning activity originating from a client or service. Some of the zero-day detection techniques include:
Using existing malware databases and their behavior for reference. While these databases update very quickly and can be useful as a reference point, zero-day exploits are, by definition, new and unknown. So there’s a limit to how much an existing database can tell you. Alternatively, some techniques look for characteristics of zero-day malware based on how they interact with the target system. Instead of examining the code of incoming files, this technique looks at the interactions they have with existing software and tries to determine if they are the result of malicious actions. Increasingly, machine learning is used to detect data from previously recorded exploits to establish a baseline of safe system behavior based on data from past and current interactions with the system. The more data is available, the more reliable the detection will be.
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