What Is a Zero-Day Attack? (and How to Minimize Risk)

In the digital age when nearly every business and industry is powered by sophisticated technology, updates are a fact of life. Software developers are constantly releasing new versions of their solutions while hardware manufacturers are consistently seeking new ways to improve their products.

But while many updates offer new features to protect your environment, streamline business operations and make life a little easier for your workforce, they can also inadvertently usher in dangerous, hidden vulnerabilities. And as organizations across the globe continue performing routine updates, cybercriminals lay waiting for the perfect opportunity to pounce.

Welcome to the age of the zero-day attack. To protect your business from this new generation of cyberattacks, consider the following background information and a few tips for bolstering your defenses.

What is a Zero-Day Attack?

A zero-day attack occurs when a cybercriminal exploits a vulnerability in a piece of software or hardware the same day the weakness is uncovered. Generally, this type of attack occurs in the [typically short] window between when the vulnerability was introduced and when the manufacturer releases a patch, and usually not long after the technology is updated or installed. However, in some instances, organizations don’t recognize the weakness in their tech until it’s already been exploited.

After accessing your network through a vulnerability, hackers can install malware and begin infecting as many devices as possible. This malware can allow cybercriminals to access your devices and siphon sensitive data, corrupt files and take down your network.

For cybercriminals, a zero-day attack has a two-fold benefit. First, unpatched weaknesses offer them the opportunity to quickly enter an organization’s network and gather valuable data, which they can use for financial gain. Second, performing this type of attack boosts hackers’ fame and notoriety in the cybercriminal community.

Luckily, you’re not totally defenseless in protecting your organization against this cybercrime.

How Can You Protect Your Company from a Zero-Day Attack?

While zero-day attacks happen fast, there are a few proactive measures you can take to reduce your risk of becoming a victim.

Here are a few critical zero-day attack prevention tips you can begin implementing immediately:

  • Be on the lookout for new patches and bug fixes
    After rolling out a new update, manufacturers will often release smaller updates that include bug fixes or patches. Be sure to install these updated versions as quickly as possible. If manufacturers are aware of a vulnerability, then there’s a chance cybercriminals may be, too.
  • Keep cybersecurity best practices top-of-mind for your workforce
    As an IT leader, you’ve likely worked hard to educate all users about cybersecurity risks and how they can help prevent attacks. However, over time, people can become careless — especially when they’re busy. Be sure to keep your workforce refreshed on the latest threats and best practices. Ensure everyone knows what to look for and where they can report suspicious activity. Additionally, make sure your disaster recovery plan is up-to-date.
  • Secure all endpoints
    Every new connected device represents another door through which hackers can attempt to access your data. Ensure every device, from laptops and tablets to printers and IoT systems, are updated with the latest security software before they connect to your network.
  • Work with reliable partners
    Take time to evaluate all partners and vendors, including data storage providers, hardware manufacturers and anyone else who has access to your data or network. Make sure every business you work with is equally concerned about security and takes all the necessary measures to protect your business.

Zero-day attacks are a dangerous threat, and can cause severe and expensive damage to your organization. However, by following the above suggestions for securing your environment, you can protect your business and decrease your chances of becoming victimized by cybercriminals.