Zero-day attacks: How to fight back

Most users are vulnerable long before and long after the patch comes out

With cybercrime hitting more than 500 million victims globally and costing $100 billion annually, it’s clear that security breaches are a problem very far from being solved. One particularly dangerous threat that doesn’t seem to be getting its fair share of attention is zero-day attacks.

True, zero-days are just one part of the overall threat landscape. However, virtually everyone is at risk from a zero-day attack. And the threat from zero-day vulnerabilities occurs long before vendor or public discovery, and remains active long after patches are released.

Kasper Lindgaard, head of research at Secunia, explains that “a zero-day vulnerability is a vulnerability that has only been discovered by hackers. The vendor does not yet know of the vulnerability and therefore has not developed a patch for it. In contrast, a general vulnerability is disclosed by the vendor who typically has a patch ready.’’

Zero-day attacks can affect just about any user. These attacks arrive through different vectors, including viruses, e-mail attachments, webpages, pop-up windows, instant messages, chat rooms, as well as by social engineering or other types of deception.   

Satnam Narang, security response manager at Symantec, says, “Recently we’ve seen a lot of zero-day vulnerabilities in web browsers, as well as in third party applications required to run on some websites. For instance, vulnerabilities in WordPress allowed attackers to inject malicious code into WordPress-based websites. That malicious code takes you to a webpage that will direct you to an exploit kit that will target a vulnerability in a third-party application in your machine such as Flash, Java or your browser.”

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