What is a Zero Day Exploit? How to Defend Against Them

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While the best protective measures can’t protect your business completely from a zero-day attack, many of the same cybersecurity best practices are useful for protecting against zero-day exploits. 

To protect your home from thieves, the easiest thing you can do is lock your windows and doors every time you leave the house. Similarly, in cybersecurity, the easiest way to protect your network is to keep your hardware and applications up to date with the latest security patches. 

But how do you defend against a vulnerability you don’t know is a vulnerability in the first place? Welcome to the conundrum of zero-day exploits. 

A zero-day exploit is like a burglar who finds where you hide your spare key—they can now access your house at any time. It’s only after you find all your stuff missing that you realize what happened and change the locks. 

What Is a Zero-Day Exploit? 

A zero-day exploit is an undisclosed vulnerability in your hardware, software, or network that has been exposed with no current remedy. Sometimes, cybercriminals launch an attack on a security vulnerability on the same day it’s been publicized; other times, the vulnerability itself isn’t exposed until the first attack takes place. 

While developers are working on a patch, hackers enjoy free reign to exploit the vulnerability at will. You can see why they call it a zero-day exploit because “zero days” is about the amount of time the developer has to fix the problem before a complete catastrophe. 

To start, a developer must develop and release a patch. The patch then must be downloaded and installed on vulnerable devices. For an exploit targeting a commonly-used application—or for an organization with thousands of devices—it can take hours, days, or even weeks to become fully protected. 

In the meantime, hackers are stealing data and exploiting additional malware without your knowledge. 

Zero-day exploits can take any form, such as a virus, ransomware, or Trojan. They can be found and exploited by a lone hacker or used by criminal organizations as part of a widespread attack. Because it can infect devices through normal activities like web browsing, opening an email, or launching a file, users often don’t even realize they’ve been attacked. 

Computer with "Zero-Day Exploit" written on the screen along with an alert icon.

Zero-Day Exploits in the News 

In 2017 hackers used a zero-day exploit to attack a flaw in Microsoft Word to deploy a remote access Trojan that could secretly collect information like emails and login information. 

In 2014 hackers exploited a previously undisclosed vulnerability during a spear-phishing email campaign to unleash a devastating attack on Sony Picture Entertainment’s computer network. The attack crippled the network while releasing the personal emails of top executives, business information, and even copies of unreleased films. 

How to Defend Against a Zero-Day Exploit 

While the best protective measures and most sophisticated AI/machine-learning solutions can’t protect your business completely from a zero-day attack, many of the same cybersecurity best practices are useful for protecting against zero-day exploits. This includes: 

Monitoring for Unusual Activity

While you can’t patch an unknown vulnerability, you can detect potential attacks by monitoring your network for unusual or unprecedented activity. A cloud-based security operations center (SOC), such as the Arctic Wolf SOC-as-a-service, can monitor your on-premise and cloud resources in real-time, 24/7, so you can easily see if, when, and where an attack may have occurred. 

Understanding Your Risk

When an exploit is exposed, it’s possible a patch isn’t far behind. However, it’s up to you to know if the exploit and patch apply in your case. You need to have an up-to-date asset inventory so you can easily see what you need to fix or quarantine on your network until it can be patched. With Arctic Wolf™ Managed Risk and Managed Detection and Response services, you can easily put in place the strong comprehensive cybersecurity program needed to quickly respond to attacks, zero-day or otherwise. 

Having an Advisor You Can Count On

When it comes to zero-day exploits, every minute matters. Arctic Wolf’s Concierge Security® Team provides real-time understanding of the threat as it develops so you can understand your risks and take appropriate action. For example, we were able to warn our customers about the BlueKeep exploit code that was discovered in Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol, helping them prioritize that patch so they’d be protected against an attack. 

An experienced security operations team can help you stay protected against known vulnerabilities and the unknown risks of zero-day exploits by providing the dedicated services and security experts you need to prevent, protect, and respond to threats in your environment. Learn how the leaders in security operations can help protect your organization. 

This article was originally published on ThreatPost.com


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Arctic Wolf

Arctic Wolf provides your team with 24x7 coverage, security operations expertise, and strategically tailored security recommendations to continuously improve your overall posture.
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