Zero day vulnerabilities are ones that are exploited in the wild before the software manufacturer has the opportunity to release a patch or before that patch is widely deployed. The delays associated with patch management leave a window – called “day zero” – where the vulnerability can be exploited in organizations without access to the proper defenses.
Zero day malware is malware that takes advantage of these zero day vulnerabilities. Often, exploit developers can create attacks against vulnerabilities more quickly than the corresponding patches can be developed and deployed. This means that malware exploiting vulnerabilities can spread widely before organizations can clamp down on the threat.
For zero day malware to exist, a zero day vulnerability needs to exist as well. Unfortunately, these types of vulnerabilities are very common.
A recent example is a set of vulnerabilities in Microsoft Exchange that were patched by the company in March 2021. These vulnerabilities could be exploited to allow an attacker to run malicious code on vulnerable systems – a remote code execution (RCE) vulnerability – which makes them perfect for zero day malware. However, despite the significant potential impact of the vulnerabilities, patching was slow.
This resulted in the creation of a number of different zero day malware variants that exploited the vulnerabilities. One of these zero day malware variants is called Hafnium. Hafnium is an information stealing malware that uses the Microsoft Exchange exploits to gain access to vulnerable Exchange servers. From there, it elevates its privileges and uses the resulting access to steal emails and user credentials.
Zero day malware is such a significant cybersecurity challenge because many traditional cybersecurity strategies are incapable of protecting against it. Since zero day malware is released shortly after a particular vulnerability has been discovered – and before much is known about it or patches are developed – traditional defenses can struggle to detect and defend against it.
Some cybersecurity strategies are based upon knowledge of the vulnerability or exploit in question, which obviously is not available for zero day threats. As a result, certain methods for mitigating these threats are ineffective, such as:
Cybersecurity is always a race between cyber defenders and exploit developers. In the case of zero day vulnerabilities and malware, exploit developers have a significant advantage if organizations rely on traditional methods for threat management.
The traditional cybersecurity strategies that are ineffective against zero day malware rely heavily on detection. However, it is difficult to accurately detect and respond to a threat that you don’t know exists.
A better approach to managing the zero day threat is to use prevention. Check Point’s prevention-first approach is the only way to effectively protect against unknown threats and includes features such as:
Check Point’s use of artificial intelligence (AI) is critical to its prevention-focused security strategy. To learn more about how AI helps to prevent cyberattacks, check out this whitepaper.
A clear understanding of your organization’s current security posture is essential for improvement. To take the first steps toward preventing zero day attacks, take Check Point’s free security checkup.
Another good step is to focus security efforts on your most vulnerable assets. For many organizations, this is now their remote workforce. You’re welcome to sign up for a demo to learn how Check Point can help to protect your remote employees from zero day malware attacks.