What Makes Zero-Day Exploits So Dangerous?
Posted 05 Oct at 8:59 pm in Productivity
What is a Zero-Day exploit?
A zero-day exploit is a hacking term that refers to taking advantage of a vulnerability or security flaw in a software or system that is unknown to the developers. This means that attackers can use the exploit to attack and compromise a system without the developers having any prior knowledge or time to create a patch or fix.
Cyber-attackers and cyber-criminals often use zero-day exploits in cyberattacks and cybercrimes to gain unauthorized access to target systems, steal sensitive information, or cause disruption. Typically, sophisticated hacking groups use them for specific purposes such as espionage or financial gain, or sell them on the black market. The unique characteristic of zero-day exploits lies in their ability to exploit vulnerabilities that are unknown, making them an extremely powerful weapon in the hands of hackers.
Stopping a Zero-Day Exploit
Defending against zero-day exploits can be challenging due to their unknown nature. Traditional security measures, such as firewalls and antivirus software, are usually not effective in preventing or detecting zero-day exploits. To better protect against zero-day exploits, organizations can take several proactive steps, all of which are rather intense.
Continuous monitoring and vulnerability scanning can help identify potential weaknesses in a system or software. Regular patching and updates are essential to ensure known vulnerabilities are addressed as soon as possible.
Organizations should also consider some level of threat intelligence feeds and information sharing platforms to stay informed about new zero-day exploits and vulnerabilities. By being aware of the latest threats, organizations can take proactive measures to strengthen their defenses and minimize the risk of being targeted by these exploits.
Zero-day exploits continue to be a significant threat in the cybersecurity landscape. Recent examples include the Microsoft Exchange Server vulnerabilities (CVE-2021-26855, CVE-2021-26857, CVE-2021-26858, and CVE-2021-27065) discovered in early 2021. These exploits allowed attackers to gain unauthorized access to Exchange servers and steal sensitive information.
Another recent example is the SolarWinds supply chain attack, which involved the insertion of malicious code in the SolarWinds Orion platform. This attack affected numerous organizations and government agencies, highlighting the devastating impact of zero-day exploits.
The MOVEit Transfer
The MOVEit breach commenced in June 2023, following the discovery of a vulnerability in the MOVEit software, a managed file transfer solution by Ipswitch, Inc. The flaw enabled attackers to steal files from organizations via SQL injection on public-facing servers.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation attributed the perpetration to Cl0p, a cyber gang with presumed Russian affiliations. The impact hit hard – on June 3, the Government of Nova Scotia estimated that around 100,000 current and former employees were affected. On June 5, attackers compromised several UK organizations, including the BBC, British Airways, and Boots. By June 12, Ernst & Young, Transport for London, and Ofcom had also reported breaches, with Ofcom revealing the download of personal and confidential data.
In the US, the Department of Energy suffered among the governmental bodies, as CNN reported on June 15. Following this report, attackers hit the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles and Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services, affecting millions of residents. By August 25, attackers had impacted over 1,000 organizations, with a significant majority being US-based.
Post-incident, the MOVEit team collaborated with industry experts for investigation and remediation. Entities like the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, CrowdStrike, Mandiant, Microsoft, Huntress, and Rapid7 aided in incident response and ongoing probes. The MOVEit team was lauded for its swift provision of patches and informative advisories, aiding rapid remediation1.
To read further about this attack, check out a blog post we read a few weeks ago here
As time goes on, the MOVEit transfer breach seems to only be getting worse. While it is an unfortunate truth, it is a truth no-less. The best we can do is learn from a situation like this – stay proactive by implementing the following (we know, we already said some of these but what sort of I.T. company would we be if we weren’t re-iterating the importance of cyber-safety best practices?):
- Regularly Update Software and Systems: Be sure that the software you are utilizing is up-to-date. Though it is not always the case, any possible update could be the patch for a zero day exploit. With an old operating system or firmware, you may leave yourself at risk of an attack.
- Use Security Software: Implement reputable security software into your cyber-workspace. Oftentimes, these lines of defense will offer real-time protection against malware and other threats. Some
- Practice Least Privilege and/or Zero Trust: Practice of least privilege focuses on limiting user and system access to only what’s necessary to complete a given task. In a similar light, but with a slightly different purpose, zero trust is a security model that assumes no trust for any entity, whether inside or outside the network.
- Regular Security Audits and Penetration Testing: Conduct security audits and penetration testing to identify and remediate potential vulnerabilities before attackers can exploit them.
- Implement Application Allowlisting: Allow only approved applications to run on your network to prevent malicious software from executing.
- Incident Response Plan: Have a well thought out incident response plan in place to ensure that you can respond effectively if a zero-day exploit occurs. While this is a last resort, it is better to have on than to not.
- Collaborate with Others: Join industry groups and forums to stay updated on the latest threats and best practices for mitigating zero-day vulnerabilities. Further, you can stay up to date by reading news from different outlets and being aware of what may affect the technology you own.