What are Zero-Day Vulnerabilities and How to Build Protection Against Them?
The most terrifying words for any IT leader to hear are “zero-day exploit” which refers to a cyber attack that targets a software weakness. Once the software vulnerability is identified, the attacker immediately develops an exploit and launches an attack using it. Organizations must therefore take precautions to protect themselves from dangerous vulnerabilities and must have a plan in place to do so.
What is a Zero-Day Exploit?
Security flaws known as “zero days” are found in software when teams have “zero days” to develop an update or patch to fix the problem and users are thus already at danger. Vulnerability, exploit, and attack are three ideas that are frequently associated with zero day. Let’s examine the primary distinctions between these two terms:
An unforeseen software flaw that was found by attackers ahead of the company is known as a zero-day vulnerability.
An attack method used by an attacker to take advantage of a weakness in an organization and access its systems is known as a zero-day exploit.
When an attacker takes advantage of these software flaws and significantly damages a system before a patch or update has been applied, this is known as a zero-day attack.
When a zero-day vulnerability persists in a system for a long time, it might become endemic and become more difficult to defend against. Even when IT teams thoroughly review their code for faults, an attacker may still find a flaw to exploit and harm crucial data, infrastructure, and apps. A malevolent attacker can access your systems if they are able to locate a critical software vulnerability and exploit it.
Systems Vulnerable to Zero-Day Attacks
A zero-day attack can take advantage of flaws in numerous systems, including:
Due to their widespread use and the opportunities they provide attackers to take over user systems, operating systems may be the most alluring target for zero day assaults.
⦁ Web browsers—if a vulnerability is left unpatched, an attacker may be able to drive-by download files, run scripts, or even execute executable files on user workstations.
⦁ Office applications—malware that is placed in documents or other files frequently takes use of zero-day flaws in the underlying program that edits them.
⦁ Open source parts—some open source projects are not kept up to date or don’t follow good security procedures. The vulnerabilities these components possess may not be known to software vendors who use them.
⦁ Hardware—flaws can let attackers to take control of routers, switches, network appliances, or household gadgets like gaming consoles, obstructing their operation or utilizing them to create sizable botnets.
⦁ All linked Internet of Things (IoT) devices—including home appliances, televisions, sensors, connected cars, and manufacturing equipment, are susceptible to zero-day attacks. Many Internet of Things (IoT) devices lack a method for patching or updating their software.
Zero-Day Vulnerabilities Examples
An rise in attempted assaults on zero-day vulnerabilities has recently been observed in the sector. For instance, Microsoft reported more than 1.8 million attack attempts against half of all corporate networks within a week of the Log4Shell vulnerability being found. Attack attempts on zero-day vulnerabilities, however, have always been common, as the example of Operation Aurora below demonstrates.
- Apache Log4j 2, a well-known Java library for logging error messages in applications, was subject to the widespread software vulnerability known as Log4Shell in December 2021. If a computer is using a particular version of Log4j 2, the flaw allows a remote attacker to take over the computer and access the internet. The basics of the Log4j vulnerability won’t change even when the mitigation is improved and the damage increases. In order to obtain private configuration information, for instance, malicious actors can run any malware on the system they have hacked. Attackers might take complete control of a system, including all of its data and applications, if they were able to obtain this information.
- The Spring Java framework, an open-source platform for the creation of Java-based applications, is affected by the major vulnerability known as Spring4Shell, which first surfaced in March 2022. The Spring framework is well-liked because it makes it simpler for software engineers to create and test the code needed to sustain modular applications. Numerous applications could be impacted because Spring is widely used by developers. Applications could be vulnerable to remote code execution if an attacker used Spring4Shell, making it a very serious vulnerability.*
- Cyberattacks known as Operation Aurora specifically targeted large corporations in 2009, including Google, Adobe Systems, Yahoo, and others. The vulnerability’s main objective was to access and alter the source code of these well-known companies.
What Conventional Techniques are Used to Identify Zero-Day Attacks?
