Zero day vulnerability

This article aims to expound on what a zero-day vulnerability is, how they're usually found and exploited, and how ManageEngine Vulnerability Manager Plus can help you harden your systems and software against zero-day attacks.

Zero-day vulnerability - ManageEngine Vulnerability Manager Plus

We'll cover:

What is zero-day vulnerability?

A zero-day vulnerability, also known as a 0-day vulnerability, is an unintended security flaw in a software application or an operating system (OS) unknown to the party or vendor responsible for fixing the flaw. They remain undisclosed and unpatched, leaving gaps for attackers to swoop in while the public remains unaware of the risk.

What is a zero-day attack and how does it happen?

While organizations focus on defending themselves against known threats, attackers slip past their radar by exploiting zero-day vulnerabilities. Zero-day attacks occur out of the blue, because they target vulnerabilities that are not yet acknowledged, published, or patched by a vendor.

Ever wondered why it's called a zero-day attack? The very term zero-day implies that the software developer or the vendor has zero days to patch the flaw, since they're often unaware that the vulnerability exists before attackers begin to exploit it.

Let's examine how these vulnerabilities are discovered and exploited, and possible ways to strengthen your defenses against them.

How does an attacker find a 0-day vulnerability?

Security researchers and hackers alike incessantly probe operating systems and applications in search of weaknesses. They may use an array of automated testing tools to try crashing an application, or see if the program responds in ways that the programmer never intended by feeding it multiple inputs and hoping to reveal a hole in the defenses. If they succeed in doing so, they're now aware of a 0-day vulnerability in the software. But unlike researchers who either report the flaw to the vendor or drop the details of the flaw on the internet to warn the public and force the vendor to release a fix, if cybercriminals happen to find it, they use it to their own advantage.

What is a zero-day exploit and why are they dangerous?

Once the bug is discovered, the hacker will use reverse engineering tools to understand the cause of the crash. With this knowledge, they develop an exploit, which is a sequence of commands that manipulate the bug or vulnerability to their advantage. This is called a zero-day exploit.

The zero-day exploit takes advantage of the vulnerability to break into the system and deliver the payload, which could be infectious malware with instructions to disrupt system functions, steal sensitive data, perform unauthorized actions, or establish a connection with the remote hacker's systems.

Due to their high demand, zero-day exploits are often sold on the black market at very high prices to espionage groups and other malicious actors.

How Vulnerability Manager Plus helps protect your network against zero-day exploits

Though zero-day exploits are difficult to prevent, you stand a chance against them by constantly assessing your systems and hardening your defenses. Let's take a look at how Vulnerability Manager Plus helps you to that end.

Leverage a dedicated view for zero-days

ManageEngine's security researchers constantly probe the internet for any details regarding new threats. As soon as details regarding zero-day vulnerabilities come to light, the information is verified and updated to the central vulnerability database at once, and the data is synchronized to the Vulnerability Manager Plus server.

zero-day exploit - ManageEngine Vulnerability Manager Plus

Once a network is scanned and any affected machines are tracked down, Vulnerability Manager Plus displays them in a dedicated view along with the vulnerability information, preventing it from being buried under non-critical vulnerabilities. The intuitive dashboard will help you track the total zero day vulnerability count in your network. Furthermore, you can learn in detail about the latest zero-day vulnerability from tech articles available in the security news feed. Subscribe to the Vulnerability Manager Plus pitstop to receive email notifications on the latest zero day attacks and related news

Deploy mitigation scripts

Once the zero-day exploits starts circulating and vendors become aware, they're quick to publish a workaround to mitigate the exploitation of the issue while they work on developing a patch. Now, you can administer these workarounds to all the affected machines in an instant with Vulnerability Manager Plus' prebuilt mitigation scripts to harden systems, alter registry values, close vulnerable ports, disable legacy protocols, etc., thereby minimizing the likelihood of a zero-day vulnerability from being exploited in your network.

Stay up-to-date with latest patches

A decade ago, a single zero-day vulnerability would have been powerful enough to topple your business. With increased security in modern-day operating systems, it takes at least two to tango, or sometimes even dozens of other known vulnerabilities to successfully launch a zero-day attack.

Although keeping all the known vulnerabilities patched can't guarantee complete safety against zero-day exploits, it does make it more difficult for hackers to succeed if the intended target requires additional vulnerabilities to be exploited. The automated patch deployment feature in Vulnerability Manager Plus keeps all your OSs and applications updated with the latest patches, thwarting hackers even if they're able to get their hands on a zero-day vulnerability.

Get notified about zero-day patches

When patches are released for vulnerabilities that were previously labeled as zero-days, they're called zero-day patches. As soon as a zero-day patch becomes available, Vulnerability Manager Plus alerts you in the console's notification bar. You can then re-apply the mitigation script to revert the relevant workaround, and apply the patch to fix the vulnerability permanently.

Establish a secure foundation with security configuration management

Vulnerabilities are just used as an entry way to get into the network. Once attackers are in, it's the existing misconfigurations that they'll manipulate to laterally move towards the intended target. Take for instance the infamous Wannacry ransomware; it could've easily been prevented from spreading across a network before Microsoft came up with a fix, just by disabling the SMBv1 protocol and setting the firewall rule to block port 445. By using Vulnerability Manager Plus' security configuration management feature to conduct a thorough and periodic configuration assessment of your operating system, internet browser, and security software, you can easily bring any misconfigurations back to compliance.

Audit antivirus solutions for definition files

As long as your antivirus protection is up to date, you should be protected within a few hours or days of a new zero-day threat. It's recommended that you audit antivirus software in your network to ensure they're enabled and up to date with the latest definition files.

Keep track of OS and application end of life

Forget zero-day attacks on the latest software;software that has already reached end of life will stop receiving security updates from the vendor and will remain forever vulnerable to any discovered zero-day vulnerabilities. Therefore, it's essential to perform high-risk software audit to know which applications and OSs are approaching their end of life or have already reached end of life. Once they reach their end of life, it's recommended that you migrate to the latest version of obsolete software.

There's no silver bullet solution that renders your network impenetrable to zero-day exploits, but having Vulnerability Manager Plus in your network and implementing the security measures discussed above could very well improve your stance against zero-day attacks. If your current vulnerability management tool relies only on software vendors to patch zero-days and leaves your network wide open until then, it's high time you opt for a tool that offers an alternative solution.

Not a user yet? Get your free, 30-day trial and fortify your network against zero-day exploits.

Examples of zero-day vulnerabilities being exploited in the wild:

  • Stuxnet worm, the most notorious zero-day exploit, leveraged four different zero-day security vulnerabilities to launch an attack on Iranian nuclear plants. It is a self-replicating computer worm that altered the speed and sabotaged the centrifuges in the plants and shut them down.
  • 2019 could be called “the year of zero-day exploits for browsers” since we saw more than five browser exploits in Chrome and Internet Explorer. Moreover, to our surprise, nine out 12 zero-days discovered in Microsoft applications and Windows OSs last year were not rated as Critical, but Important.