Zero-day attacks: the invisible threat to cybersecurity

A zero-day attack is the specific situation in which a vulnerability is exploited on the first day of its discovery, before a patch can be deployed. (Photo: 123RF)

Computer attacks have become ubiquitous in our interconnected society and among the most fearsome are zero-day attacks.


In this article, we will provide a detailed explanation of this type of attack and examine the steps you should take to minimize the impact of this type of attack on the security of your data and operations. Our goal is to provide you with a clear understanding of the actions needed to address this growing threat and effectively protect your business.

What is a vulnerability?

In computer cybersecurity, a vulnerability means a weakness or flaw in a computer system, software, network or device that can be exploited by attackers to compromise security and access confidential information, cause damage or disrupt the normal functioning of the system.

What is a zero-day attack?

A zero-day attack is the specific situation in which a vulnerability is exploited on the first day of its discovery, before a patch can be deployed. The term “zero day” emphasizes the fact that the IT security community has had no time frame to prepare for and protect against this vulnerability.

When a zero-day vulnerability is discovered in software, developers can work on a patch to repair the security flaw. However, during this period between vulnerability discovery and patch release, attackers can take advantage of this window of opportunity to launch attacks before the vulnerability is known and fixed.

Discovering zero-day vulnerabilities

Zero-day vulnerabilities can be discovered in different ways. Security researchers can discover them when they scan software for potential vulnerabilities. Sometimes attackers discover these vulnerabilities themselves and choose to keep them secret to exploit them later. There are also underground markets where zero-day vulnerabilities are sold to malicious entities.

When a zero-day vulnerability is discovered, it is crucial to report it to the manufacturer of the system in question. Ethical security researchers play a key role in this process, working with vendors to remediate vulnerabilities and develop patches that will close the door on bad actors.

Who checks for zero-day vulnerabilities?

Zero-day vulnerability research is conducted by different types of computer security researchers, each bringing unique and complementary expertise. Here are some of the types of researchers involved in this research:

Independent security researchers: These researchers are typically IT security enthusiasts who conduct research independently, often out of curiosity or to contribute to the security community. They spend time scanning software, protocols, and systems for vulnerabilities.

Security researchers at cybersecurity companies: Many cybersecurity companies employ researchers who specialize in discovering zero-day vulnerabilities; Microsoft, Google, Trend Micro are good examples.

Government security research teams: Government agencies, such as intelligence services and defense organizations, often have their own teams of security researchers. These teams are dedicated to discovering zero-day vulnerabilities for national security exploitation.

Academic researchers: Universities and academic research institutes also have researchers specializing in computer security. These researchers may conduct research on zero-day vulnerabilities as part of academic projects or collaborations with industry.

Vulnerability discovery bounty programs: Some organizations operate bug bounty programs that reward researchers for discovering and reporting vulnerabilities, including zero-days. These programs encourage independent research and allow researchers to contribute to improving safety.

Together, these security researchers work to identify and report zero-day vulnerabilities, helping to strengthen the security of computer systems and protect users against potential attacks. Your experience and efforts are essential to keep security evolving in the face of ever-changing threats.

Improving Detection with EDR and XDR Solutions

Endpoint detection and response (EDR) and extended detection and response (XDR) solution providers have a critical role to play in detecting and responding to zero-day attacks. These solutions are designed to monitor endpoints such as computers, servers, and mobile devices and detect abnormal behavior that could indicate an attack in progress.

To improve detection of zero-day attacks, EDR and XDR solution providers use advanced techniques such as machine learning and behavioral analysis. They analyze endpoint behavior in real time, identify suspicious patterns, and generate alerts when malicious activity is detected.

In general, these situations still require expert analysis and concrete manual actions to limit the impacts of vulnerability exploitation. It would be very naive to believe that a simple EDR or XDR solution can protect you against any zero-day attack.

The race after the report

Once the report is made, the race against time begins. Developers are working hard to produce a patch to eliminate the vulnerability quickly. Malicious actors are interested in producing tools to easily exploit the vulnerability and find vulnerable installations to monetize this opportunity. Criminals take advantage of the fact that many organizations are slow to apply patches, giving them a large window of opportunity.

As soon as the fix is ​​available

Once a patch is released for a known vulnerability, it is crucial that EDR, XDR solution providers, and companies operating vulnerable systems take appropriate steps to ensure the safety and security of systems. Here’s what needs to be done by these actors after a patch is released:

Rapid release of updates: Vendors must quickly communicate with their customers to inform them of the existence of the patch and its importance. They must also ensure that their EDR and XDR solutions are updated with the latest detection signatures to identify attempts to exploit the patched vulnerability.

Rapid patching: Once a patch is available, it is crucial to quickly apply it to affected systems. Delays in patching can leave windows of opportunity for attackers. Companies must also ensure that all patches are deployed in a consistent, risk-based manner to systems where the vulnerability could have a significant impact.

Continuous Monitoring: Even after applying patches, companies must maintain continuous monitoring of their systems using cybersecurity solutions to detect any suspicious activity or attempted exploitation. Proactive monitoring helps quickly identify any potential reappearances or new variants of the exploit associated with the patched vulnerability.

In conclusion, zero-day attacks pose a considerable threat to IT security. However, through the efforts of cybersecurity researchers and teams dedicated to protecting against cyber threats, as well as advanced cybersecurity solutions, it is possible to limit the consequences of these attacks before a patch is available. Collaboration between security researchers and solution providers plays a crucial role in combating this type of attack.

It is essential that companies dedicate resources to qualified cybersecurity teams and robust solutions. It is equally crucial to keep systems updated regularly to minimize the risks of zero-day attacks and ensure effective protection of data and business operations. By investing in security and remaining proactive in vulnerability management, companies can strengthen their security posture and reduce the potential impacts of advanced attacks.

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