Posted on February 3, 2020 at 7:06 PM
When we say a zero-day attack, we are referring to a cyber attack that targets software vulnerability, which may not be known to the software vendor. In this type of cyber attack, the hacker or attacker first discovers the vulnerability and infiltrates the vendor’s system before they are aware of the weakness.
It is called the Zero-Day attack because the software vendor has no time to mitigate the attack because they are not even aware vulnerability is existing. This makes it one of the most deadly forms of a cyberattack because the attacker has the freedom to infiltrate the software until the vendor becomes aware of the weakness in their system.
The most common attack vectors include email attachments sent to exploit vulnerabilities in applications and web browsers which are mostly targeted because of their ubiquity. Once the breach becomes known in public, the vendor would need to mitigate the issues as soon as possible to protect its users.
Detection of Zero-Day vulnerability
Zero-Day exploits are usually carried out even before any patch could be made. This makes them very difficult to detect. But is there any way to discover any previously known software vulnerability? Yes, with some proven methods like input validation, parch management, and vulnerability scanning, it’s possible to detect some zero-day exploits.
Some security firms offer the services of vulnerability scanning. They can carry out code reviews, simulate software code attacks, and try to discover new vulnerabilities that came up after software was updated. This method could help any company discover some vulnerabilities, but it may not detect all Zero-day vulnerabilities.
Even when scanning detects some of these vulnerabilities, it’s still not enough to keep hackers off-limits. After discovering such weakness, they should sanitize their code and carry out a code review to prevent any exploits from hackers. Hackers are really quick to discover vulnerabilities because of their sophisticated tools. The best way to prevent them is to be quick to act. Once a vulnerability is discovered, there should be swift action to block Zero-day exploit.
Patch management is the use of software patches on recently discovered vulnerabilities. This is the most common action most companies take whenever they discover a vulnerability in their system.
But this method is not particularly employed to block zero day attacks. It is used to reduce the extent of damage the hacker could cause after the attack. Sometimes security patches usually take time before they are completed.
This makes it a less appropriate action against the zero-day exploit. It takes time before security experts can find such vulnerabilities. Even developing a patch for such vulnerabilities can take additional time. Within this period, a hacker may have discovered the vulnerability in the system, even before a security patch begins.
The longer the security patch takes, the better chance the attacker has to infiltrate the system. That is why we said earlier that the zero-day attack is one of the most dangerous cyber attacks in the world.
Sanitation and input validation
Input validation has proven to be the most effective way to stop zero-day attacks. Here, the organization can deploy a web application firewall (WAF) on its network. The job of this firewall is to filter out malicious inputs and review other incoming traffic that may target security vulnerabilities. In this case, the zero-day attacker may not be able to see vulnerabilities even when they exist.
Input validation can solve most of the issues found in patch management and vulnerability scanning. When organizations are sanitizing codes and patching systems, input validation will provide cover and protection for the organization throughout the period.
So, while the organization scans its system, which can take a long time, the WAF will keep the systems protected from zero-day exploits until the scan and patch is complete.
Patch management and vulnerability scanning are not permanent solutions to zero-day attacks. Apart from that, they allow some vulnerabilities because of the length of time it takes to complete the patch. If you want to protect your system from a Zero-day attack, the best way to go is by getting WAF software that would prevent hackers from discovering any patch and work on scanning the system to discover and patch up the system.
There are several WAF systems organizations can employ to protect their systems from attackers that are bent on exploiting their systems for vulnerability.
Real-world examples of common Zero-Day attacks
Several organizations have fallen victims of zero-day attacks as some have lost very vital files and data because of these attacks. We are going to give some real-world examples of some of the most notorious zero-world attacks in history.
In 2011, the network of RSA, a popular security firm, was infiltrated by hackers who gained access via an unpatched vulnerability in Adobe Flash Player.
The attackers sent emails containing an excel spreadsheet attachment to a group of RSA employees. However, the spreadsheets have encrypted the Flash file which exploited the vulnerability in the company’s systems.
As soon as an employee opened the email, the Poison remote administration tool was installed in the system. From there, the hacker was able to gain control of the system and stole sensitive information from the network.
At that time, RSA said the hackers were able to gain access to sensitive information, including the firm’s two-factor authentication protocol.
