Zero-day bugs have been a hot topic for cybersecurity in 2022. Google’s July announcement of its fourth zero-day exploit of the year is enough to worry even everyday Chrome users. But are zero-day bugs really cause for concern? Let’s look at what zero-day means, how it’s exploited by hackers and what you can do to protect yourself against them.
In the context of cybersecurity, zero-day is often used to describe a digital security vulnerability that has been discovered and exploited by hackers. Additionally, it’s also a vulnerability that was previously unknown to the developer or vendor who created the software or system. The inference is that the developer has “zero days” to fix it.
Sometimes written as “0-day,” there are various phrases that include zero-day, each of which intertwine to add context to a virtual security threat. Because zero-day vulnerabilities are not previously known about, they’re unprotected against zero-day exploits — the method used by a hacker to attack a system using the vulnerability. Once the system has been accessed, a zero-day attack can be implemented to damage or steal data from the vulnerable system.
The term “zero-day bug” is essentially interchangeable with zero-day vulnerability. It can sometimes be used to describe a new virus that has not been encountered before, meaning that anti-virus software isn’t suitably equipped to protect against it. But more commonly, it’s known as a fault or weakness in a system that was previously unrecognized.
Keeping yourself safe from zero-day bugs is understandably quite challenging. As a previously unknown threat, the developer won’t have protocols in place to defend its program, system or application against bad actors wanting to exploit the vulnerability. There are, however, some recommended actions you can take to ensure that you’re as well defended as possible.
Time is of the essence when it comes to zero-day threats. Most developers act swiftly to establish solutions to any vulnerabilities, once they’re aware of them. It’s therefore important to keep your systems and program security reinforced with the latest software updates and patches. Hackers and bad actors will continue to attempt to exploit a zero-day vulnerability even after the developer has distributed a fix to it, in the hope that some users won’t have bothered with installing the update. Whenever you receive a service provider prompt to install a security update, don’t hesitate to install it — once you’ve verified it’s genuine, of course.
Reinforcing your digital defenses with high quality antivirus software will provide you with an extra layer of protection against malware, spyware, viruses and ransomware — all of which may be delivered through a zero-day exploit attack. Even if the zero-day hole hasn’t yet been plugged, it’s worth having additional barriers in place that will detect and alert you to any threats or suspicious irregularities in your system.
Whether it’s for your operating system, preferred web browser, antivirus software or your favorite apps, electing to have updates installed automatically will mean your system is made as secure as possible, as quickly as possible. For some, automatic updates may already be active, but if not, then you can usually switch them on simply through the settings menu.
If you’re continuing to use older versions of software, operating systems or programs, eventually the developer will stop supporting them. This means they will only be paying attention to updating and protecting newer versions, leaving your system with unsupported technology that is more appealing to hackers. Once a device or software reaches the end of its support life, look to replace it with a newer version that will continue to receive the relevant security updates.