• Richard Blech

Zero-Day Attacks: A Proactive-Common Sense Approach



Zero-day attacks can present a unique challenge to cybersecurity experts. How does an organization protect itself against unknown vulnerabilities within its IT system? As with other types of cyberthreats, presenting the best defense entails having a well-developed cybersecurity infrastructure in place, one that includes sound policies and effective solutions, including hardened encryption and cryptography technology that ensures data remains protected.


ZERO-DAY ATTACKS TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SECURITY RISKS

In a zero-day attack, hackers will exploit software vulnerabilities or flaws that are unknown to the vendor or developer of the particular system. Zero-day attacks come in many forms, such as malware, phishing, etc., and can be used to infiltrate systems, circumvent security protocols and steal sensitive data. Networks, mobile devices, web applications, computers, IoT devices, firmware, operating systems and more can all be targeted by these attacks. Developers of the impacted software typically become aware of the vulnerability that was exploited only after an attack has occurred.

VULNERABILITIES HAVE THE POTENTIAL TO BE USED FOR ZERO-DAY ATTACKS

Absent authorization protocols, weak passwords, use of broken algorithms and missing authentication for critical functions, to name a few, have always been issues in cybersecurity. However, there is much at stake in an age in which software systems are used to manage important operations, such as regulating critical infrastructures, overseeing online financial transactions or safeguarding sensitive medical data, etc.

The vulnerabilities are often leveraged after they have been publicly disclosed, leaked or stolen. For instance, Kaseya attack resulted when hackers leveraged zero-day vulnerabilities right before the patches were due to be released. Microsoft is currently investigating if hackers obtained the zero-day vulnerability needed to launch the Microsoft Exchange email server attacks from private information given to security partners.

ZERO-DAY VULNERABILITIES AND EXPLOITS SALES FEEDS THE ZERO-DAY ECOSYSTEM

Zero-day vulnerabilities and their exploits—the tools that are used to leverage the vulnerabilities into attacks—are also for sale. In fact, demand for them fuels a thriving black market in which the sales are facilitated by brokers. The value of zero-day vulnerability can be influenced by its age, platform and capability. The higher the degree of sensitivity of the data that can be targeted and the greater the extent of damage the resultant zero-attack can induce, the higher the monetary value of the vulnerability. The zero-day exploits that have the most monetary value on the black market are those that access to data pertaining to corporate secrets and national security.


The vulnerabilities and exploits are sold on many websites, including on hacker forums on the Dark Web and in darknet marketplaces. For example, in 2020, hackers placed critical Zoom zero-day exploits targeting the Windows and MacOS apps for sale with a list price of $500,000. Hackers routinely sift through source code to identify new vulnerabilities. They will then create exploits to sell to the highest bidder.


Cybercriminals are not the only entities seeking zero-day vulnerabilities and exploits. The makers of the software themselves hold contests for zero-day vulnerability discoveries. For example, from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021, Microsoft doled out $13.6M in bounty rewards, with the biggest award being $200K. Exploit brokers, like Zerodium, which purchases exploits from researchers and in turn sells them to government agencies that may use to gain insights against hackers, sometimes pays in the millions for successful zero-day exploits.


This extremely high demand for zero-day vulnerabilities and related exploits, whether or not it is for legitimate purposes, highlights two very important points. First, it supports the practice of making security one of the main priorities during the development stages of technology product, not an afterthought. Secondly, it underscores the fact that threat actors who seek to do damage with zero-day attacks, whether it is a nation-state engaging in cyberwarfare or an enterprise committing corporate espionage, have a very deep well from which to draw.


It is not coincidence that the Chinese government, which has repeatedly proven to be a cybersecurity threat to multiple countries, including the United States, has made it a matter of policy to begin harvesting zero-day vulnerabilities. Also, Russian state hackers, like those who were responsible for the 2020 Solar Winds supply chain hack, are huge players in the zero-day vulnerability black market and routinely use zero-day attacks. The most recent attack attributed to the group involves an iOS zero-day vulnerability that was used to compromise fully updated iPhones to steal Web authentication credentials of Western European government members.

PROTECTION AGAINST ZERO-DAY ATTACKS REQUIRES CYBERSECURITY BEST PRACTICES AND TECHNOLOGY

There is no one method for detecting zero-day attacks because there are so many forms of them. The systems that are typically used for detection cyberthreats are rendered essentially ineffective against zero-day attacks because no attack signature exists yet.

Software patches, or code that resolves the vulnerability, is the simplest way to prevent zero-day attacks. However, the vulnerability has to be known before a patch can be applied. In some cases, even after a patch has been applied, there is a chance that the vulnerability may have already been exploited with a mechanism installed for the hacker to access in the future.

There have been zero-day attacks that have occurred after a developer has become aware of a vulnerability and has released a patch that resolved the issue. In these cases, it is typically the failure of an organization to apply the patch leaves them open to attack. Recall that with the 2017 Equifax, attackers exploited a vulnerability that the company failed to fix with a patch that was released some months earlier.


Vigilant cybersecurity practices that can help pinpoint vulnerabilities and highlight suspicious behavior or patterns in the IT environment should be standard practice. Additional measures all organizations can take to help mitigate the risk of being exposed to zero-day attacks include:

  • Conducting routine updates of software and firmware

  • Paying attention to alerts regarding new zero-day vulnerabilities

  • Using multiple layers of security, which can aid in the faster detection of zero-day attacks

  • Applying packet level encryption along with human and device authentication to network traffic with quantum-safe solutions like XSOC CORP’s SOCKET and EBP.

XSOC SHOULD BE IN YOUR ZERO-DAY ATTACK ARSENAL

Having a strong cybersecurity system means you have to use the best technology solutions. XSOC CORP’s optimized symmetric encryption and cryptography technology can help mitigate the impact of zero-day attacks and other cyberthreats targeting your organization’s data by ensuring that it remains protected. Speak with one of our representatives today to learn how we can help you fortify your IT infrastructure to address today’s threats.