Sony Zero-Day attack
In 2014, a hacking syndicate infiltrated Sony systems and leaked some very sensitive data to black hat forums on the internet. The breached data include personal email addresses of the company’s senior executives, business plans, as well as details of forthcoming movies. However, Sony Corporation did not reveal more details of the attack
Stuxnet Zero-Day attack
The Stuxnet malicious malware targeted systems in the manufacturing sector from different countries, including Indonesia, India, and Iran.
The uranium enrichment plant in Iran was the main target of that attack, with the plan to disrupt the country’s nuclear program.
Attackers were successful to a considerable extent as the malware was able to sabotage the centrifuges utilized to separate nuclear material.
How to prevent other DDoS attacks
DDoS attackers are improving with new sophisticated tools to find loopholes in systems they can launch an attack. In that sense, companies and organizations have to develop effective prevention and mitigation tools that can keep the hackers at bay.
There are several manuals and automated options for organizations for them to employ to keep their systems protected. In this segment, we will explain these strategies.
Manual vs. automated response time
It’s true that manual DDoS defense systems are slower than automated systems. But how slow they compared to their automated counterparts?
Andy Shoemaker, CEO and founder of NimbusDDoS recently carried out a study to discover how much-automated systems are better than manual systems. In his findings, it was discovered that automated systems are 5 times faster than manual response systems. The former improves the response time by more than 500%.
If you are using an automated defense system, you can get a response in less than 6 minutes, which is far better than 35 minutes with manual response systems. And in some cases, the automated system will be able to bring down the response time to zero completely. So, if you are serious about fighting DDoS attacks in your organization, an automated response system is surely the best way to go.
Different areas an automated system can cut down response time
With an automated response system, the response time could be cut down in a variety of ways. Here are the benefits of using an automated defense system.
It automatically detects incoming attacks
Human observers would not be able to detect incoming attacks as well as automatic systems. This is because the system has collected enough data to filter traffic and detect suspicious ones. Once the suspicious traffic is detected, it flags off the traffic and denies any access to the system.
Redirecting traffic accordingly
After the automatic system has discovered the malicious traffic, it redirects them to a mitigation scrubbing center, which will be managed and completely blocked from the system.
Identifying patterns with attack traffic: The automated system inspects a good number of data within a little space of time to discover attack traffic. It automatically extracts attack patterns in real-time to prevent zero-day botnet and malicious attacks.
Applying escalation mitigation measures
When the malicious traffic is trying to unleash its attacking mechanisms, the automated defense system will take the necessary action in line with your set out policies. The action will minimize extensive damage to the system.
Even after an attack on the system, the automated DDoS defense system will keep working to mitigate the extent of damage to files and data. After mitigating the attack, the automated system generates a detailed report for security experts to use for forensic analysts to prevent future attacks.
When companies use an automated DDoS defense system, it will quickly discover and block zero day attacks and other forms of DDoS attacks on the system. This is the type of system most security companies use, which explains why they usually discover vulnerabilities even before the main system operators.
Strategies to block zero day attack
While it’s important to implement an automated defense mechanism to block zero day attack and other DDoS attacks, it’s also vital to implement strategies that will help achieve the goal.
There is nothing you can do to prevent the attacker from targeting your system. But there are strategies that can help you block the attack and protect your users from exploitation. The three basic strategies include reputation, pattern recognition, and tracking deviation.
The reputation strategy is utilized by the automated system by storing threat intelligence from security researchers and identifying IP addresses that may be likely from DDoS botnet attackers. It then blocks any matching IP address that wants to gain access to the system.
On the other hand, pattern recognition studies certain DDoS botnet behavioral patterns using machine learning to discover any signs of unusual activity by the attacker.
The third strategy, tracking deviation, is the most common strategy. It is employed by continuously studying traffic to look for any abnormality that may represent a threat. With this analysis of the traffic data, the system can identify what is normal traffic and what may be considered malicious. These are the three main strategies employed to block zero day attack and other DDoS attacks.
As we have stated earlier, cyber attackers will continue to use both basic and sophisticated tools to attack systems and servers that are vulnerable. Organizations have a role to play to protect users’ data and keep their personal details secure.
With the right strategy and the use of automated defense systems, they can easily spot any vulnerability that DDoS attackers may infiltrate. If the protection and security of users’ data are essential to any organization, they would use the right tools to block zero day and other DDoS attacks.