Vulnerabilities refer to unintended flaws that are found within operating systems (OS) and software programs. These flaws could be the result of improper security configurations and/or computer programming errors. If these problems are left unaddressed, the vulnerabilities may soon be spotted by cybercriminals who can exploit them. Now that you know the basic definition of a vulnerability, read on to learn more about what zero-day vulnerabilities are:
What are Zero-Day Vulnerabilities?
Zero-day is a term used by cyber security teams to indicate a newly discovered software vulnerability. These vulnerabilities may be found through penetration tests where developers and/or volunteers hack the system on purpose to identify potential security holes. With that in mind, the term zero-day may refer to the vulnerability itself or the time between the vulnerability’s discovery and the first attack.
Hackers often target these security weaknesses by creating malware (zero-day exploits) to cause an unintended computer behavior. Fortunately, zero-day vulnerabilities can be resolved with a timely patch from the software developer.
What Happens If You Ignore Vulnerabilities?
The longer one ignores the problem, the more time hackers have to wreak havoc on critical computer devices and systems. Zero-day exploits are often designed to take unauthorized control of computers, steal sensitive data (by installing spyware), install other malware that could potentially corrupt files, send spam email messages through your email account, and more.
Even if you are an everyday computer user, vulnerabilities can pose serious security risks because malware can infect computers through otherwise casual web browsing activities, such as playing infected media, opening compromised messages and attachments, or simply viewing a website.
Stuxnet: One of the Earliest Zero-Day Attacks Launched
Stuxnet was one of the earliest types of zero-day vulnerabilities known to man. This early digital weapon was comprised of a highly infectious self-replicating computer worm that wreak havoc on Iranian nuclear plants. After infecting the computer systems, Stuxnet altered the speed of the plant’s centrifuges, causing them to shut down in an abrupt manner. Symantec researchers Liam O’Murchu and Eric Chien managed to analyze the worm and develop patches and workarounds to fix the bug. They, however, came to the scary conclusion that it was only possible for national government agencies to create such well-crafted computer worms like Stuxnet. Perhaps the goal was to control large-scale industrial facilities.
How to Combat Zero-Day Vulnerabilities
Don’t worry though; it is possible to protect one’s information against the security risks associated with zero-day vulnerabilities by employing a few cyber security best practices. To make things more convenient for our readers, below is a simple checklist to help you get things in order:
- Install a comprehensive and proactive security solution that can block all known and unknown cyber security threats.
- Configure security settings for all active security software, internet browsers, and operating systems.
- Establish safe personal online security habits (e.g., avoid falling prey to social engineering tactics).
- Regularly update software and install the latest security patches to fix bugs that previous versions may have missed.
Never ever underestimate the threat (regardless of what your devices run on, e.g., iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac OS) because even the smallest security holes can be used to gain access to your personal information and devices. Hackers will then use the data for a range of cybercrimes, including ransomware, bank fraud, and even identity theft. If you or your team utilize more than one device, it may be beneficial to consult with a managed IT company.