What Is a Zero-Day Exploit? And How to Defend Yourself?

zero day exploit

Despite maintaining all the measures, whether it be using up-to-date antivirus protection or having a firewall in place, your company may experience a security incident anyhow. The next thing to wonder is what it means to be a zero-day exploit and how it went past your cyber defenses?

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It’s not simply bad luck. With the help of the right tools, defense against zero-day exploits can be built, and businesses can be protected.

What do You Mean by Zero-Day Exploit?

The modern-day attack which targets any new or an unknown weakness in software is termed as a zero-day exploit. Due to its high vulnerability, security solutions become unpatched to stop the attacker in a given time.

These attacks have higher chances of success because defenses are not in place. And that’s why zero-day attacks are treated as a high-level security threat for the programs. According to some research, zero-day exploits account for 33% of all threats imposed from any type of malware.

zero day exploit what is it

The attackers understand that tech businesses are more eager towards identifying the vulnerabilities. Even when vulnerability gets spotted, attackers launch threats faster than any patch or debugging happen.

So, it needs just one successful exploit to compromise the whole system. A very similar concept is termed with the name, zero-day malware. It is a kind of virus for which no specifically generated antivirus signatures are found.

The files in the email attachments often make vulnerabilities by allowing the attachment, or in particular file types. So, any signature-based antivirus is unable to stop it from infecting.

The typical targets include the listed set of elements listed below:

  • Various Government departments
  • Massive sized companies
  • Home network users who use less secure systems, as an unauthorized operating system
  • People having authorized access to important business databases
  • Firmware or hardware devices.
  • Some governments have used techniques to make threats on their opponents by use of these techniques in times of war.

These vulnerabilities are extremely valuable for many companies all over the world, a market exists in which the people who discover them are paid if they tell the company about this, it is done legally to make sure threats can be minimized.

But alongside it, there are various black markets where some pay people to derive security threats among opponent companies. In these markets, zero-day vulnerabilities are paid heavily, based on the threat level it can cause.

How to Get Real-Time Protection?

To protect the network against zero-day threats, an antivirus is essential that can go beyond traditional capabilities and provide real-time protection. The zero-day antivirus software must be capable of identifying known and unknown malicious files. The aim is to block them before they cause any damage to the system.

Detection based on Signature
Traditional antivirus programs were signature-based, and they fall short against zero-day attacks. With the discovery of new viruses, the antivirus vendor has to code a signature to protect against it.

Thus, the signature gets scanned later, and the virus gets blocked from getting into your network. Zero-day threats are dangerous because the antivirus software doesn’t have signatures in place to identify them. They may get undetected until the vulnerability is identified and patched.

Detection based on Heuristics
With the diminishing effectiveness of signature-based techniques, antivirus solutions have now turned to “heuristic” techniques to identify malware. This detection method does not require an exact signature match.

Instead, it examines files for suspicious characteristics and thus detects potential malware. This detection method, however, also has a drawback – It can inadvertently flag legitimate files as malicious. It may cause trouble in the system it was designed to protect.

How to Ensure the Detection of Vulnerability Before the Attack?

No patches or antivirus signatures exist yet for zero-day exploits, which makes them difficult to detect. However, there are many ways to identify previously unknown software vulnerabilities, like:

Vulnerability Scanning
Vulnerability scanning can detect some of the zero-day exploits. The vendors who offer these solutions can simulate attacks on the software code, conduct code reviews, and also attempt to find newer vulnerabilities that could have been introduced after an update. This approach cannot detect all the zero-day threats.

And for those it detects, scanning is not enough; some action is needed on the results of a scan. Organizations must perform code review and sanitize their code to prevent the exploit. In reality, attackers can be swift to exploit, while most organizations are slow to respond to vulnerabilities.

Patch Management
Another strategy is to deploy patches as soon as possible for newly discovered vulnerabilities. Quickly applying patches and software upgrades significantly reduces the risk of attacks. However, there are some factors that can delay the deployment process.

It takes time for software vendors to discover vulnerabilities, develop a patch, and distribute them to users. The patch can also take time to be applied to organizational systems. The longer the time it takes, the higher the risk of a zero-day exploit.

Input Validation and Sanitization

Input validation solves many of the issues placed by vulnerability scanning and patch management, and also doesn’t leave organizations susceptible while they are patching systems or sanitizing code. Operated by security experts, it is much more flexible, adaptable, and responsive to new threats in real-time.

Deploying a WAF (Web Application Firewall) on the network edge is a very effective way to prevent zero-day attacks. It reviews all incoming traffic and filters out any malicious input that may target security vulnerabilities. Moreover, the most recent advancement in the battle against zero-day threats is runtime application self-protection (RASP).

It is a security technology that uses runtime instrumentation. It can detect and block attacks by using information from inside the running software. The agents sit inside applications, they examine request payloads with the context of the application code at runtime.

Bottom Line

It has become very crucial to be safeguarded from security threats. Real-time protection is a necessity of every program to avoid and tackle zero-day threats before they compromise the system heavily.

The best line of defense which works against these attacks is to stick to antivirus software that is highly reliable. Make sure that they are updated on a regular basis. Bitdefender and Norton are examples of among the most preferred brands that have served the purpose properly in the past.


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Author: Mark Bruno
Mark Bruno is not your typical computer geek. He has a degree in law and criminology, and always had a need for justice. Seeing how everything is getting digitalized, he decided to master cyber-security and virus protection with led him to join the LossOfPrivacy team.