What Is a Zero-Day Attack, and Should It Concern You?

For any company or organization looking to stay safe from the ever-growing variety of cyberthreats out there, steering clear of zero-day attacks is an essential aspect of cybersecurity. But by their very nature, these attacks are particularly difficult to prevent. 

That makes it important to understand what zero-day attacks are, why they are so common, and what specific steps you can take to minimize the risk you face. With that in mind, this post will introduce you to the basics of zero-day attacks and how they work.

So, what is a zero-day attack? To answer that question, we need to take a step back and look at the problem of zero-day vulnerabilities – risk factors that developers literally have zero days to fix before they could potentially be exploited. 

Simply put, a zero-day vulnerability is a flaw in a piece of software or hardware for which a corrective patch has not yet been developed. This can include flaws that the developer or manufacturer knows but has yet to fix, as well as software or hardware problems that are not yet known (except, maybe, by interested hackers). A zero-day attack occurs when these hackers exploit a zero-day vulnerability to carry out a data breach or other type of cyberattack.

Are zero-day attacks inevitable, and can we mitigate the risk that they pose? 

Because of the nature of software development, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which zero-day vulnerabilities are a thing of the past. That likely means that there will always be some risk of zero-day attacks. Still, there are steps that individuals and organizations can take to minimize their chances of falling victim to this widespread type of cyberattack, as well as mitigating the damage that could be caused by a zero-day attack.

Why are these attacks so difficult to prevent, and what can you do about that? By definition, zero-day attacks cannot be prevented simply by installing patches (since those patches have yet to be completed and released). Still, in general, best cybersecurity practices can help you minimize the risk you face. Taking basic steps like not reusing your passwords across platforms can sometimes help. 

It is also important to keep in mind that zero-day vulnerabilities do not typically exist for very long. Developers normally get to work developing patches as soon as they become aware of such a vulnerability. Moreover, in many cases, the general public only becomes aware that a given zero-day vulnerability even existed when the corrective software patch is publicly released. That makes it especially important to install the necessary patches as soon as possible in order to protect yourself.

How can setting priorities help protect you?

Once a vulnerability and its patch are publicized, failing to install the patch is the cybersecurity equivalent of leaving your house without locking the front door. It’s a risky move – and if you’re going to take that risk, you just hope that bad actors won’t realize they have an opportunity to pounce before you take stronger precautions to protect yourself.

The problem is that the sheer volume of patches released is more than many organizations can keep up with. Installing these patches is a time-consuming process that requires a heavy investment of resources – an investment that many businesses and organizations are unwilling or unable to make. As a result, it is important to identify the most pressing vulnerabilities and install the corresponding patches first. This kind of prioritization – which can be made easy with the Cybersixgill Dynamic Vulnerability Exploit (DVE) Score – can help you stay safe from the most urgent threats you face. 

In other words, the harsh reality is that simply because of what a zero-day attack is (and because of the zero-day vulnerabilities that these attacks exploit), today’s businesses and organizations do not have a viable way to eliminate any chance of ever falling victim to this type of threat. What cybersecurity professionals can do to protect themselves is to identify those vulnerabilities for which patches have been released, prioritize the most urgent of these vulnerabilities, and apply the corresponding patches as quickly as possible. This way, organizations can make the most of the available patches and minimize their chances of suffering major damage as a result of a cyberattack. 

 

How can Cybersixgill help you identify the cybersecurity vulnerabilities that present the most short-term threat to your company or organization? Get a personalized demo to find out.