Zero-Day Attack Prevention Steps You Can Take Today

Zero-day attacks rank among the most serious and prominent threats an organization can face within the realm of cybersecurity. For example, in the first half of 2022, Google Chrome experienced at least four zero-day exploits. Because these threats pop up so frequently, it’s imperative that your company practice zero-day attack prevention strategies.  

But what is a zero-day threat? And what does a zero-day attack protection program entail? 

What Is a Zero-Day Attack? 

Zero-day describes a vulnerability within a computer system, device, or program previously unknown to both the vendor and the public. Hackers can use this exploit to bypass your cybersecurity perimeter and gain access to your system.  

Due to its unknown threat nature, the victim of a zero-day attack will likely not have any defenses in place to prevent the strike, thus increasing the likelihood that it will succeed. Furthermore, such a vulnerability may exist for months before detection, providing hackers ample time to wreak havoc. 

Should an attack prove successful, there are dozens of potential adverse impacts, including: 

  • Data theft
  • Unauthorized control and access to the network or system
  • Damage to reputation
  • Financial loss
  • Shutdown of business operations
  • Legal implications (due to lack of regulatory compliance)

It’s called a “zero-day” because the problem has only been recently discovered, and the vendor has had zero days to fix it. This term is commonly referred to in one of three ways: 

  1. Zero-day vulnerabilities – A software vulnerability that’s discovered by hackers before the vendor is aware
  1. Zero-day exploit – Methods  a hacker will use to attack the system through the zero-day vulnerability
  1. Zero-day attack – The actual strike to steal data, take control, or delve further into networks, devices, and systems. 

Systems That Are Common Targets for Zero-Day Attacks

To properly prepare for the potential threat posed by a zero-day attack, you must be aware of the areas that could be exploited, including but not limited to: 

  • Hardware – There could be a vulnerability in a router, network appliance, or switch that hackers could compromise to disrupt activity. 
  • Operating systems – Often the most common target of a zero-day attack, hackers can use an OS exploit to gain access to the user’s system. 
  • Web browser – As mentioned with Google Chrome, hackers can target an unpatched vulnerability on a web browser like Internet Explorer and then run an executable file or script. 
  • Internet of Things (IoT) – Employee devices—mobile devices, tablets, laptops, smartwatches, etc.—are a constant exploitable threat to a company’s cybersecurity. They often lack the necessary software updates and patching to ensure their security. 
  • Office applications – Zero-day malware may be embedded in files or documents to exploit the underlying application.   

Best Practices for Zero-Day Attack Prevention 

The nature of zero-days means that they’re tough to avoid. You can’t entirely prevent them so much as mitigate their potential impact. 

For best results, zero-day attack prevention steps you should take include the following: 

1. Monitor Reported Vulnerabilities 

2. Install Next-Gen Antivirus Solutions (NGAV)

3. Perform Rigorous Patch Management 

4. Install a Robust Web Application Firewall 

5. Practice the Principle of Least Privilege 

1. Monitor Reported Vulnerabilities 

Bad actors aren’t the only people searching for weak spots. Software companies and vendors also race to find vulnerabilities by employing white or gray hat hackers and security researchers to test their systems. 

After a vulnerability scan detects an impending issue, the company will often report the finding online and release a patch. In addition, there are several digital databases where known vulnerabilities and their corresponding patches are listed. 

By monitoring these sites and paying close attention to the software and hardware your company uses, you could identify an issue that you were previously unaware of.

2. Install Next-Gen Antivirus Solutions (NGAV)

While traditional antivirus software can detect malware, it’s ineffective against zero-days—at least until the vulnerability is known and the update added to the database. 

NGAV solutions can establish routine behavior and patterns of users and systems. These powerful technologies can monitor and then detect anomalous behavior by establishing a baseline. Once a threat is identified, the system can automatically block processes or actions to prevent the issue from spreading elsewhere.   

NGAV can’t stop all zero-day threats, but it can reduce your overall attack surface and limit the severity of many attacks. 

3. Perform Rigorous Patch Management 

Patch management is the process by which you identify and then address bugs or harmful code in your IT systems—either of which leaves you vulnerable to a zero-day attack. 

Companies must install a robust patch management policy and process that align employees, IT, and security teams. In addition, you should automate patch management wherever possible to avoid delaying a potential deployment or overlooking a vulnerable device.  

Once more, patch management won’t prevent zero-day attacks, but it can reduce your exposure window. The fewer days it takes to address a security vulnerability, the less time hackers have to exploit zero-day issues.

4. Install a Robust Web Application Firewall 

One of the best ways you can perform some preventative measures is by installing a web application firewall (WAF). This network device is responsible for monitoring and regulating the flow of incoming and outgoing network traffic. 

Next-generation firewalls combine traditional firewall tech—namely, stateful inspection and packet filtering—with other tools like: 

  • Anti-virus
  • Deep packet inspection
  • Intrusion prevention
  • Encrypted traffic inspection 

5. Practice the Principle of Least Privilege 

A meaningful way you can enforce your company’s cybersecurity as a general practice is to instill the principle of least privilege, which states: 

“A subject should be given only those privileges needed to complete its task. If a subject does not need an access right, the subject should not have that right. Further, the function of the subject (as opposed to its identity) should control the assignment of rights.”

In doing so, you can limit the potential damage a bad actor might cause and restrict their movement within the system. 

Helixstorm—Protect Against Zero-Day Threats

Zero-days are an ever-present and evolving threat. For that reason, you need to implement the mitigation strategies discussed above and have a detailed incident response plan in place. Taking these initiatives will reduce your attack surface, shorten the exposure window, and limit the potential damage a zero-day attack might cause. 

If you need cybersecurity support, Helixstorm’s Managed Security Services include zero-day antivirus installation, next-gen firewalls, vulnerability scans, and real-time intrusion detection/protection—all watched over by a Security Operations Center (SOC). 

Helixstorm is here for you. Schedule a complimentary strategy session with us today if you need 24/7 monitoring, strategic consulting, and technical support.