A zero day attack occurs when hackers exploit a vulnerability in hardware or software that is unknown to the vendor. An attacker discovers the vulnerability, swiftly creates an exploit, and uses it to launch an attack. Zero-day attacks are severe security threats with high success rates as businesses do not have defenses in place to detect or prevent them.
A zero-day target attack typically goes after vulnerabilities in web browsers or Wi-Fi networks. It can also be launched via email by attaching files that exploit software vulnerabilities, such as Microsoft 365 applications and Adobe Flash Player. An attack will commonly target major enterprises, government departments, senior executives, hardware, and connected devices, as well as home users that operate a vulnerable system to compromise machines and build botnets.
A zero-day attack is so-called because it occurs before the target is aware that the vulnerability exists. The attacker releases malware before the developer or vendor has had the opportunity to create a patch to fix the vulnerability.
However, the term "zero day" comes from the world of pirated digital media. A pirated version of a movie, music, or software is referred to as "zero day" when it becomes available at the same time or before the official release. In other words, the pirated version is published zero days after the official version.
Therefore, a zero-day vulnerability is a security risk in a piece of software that is not publicly known about and the vendor is not aware of. A zero-day exploit is the method an attacker uses to access the vulnerable system.
A zero-day attack begins with a software developer releasing vulnerable code that is spotted and exploited by a malicious actor. The attack is then either successful, which likely results in the attacker committing identity or information theft, or the developer creates a patch to limit its spread. As soon as a patch has been written and applied, the exploit is no longer referred to as a zero day exploit.
The timeline of zero-day exploitation has been split into seven separate stages by security researchers Leyla Bilge and Tudor Dumitras from vulnerability introduction to security patch. They are as follows:
Vulnerability introduced: A developer creates software that, without them realizing, contains vulnerable code.
Exploit released: A malicious actor discovers the vulnerability before the developer realizes it exists or before they have been able to fix or patch it. The hacker then writes and deploys an exploit code while the vulnerability is still open.
Vulnerability discovered: The vendor becomes aware of the vulnerability but does not have a patch available.
Vulnerability disclosed: The vendor and/or security researchers announce the vulnerability publicly, which advises users and attackers of its existence.
Antivirus signatures released: If attackers have created zero-day malware targeting the vulnerability, then antivirus vendors can quickly identify its signature and provide protection against it. However, systems may remain exposed if there are other ways of exploiting the vulnerability.
Security patch released: The vendor releases a public fix to close the vulnerability. How long this takes to arrive depends on the complexity and how much of a priority it takes in their development process.
Security patch deployment completed: Releasing a security patch does not provide an instant fix as it can take time for users to deploy it. For this reason, organizations and individual users should switch on automatic software updates and take notice of update notifications.
Systems are vulnerable to attack through the entire process from stages 1 to 7, but a zero-day attack can only occur between stages 2 and 4. Further attacks can occur if the vulnerability remains unprotected. Zero-day attacks are rarely discovered quickly enough to prevent substantial damage. It can typically take days, months, and even years before a developer realizes the vulnerability existed and led to an attack and data breach.
A zero-day attack can happen to any company at any time, often without them realizing. High-profile examples of zero-day attacks include:
Fortinet protects businesses against zero-day attacks by helping them prevent known threats, then detect and mitigate potential unknown malicious activity.
Our products provide advanced threat detection technologies that examine network traffic, users, and content to identify unknown threats. For example, sandboxing enables the observation of potentially malicious software without affecting the network, while botnet detection flags patterns that could suggest command-and-control activity.
While a zero-day attack, by its very definition, is impossible to patch, there are methods that allow organizations to defend against them.
To remain vigilant against the threat of zero-day attacks, businesses must have a strategy in place. The key elements of this strategy need to be:
SpartanTec, Inc. helps businesses remain secure against the unknown of zero-day attacks in the modern threat landscape. It provides an integrated security solution that spans the entire distributed network environment and offers deep integration required to automatically respond to new threats.
The SpartanTec, Inc. enables businesses to defend against zero-day risks with input validation and sanitization and prevent attacks at the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) level. The SpartanTec, Inc. computer security - Wilmington NC team is committed to discovering new and emerging threats and delivering instant protection solutions before such threats pose a security problem for organizations.
SpartanTec, Inc. products can be configured to receive automatic updates every time our team identifies a new threat.