What are Zero-Day Attacks and Why Are They So Dangerous for Your Home PC?

February 26th, 2020
Zero-Day Attacks

Imagine a scenario in which you live in a neighborhood on the radar for burglars. You take every single precaution to keep your house safe, but don’t realize there is a point of ingress you have overlooked and left unsecured. And, the next time you’re out, burglars enter your home and make off with valuables.

What happened? As careful as you were, there was a weak spot in your home you didn’t know about that allowed burglars to sneak inside.

This is very similar to zero-day attacks, exploits, and threats.

What is a zero-day attack?

A zero-day attack, also known as a zero-day exploit or zero-hour attack, is a cyberattack taking place the same day a cybercriminal or hacker finds a vulnerability in a software, hardware, or firmware. As soon as these criminals find a vulnerability, they immediately exploit it, before a patch is available. These attacks can be viruses or malware such as worms or Trojans.

No one else knows about the software vulnerability except the cybercriminal. They then proceed to attack this vulnerability and milk it for all its worth. From a cybercrime perspective, it is imperative that criminals use zero-day attacks between the time they first find the vulnerability until the software/application/firmware/hardware creators find a solution for this vulnerability and make it available to users.

This timeframe is known as the vulnerability window, and creators must ensure they are able to minimize this window as much as possible.

How do attackers find such vulnerabilities?

The cybercrime ecosystem is driven by a need to proactively find vulnerabilities. Popular software is continuously evaluated and analyzed by criminals who are looking for “unlocked doors” (often referred to as backdoors). These can offer unauthorized entry into web browsers, enterprise applications, and more.

There are times when a savvy user can detect a security issue in a software program. There are also researchers whose job is to proactively look for exploits. Once identified, these issues or vulnerabilities are either directly reported to the software company and/or made public to the world at large.

No prizes for guessing that if potential attackers hear about a potential security issue reported in a software and a fix hasn’t been made available yet. They will exploit it. The software you are using on your PC and Mac is vulnerable to such attacks. A zero-day attack feels a bit like dark magic when you believe the software, firmware, or hardware you’re using is secure. So, to stay safe, you need the cybersecurity equivalent of a “defense against the dark arts.”

Zero Day Attack Prevention- Essential Tips

First the bad news: it is very difficult, almost impossible, in fact, to identify a zero-day vulnerability. You need to have some serious IT and software skills to recognize a zero-day vulnerability. And even then, you need to be really lucky to catch one. Typically, zero-day attacks against home computers are launched through entities you trust, and your computer therefore is fair game.

But, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are a few steps you can take to prevent zero-day attacks:

  • Download software/firmware from reputed and official sources only
  • Keep checking for and installing regular updates and the latest software patches
  • Always maintain browsing hygiene, ensuring you don’t open sites or click on links that will unleash malware on your computer through zero-day vulnerabilities
  • Always subscribe to safe computing habits by not downloading attachments from unknown sources or opening unknown files

Last but not least, use the best antivirus available, such as Sophos Home, with next-gen features to protect you against the latest threats.

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