• Mark Ledgerwood

Zero-day Exploits: What you need to know and how you can help yourself

Zero-day attacks are becoming increasingly prevalent and problematic for businesses. The term “zero-day” is used to describe the threat of unknown or unaddressed security vulnerabilities in software or applications. Thus, attacks that exploit zero-day vulnerabilities often occur without users’ knowledge and can carry hefty costs for organizations in the form of lost productivity, data theft, system downtime, reputation damage and regulatory actions


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Like all things cyber focused, prevention is the best form of protection. It is incredibly important that any organisation/ business has a secure email system as this is one of the most common ways that criminals can gain access to an organisation/business’s network. Email security defenses are the most effective method of battling zero-day attacks.

What is a zero-day attack and how does it work?

It is a scenario where hackers exploit a vulnerability before the developers have had the opportunity to release a fix for it. The reason why these are so threatening is that only the people that know about them are the attackers themselves. This leaves the fate of the orgnaization at the complete mercy of an attacker, as they can choose if they want to immediately execute an attack or simply bide their time and wait for a more opportune moment. Typically, they involve targeting a system with malware once a criminal has found a way to exploit an unpatched vulnerability in a web browser or application. Malware usually arrives via email and is downloaded when a user either clicks through a malicious link or downloads a malicious attachment.

As with most malware attacks, the trouble starts immediately following a link or attachment is clicked or downloaded and infiltrates a company’s files, stealing crucial business data such as company passwords, user logins and personal client files.

A recent example of a zero-day attack was March 16, where Microsoft announced the confirmed exploitation of several vulnerabilities in the Microsoft Exchange Server which allowed adversaries to ‘access email accounts, exfiltrate data, move laterally in victim environments, and install additional accesses and malware to allow long-term access to victim networks’.

Patches were made available and quickly installed but served a severe reminder that even as far away from all the action New Zealand is, we still are not immune to such vulnerabilities.

Though Zero-day attacks typically target high-profile businesses and government bodies, any business can be a target. In some cases, even SMB’s that have inadequate security measures have found themselves as victims of such attacks, and have a much more severe financial loss, nearly doubling the damage cost associate with a successful endpoint attack compared to enterprises.

Best Practices for Preventing Zero-Day Attacks

Zero-day exploits are some of the most difficult digital attacks to prevent; however, implementing these tips and best practices will decrease the chances of your company falling victim to a zero-day attack:

  • Use an advanced, proactive email security solution: Traditional antivirus software is typically only effective in defending against known threats and, as a result, is often ineffective in protecting against zero-day exploits. When it comes to zero-day attack detection and prevention, every second matters! Only the most proactive, intuitive security solutions can prevent zero-day attacks using advanced AI and heuristics techniques to search for anomalous patterns not typically seen from a user or application.

  • Educate users: Many zero-day attacks capitalize on human error. Thus, user education is imperative in preventing these exploits. Teach employees and users good security habits, tips and best practices that will help keep them safe online and protect your organization from zero-day exploits and other digital threats.

  • Deploy a web application firewall: Deploying a web application firewall will help your company react to threats in real-time. A web application firewall continually scans incoming data for threats, providing organizations with the information necessary to suppress suspicious activity and stop an impending attack from occurring.

  • Implement network access control: Network access control is a tool that prevents unauthorized machines from accessing an organization’s network, decreasing the risk of hacks, exploits and breaches. It can also help to contain any damage to a particular network.

  • Use IPsec: IPsec encrypts and authenticates all network traffic, allowing a system to rapidly identify and isolate non-network traffic and suspicious activity. With this information, organizations stand a better chance of being able to recognize and stop attacks before damage is done.

If you have any queries regarding zero-day exploits or any other cyber security concerns, do not hesitate to get in touch with the team at ACS.

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