Select Page

Jun 15, 2023

Identifying Zero Day Threats: Unveiling the Invisible


Imagine fighting a physical battle against an enemy you cannot see. While enemy combatants freely attack, you have no idea from where the attacks are coming. This sort of thing is not limited to physical warfare. It exists in cybersecurity as well. Enter the zero day threat.

Zero day threats are a security expert’s worst nightmare. By their definition, zero days are unknown to IT and security teams. Needless to say, they represent a formidable and elusive threat. Until exploits are identified and addressed, systems remain vulnerable to ongoing attacks.

Zero Day Is a Vulnerability

It is important to recognize that a zero day threat is not the actual attack launched by a threat actor. Rather, it is the vulnerability through which a threat actor gets in. To distinguish between vulnerabilities and intrusions, we often refer to zero days as exploits. They are attack vectors, if you will.

An unknown vulnerability in a widely used cloud application becomes a zero day exploit as soon as a hacker discovers and utilizes it. It remains a zero day exploit as long as it remains unidentified.

Making matters worse is the fact that security experts have no time or opportunity to prepare a defense against zero day attacks once identified. That is where the term ‘zero day’ comes from. By the time a vulnerability is identified, it has already been exploited.

Zero Day and Application Protection

As an organization that specializes in cybersecurity, Hillstone Networks works with clients to minimize zero day exploits for more effective application protection. We encourage software developers and IT teams to purposely go looking for vulnerabilities that could eventually be exploited.

In this endeavor, it is helpful to understand some of the key characteristics and implications of zero day:

  • Unknown Vulnerabilities – Because zero day attacks are launched against vulnerabilities that are unknown, traditional security measures are ineffective. Security teams and IT professionals need to take on other tactics.
  • Sophisticated Attacks – Unknown vulnerabilities provide opportunities to launch sophisticated attacks capable of bypassing existing security measures. For this reason, zero day exploits enjoy a higher-than-average success rate.
  • Compromised Systems – The effectiveness of a zero day attack can be extensive enough to compromise the most critical of systems. Zero day vulnerabilities are leveraged for theft, espionage, data harvesting, and more.

It’s no wonder that zero day vulnerabilities are so worrisome to software developers and security experts. Trying to fight an enemy that cannot be seen makes for a stressful situation. And still, it is possible to mitigate zero day threats.

How Zero Day Can Be Mitigated

Whether you are talking application protection, fortifying your cloud, or even protecting your servers against clever attackers, mitigating zero day vulnerabilities requires a proactive strategy. If you wait until a successful attack is unveiled, you have already lost the battle.

Here are the key mitigation strategies Hillstone Networks recommends:

  • Regular Software Assessments – Routine vulnerability assessments and penetration testing should be normal operating procedure. Someone needs to be tasked with constantly assessing software and looking for vulnerabilities.
  • Regular Software Updates – Software should never remain static. Developers should constantly be updating and making improvements to make applications as secure as possible. This includes developing patches as quickly as possible.
  • Threat Intelligence – Threat intelligence should be an integral part of software development. Security experts should monitor known sources of information in order to better understand how threat actors do what they do. Consider it spying on the enemy.

By definition, zero day vulnerabilities are invisible. Unveiling and fixing them before threat actors launch their attacks is the only way to prevent the cybersecurity expert’s worst nightmare from becoming reality.