Increase in number of Zero-Day Exploits and what it means
Posted 09 Feb at 6:11 am in Productivity
[7 min read]
What are zero-day exploits?
A zero-day vulnerability is an umbrella term that categorizes unknown system vulnerabilities in software or hardware. Hackers and malicious users can exploit these vulnerabilities to create costly or catastrophic damage before anyone realizes what’s happening.
Often, especially in new software, security vulnerabilities exist. Most of the time, software developers patch these issues or use automated tools to help them pinpoint vulnerabilities.
However, hackers are sometimes already two steps ahead. They use these security vulnerabilities to implement code to prevent developers from identifying the exposure and thus take advantage of the code later on. This is called exploit code.
Sometimes malicious code can implant itself into devices automatically through network vulnerabilities and email scams. Human error is often the cause of many attacks, emphasizing the importance of educating others on finding and mitigating zero-day exploits.
Identity theft, holding data for ransom, extortion, personal attacks, and even total system corruption can result from a single zero-day exploit. Hacktivists seeking to draw attention to themselves can take control of a system to reach a wider audience and manipulate confidential information for a political goal.
Increase in zero-day vulnerabilities and exploits
Cybersecurity professionals have caught more zero-day exploits than ever in the last year. According to reputable sources and researchers, over 70 zero-days were found, almost double that of 2020 and higher than any other year ever recorded.
Despite the eye-watering numbers, what does the prevalence of zero-days mean? Do today’s companies have poor cybersecurity programs or are the hackers growing stronger? How do we prevent and prepare for cybercrime?
What does the increase mean?
The first and most straightforward conclusion is that with the increase of accessible hacking tools and a lower barrier for entry, hackers are more common than ever. The more people hack, the more likely they will find zero-day vulnerabilities.
Additionally, reports show that government-sponsored hacking is becoming an increasingly popular endeavor. China is suspected of nine zero-day exploits alone, potentially indicating prevalent aggressive usage in the near future.
Private cybersecurity firms are also noticing zero-day contracts, as the rapidly growing exploitation industry makes these services more accessible. Modern cybercriminals are monetizing zero-day exploits, and everyone from private companies to entire governments are supplying their expansion.
Despite the worrying prospect of living in fear of cybercrime for hire, the law of supply and demand shows that the increased demand for hackers has also ushered an important market for defending against them. Namely, even though cyber criminals make money from zero-day exploits, more companies invest additional financial resources in cybersecurity.
What are companies doing to prevent zero-day attacks?
Large tech companies are even placing bounties on catching, isolating, or preventing zero-day exploits in software and hardware. The market continues to adapt to evolving and intricate hacks, allowing new and emerging talent to make names for themselves in the industry.
Financial incentives are one form of zero-day threat prevention. Despite help from external cybersecurity firms and risk-threat vulnerability consultants, the responsibility of supporting a consistent defense against zero-day attacks falls on businesses.
Companies like Microsoft, Google, CrowdStrike, and Splunk are investing substantial resources to mitigate zero-day exploits on a massive scale. What was once rudimentary anti-virus software evolved into a combination of man and machine working simultaneously to detect, trace, and patch vulnerabilities across millions of devices, thousands of networks, and hundreds of software instances?
Multi-faced security protocols, a stronger push for cybersecurity, and the culmination of hundreds of thousands of hard-working professionals help foster an environment discouraging high-tech crime. Better, more sophisticated attacks create robust, intelligent zero-day attack solutions.
One benefit of industry professionals and cybercrime defense organizations publishing data and analytics on zero-day code is educating growing industries on the importance of zero-day attack protection and the vulnerability management process.
Additionally, especially in cloud-based organizations, hackers now must find several zero-days and chain them together to coordinate an attack. As defenses mature, this becomes incrementally more difficult for hackers to breach our data.
Here are a few of the most notable zero-day vulnerabilities and exploits recently:
The Google Chrome zero-day vulnerability (2021)
Chrome met several zero-day threats throughout 2021 as the world’s most popular browser. The most impactful exploit forced Chrome to push unwanted updates to users, opening the potential to implant unwanted code into dozens of various devices.
The Zoom zero-day vulnerability (2020)
In 2020, when Zoom was rapidly becoming the world’s most used video conferencing utility, many hackers and cybercriminals wanted to test their ability to be a part of the hype. The zero-day vulnerability involved hackers remotely accessing users’ computers if they were running Windows 7.
If the user was using Zoom on an administrator account, the hacker could remotely access every file on their computer, monitor network information, and of course, steal passwords. Those users that their Zoom clients restricted their remote sharing capabilities while Zoom developed a solution.
Learning how hackers exploit operating system vulnerabilities and developing intelligent means of removing zero-day viruses helps us remain as protected as possible as the cybercrime market grows. It’s vital to constantly perform the best cybersecurity practices and stay updated with what’s happening in the industry to maneuver around the next potential zero-day exploit.