Zero-day assaults can appear in a variety of covert ways and are frequently challenging to spot. Typically, businesses may encounter unusual scanning activity or an unanticipated surge in traffic that originates from a single client. Examining software behavior and determining whether any actions are malicious is one technique to spot zero-day attacks. In order to create a baseline for guiding potential future exploits, machine learning can also be used to recognize data from known past vulnerabilities. For this strategy, application logs make good data sources.
It is also conceivable to use methods like statistics- and behavior-based monitoring. By using statistics from exploits that vendors have discovered, companies can train a system to recognize and track down these attacks. When an organization intentionally introduces harmful software into a system, it uses behavior-based monitoring to spot any suspicious traffic and examine how the software and system interact.
Although both approaches can be effective, they can have gaps in their ability to detect newly developing threats.
4 Best Practices for Protection Against Zero-Day Attacks
Some zero-day exploits can be found through vulnerability scanning. Security companies that provide vulnerability scanning tools can evaluate code, simulate attacks on software, and look for any new vulnerabilities that may have appeared after a program update.
All zero-day exploits cannot be found using this methodology. However, even for those it does identify, scanning is insufficient; in order to stop the attack, businesses must act on the scan’s findings, conduct code reviews, and sanitize their code. Contrary to popular belief, most organizations take time to address recently identified vulnerabilities, however attackers can act swiftly to use a zero-day vulnerability.
Use Patch Management
Any company should have a patch management strategy and procedure that is coordinated with the development, IT operations, and security teams and is made apparent to every employee.
It is crucial to employ automation to manage and apply patches in larger businesses. Using patch management tools, you may identify systems that need updates, automatically source patches from software suppliers, test the changes the patch introduces, and deploy the patch to production. This prevents the inevitable legacy system that is ignored or left behind when systems are changed and delays in patch deployment.
Patch management can considerably narrow the exposure window, but it cannot stop zero-day attacks. Vendors of software may release a fix in a matter of hours or days in the event of a serious vulnerability. Prior to attackers identifying and exploiting the vulnerability in your systems, you can release patches more swiftly with the aid of automated patch management.
Many of the problems that exist in vulnerability scanning and patch administration are resolved by input validation. While they are performing lengthy processes like cleaning code or repairing systems, it doesn’t leave firms vulnerable. It is significantly more adaptable, able to respond to emerging threats in real time, and is run by security specialists.
Installing a web application firewall (WAF) on the network edge is one of the best strategies to stop zero-day attacks. All incoming traffic is examined by a WAF, which removes malicious inputs that might target security flaws.
Runtime application self-protection is also the most current development in the fight against zero-day assaults (RASP). Applications can defend themselves by using RASP agents, which sit inside them and examine request payloads in the context of the application code at runtime to decide if a request is legitimate or malicious.
Prepare an Incident Response Strategy
A well-organized procedure for identifying and responding to a cyberattack is provided by an incident response plan, which is beneficial for organizations of all sizes. In the event of an assault, having a specialized plan targeted towards zero-day attacks will give you a significant edge, reduce uncertainty, and improve your chances of avoiding or minimizing harm.
Follow the six stages of incident response outlined by the SANS Institute while creating your plan. The strategy should outline:
⦁ Perform a risk analysis to determine which assets are the most sensitive and where the security team should concentrate its efforts. Create paperwork outlining the roles, obligations, and procedures.
⦁ Identification – specify the steps to take in order to identify a potential zero-day attack (using tools and/or operational processes), confirm that it is in fact an attack, and determine what additional data must be gathered in order to address the danger.
⦁ Containment – refers to what efforts can be taken immediately once a security issue is discovered to stop further damage from happening and what longer-term actions can be performed to clean and restore impacted systems.
⦁ Eradication – is the process of locating the attack’s primary cause and ensuring that measures are made to prevent future incidents.
⦁ Recovery – how to restart production systems, test them, and for how long to keep an eye on them to make sure everything is back to normal.
⦁ Lessons Learned – Conduct a retrospective no later than two weeks after the incident to examine organizational procedures and tooling and determine how to be better prepared for the next attack.