You may have heard of recent zero-day attacks that compromised email accounts and posed risks to sensitive data. But what is a zero-day attack? Put simply, it’s an attack that leverages flaws in your IT infrastructure and can compromise your sensitive data. Read on to learn more.
Breaking Down What is a Zero Day Attack?
The best way to answer the question, “what is a zero-day attack?” is to explore how zero-day attackers take advantage of these exploits and some ways you can defend your organizations against these attacks.
Below, we’ll explore:
- What a zero-day attack is and how it works
- How to identify a zero-day attack
- How to proactively mitigate zero-day attacks
Considering how complicated zero-day attacks are, it helps to partner with a leading threat and vulnerability management expert for guidance on how to prepare for zero-day attacks.
What is a Zero Day Attack?
The concept of a zero-day attack comes from movie or music piracy, where a criminal will distributes a film or album the same day it is officially released, hence the name “zero-day.”
The cybersecurity zero-day exploit definition is related to malicious attackers recognizing a flaw and capitalizing on it before a vendor can release a security patch. Zero-day exploits are often successful because the vendors who manufactured or developed the affected products have not yet released applicable security patches.
Examples of Zero-Day Attacks
Two recent zero-day attack examples impacted the healthcare industry, exposing sensitive protected health information (PHI). One of the famous zero-day attacks involved attackers deploying ransomware on SonicWall devices in 2021. Another recent zero-day attack in 2021 was “PwnedPiper,” which used unauthenticated and unencrypted updates of hospital firmware.
Financial institutions are commonly victimized. They are high-value targets because they process large amounts of sensitive data from their customers and other stakeholders.
For instance, a zero-day attack on Accellion, an accounting software developer, provided attackers with access to sensitive information belonging to many big banks and related financial institutions.
How Zero-Day Attacks Work
A zero-day attack begins with a zero-day exploit, meaning a perpetrator takes advantage of a gap in your security controls to launch an attack. Whereas some attackers attack organizations’ IT infrastructure with these exploits, others sell them on the dark web.
Depending on the type of exploit the perpetrator takes advantage of, a zero-day attack can impact your IT security and result in a data breach.
In terms of who carries out zero-day attacks, any cybercriminal with access to zero-day exploits can do it. Many attackers research these exploits extensively to identify possible attack vectors.
Target Vulnerabilities for Zero-Day Exploits
Although most zero-day attacks weaponize new vulnerabilities, some attackers exploit existing ones that organizations have not yet patched. As such, it is possible for a zero-day exploit to target an existing vulnerability within your infrastructure that you have not yet addressed.
Zero-day exploits tend to target vulnerabilities such as:
- Poor access controls (e.g., lack of access privilege management)
- Web application vulnerabilities (e.g., cryptographic failures)
In most cases, zero-day attackers conduct extensive background research on possible vulnerabilities before deploying an attack. It is likely these attackers will attack an organization whose cyber defenses are less than optimal, as this presents an easy target.
How To Identify Zero-Day Attacks
Since most zero-day vulnerabilities have not yet been discovered by vendors, it is often difficult to identify a potential attack. However, some vendors proactively leverage white hat penetration testing to identify these vulnerabilities before they release products.
Many of the vulnerabilities identified by such efforts are then posted on public forums for open access. Remember, perpetrators would not want their victims or product vendors to develop patches as defenses against zero-day attacks. Therefore, by sharing intelligence about these attacks, organizations help mitigate the attacks.
How to Fix Zero-Day Attacks & Minimize the Impact
Keeping critical systems or assets backed up will help minimize the impact of a zero-day attack on your IT infrastructure. Even when an attack occurs and your assets go offline, a backup can streamline the process of restoring the assets back to their original state.
It is also critical to conduct ongoing analyses of your entire systems via penetration testing.
How to Prevent Zero-Day Attacks
Ultimately, the best way to prevent zero-day attacks is to build robust cyber defenses against these attacks. But that all starts with defining what is a zero-day attack and which tools and processes can help mitigate one. With the help of a web filtering services specialist, you will mitigate vulnerabilities that can be exploited during a zero-day attack.
To learn more about preventing zero-day attacks, contact RSI Security today!
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