Can You Prevent Zero Day Attacks?

November 7, 2019 Eric Dosal Eric Dosal

Every organization is faced with cyber threats on a daily basis. New malware programs are created all the time as criminals, hacktivists, and spies look for ways to crack cybersecurity architectures.

As new threats are discovered, software developers and cybersecurity firms work to create countermeasures that can stop them. One type of cyber threat that you might have heard of is the “zero day attack.” What is a zero day attack, and how can you stop one?

What is a Zero Day Attack?

“Zero day attack” is the term for any new cyber threat that isn’t widely known to security and software vendors. These attacks usually leverage some form of previously-unknown weaknesses in cybersecurity measures or business software to crack an organization’s cybersecurity and carry out a cyberattack.

These unknown weaknesses are often referred to as “zero day exploits,” and can be used to cause massive harm. While zero day attacks only make up a fraction of all cyber threats launched against companies, statistics cited by ZDNet stated that “76 percent of successful attacks leveraged unknown and polymorphic malware or zero-day attacks, making them four times more likely to succeed in compromise compared to traditional attack techniques.”

In other words, zero day attacks are a major cyber threat, and one that companies need to take strong precautions against. But, how can you stop a security breach caused by previously-unknown vulnerabilities?

The first step is to identify potential zero day exploits before attackers can.

How to Identify Potential Zero Day Exploits

Before you can stop a zero day attack, you need to find the exploits that those cyberattacks would leverage. This can be a bit of a challenge. However, it is doable with some basic vulnerability management techniques.

The most important vulnerability management tool for detecting zero day exploits?Penetration testing.

Penetration tests try to crack an organization’s cybersecurity defenses to stress test its cybersecurity architecture. During such tests, cybersecurity professionals and “white hat” hackers try to cause a controlled security breach to identify previously unknown flaws in security tools and processes. In a way, these professionals temporarily assume the role of attackers, and will try to exploit many of the same security flaws that real attackers would.

These penetration tests are an excellent way to detect zero day exploits that even software developers and larger security organizations aren’t aware of.

Stopping Cyberattacks Before They Start

Of course, merely detecting zero day exploits isn’t enough to stop new malware or other cyber threats from using those weaknesses against your organization. To stop zero day attacks, you need to be proactive about your organization’s cybersecurity.

Some proactive measures you can take to stop zero day attacks before they start include:

  • Actively Working to Close Security Gaps Identified in Pen Tests. One of the first things to do after running a penetration test is to actively take measures to counter security gaps and vulnerabilities identified by the test. When prioritizing which fixes to make, it’s important to start with the items that have the greatest risk attached, but are the simplest to fix.

  • Deactivating Software That is No Longer Supported. In some cases, it may be necessary to deactivate or uninstall an obsolete software that has a critical security flaw—especially if the software developer no longer supports it. Without security patches, the “zero day exploits” in these programs can pose too much of a risk to warrant their continued use. In such cases, it’s important to find alternative solutions to carry out the functions the old software filled.

  • Being Proactive about Downloading the Latest Security Patches. Once an attack method is known to a software developer, they’ll typically work quickly to close the security gap that the attack strategy relies on. Of course, at this point, the issue is no longer a zero day exploit, per se. Instead, it’s a known attack method, even though it’s still relatively new. However, many copycat attacks may leverage this fresh new cyber threat to capitalize on the delay between the discovery of the exploit and their targets implementing a fix. So, it’s crucial to download the latest security patches for any and all software as soon as possible once they’re available. This helps to minimize the window of opportunity for new malware attacks and other cyber threats to cause a security breach.

If you need help identifying and resolving zero day attack vulnerabilities in your organization’s network, reach out to the Compuquip team. Compuquip’s cybersecurity team has years of experience in vulnerability management for organizations of many sizes and verticals.

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