One of the most famous examples of a zero-day attack was Stuxnet. First discovered in 2010 but with roots that spread back to 2005, this computer worm affected manufacturing computers running programmable logic controller (PLC) software. 

The primary target was Iran’s uranium enrichment plants to disrupt the country’s nuclear program. The worm infected the PLCs through vulnerabilities in Siemens Step7 software, causing the PLCs to carry out unexpected commands on assembly-line machinery. This destroyed numerous centrifuges in Iran’s uranium enrichment facility by causing them to burn out. 

A zero-day attack occurs when hackers take advantage of unknown software or network vulnerability. 

In this blog, we are going to discuss how zero-day attacks work, and how to prevent them from hurting your business.

How Do Zero-Day Attacks Happen?

Unfortunately, all software and networks have weak points that hackers can use to infect computers or steal important data. Attacks that take advantage of these weak points are called “zero-day” attacks because developers have had zero days to fix the problem before the attack happened. 

When the vulnerability is found, developers will try to patch it to stop the attack. However, it may take days or even months before that point. And even once the patch is released, end users may not update their software right away.

These vulnerabilities are unintended and are usually due to a bad configuration or programming error. If not taken care of as soon as possible, hackers will jump right in. 

Hackers are constantly looking for flaws in computer code. They use specific tools that can determine if, how, and why a particular portion of code behaves the way it does. 

Hackers are looking for flaws in popular applications, web browsers, and operating systems to exploit as many people as possible. Cybercriminals will initiate a zero-day attack in multiple ways, but the most common is through malware or phishing campaigns. 

How Can I Prevent Zero-Day Attacks?

The most important place you and your team can start in protecting from zero-day attacks is to keep all software and operating systems up to date. Software developers constantly release security patches to cover new software vulnerabilities. 

Continuing with keeping things up to date, it is recommended that your team have strong passwords and update those regularly. Every 60-90 days is a great start. These passwords should be 12-16 characters and not include any common words or phrases.

After updating passwords, it is also best to keep your staff updated on good safety and internet security practices. Hackers love to use social engineering as a tool to infect computers, and your team should be aware of the different tricks they like to use. 

Your employees may like to install add-ons that help their workflow. You and your IT team should make sure that all software installed on office computers is essential. The more software a staff computer has, the more potential vulnerabilities it has. 

Your IT team needs to have a solid firewall and antivirus solution in place. A firewall plays a huge role in protecting your team from zero-day attacks. Firewalls can be configured to allow only specific interaction with your network, and they help flag unknown threats.

Your IT team will want to make sure that the antivirus client they choose can detect and remove viruses, and they also want to make sure that the client provides 24-hour protection for your business. The antivirus client should have multiple protection features but also be light on resources so that it does not slow your work machine down. 

Lastly, your IT team should implement an intrusion detection system (IDS). This is another extremely important tool that can help prevent zero-day attacks. An IDS is a piece of software or hardware that monitors traffic moving on the network. When the IDS picks up suspicious activity, it will alert your IT team exactly where it is. 

A diagram on how an IDS works.

Wrapping Up

The best news about zero-day attacks is that once the flaw is discovered and patched by developers, it is less likely to be used by hackers. The only staff members that are vulnerable are the ones that frequently click “remind me later” when prompted to update!

It may be best to have your IT team configure automatic updates wherever possible; that way, your staff is not obligated to keep up with them and they will have the most recent security patches. 

An automatic password reset policy will help your team get accustomed to keeping their logins secure. With multiple logins, it will also help your staff keep track of what software they use, and it will make it easier to eliminate unnecessary programs. 

It may be best to use role-based access controls; some employees on your team may not need access to files, or the ability to download software at all. 

When it comes to internet security, your IT team should implement a solid firewall, antivirus, and IDS. With all these different strategies in place, it is still possible a zero-day attack may get to you or your team. A zero-day attack may knock some of your systems offline, or damage or erase your data. Frequent backups will ensure that you can bounce back from worst-case scenarios quickly. 

IT Strategies for Your Business: The Cloud

Data is stored everywhere. We have seen the change from floppy discs to zip drives, from CDs to USB storage Read more

IT Strategies for Your Business: Logic Bombs

In 1982, the CIA allegedly found a way to disrupt the operation of a Siberian gas pipeline to Russia without Read more

How Hackers Break into Your Phone

In 2019, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s Twitter account was hacked. An anonymous hacker group took over his Twitter account for Read more

IT Strategies for Your Business: Drive-by Download Attacks

The average person searching on Google will spend roughly 11 minutes each session. They will spend nearly 2 hours and Read more