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Zero Day Attacks – The What, Why, and How?

by Atharva Shah | July 11, 2024

Zero-day attacks take advantage of unidentified vulnerabilities and occur when an organization is unable to respond. These attacks are especially dangerous for cloud-native services because they can result in ransomware and data breaches. This blog discusses mitigation techniques for proactive security measures, such as endpoint security, machine learning, CNAPP, and threat intelligence powered by AI.

Reading Time: 7 minutes

DevSecOps professionals always battle against the shifting landscape of cyber threats. One weapon in the arsenal of hackers is the dreaded zero day attack. It’s a ticking time bomb that can shatter an organization’s security posture, especially on the cloud. This blog will narrate all the past incidents, the learnings, and the underlying concepts for you to know more about these Zero Day attacks.

What exactly is a Zero Day attack?

Picture this: a vulnerability in a cloud application, unknown to the world, becomes a hacker’s playground. This is a zero day attack – aptly titled because it leaves organizations with ‘zero days’ to react before being attacked. Such attacks are often targeted on cloud-native platforms.

They involve pinpointing undiscovered security weak spots which are then used as entry points to breach an organization’s network infrastructure.

The success rate of zero day attacks is high due to their stealthy nature. Traditional defense mechanisms, like sentries facing an invisible assailant, are often caught off-guard. 

Attackers zero in on vulnerabilities in web browsers and email attachments. These unintentional chinks in the armor are difficult to detect. They allow miscreants to lurk in the shadows for days, months, or even years. Unrestricted, unmonitored, and unfiltered access to all your systems. Or worse, even affecting the users. In a recent Zero Day attack exploit, a Salesforce vulnerability was attacked to grab linked user Facebook credentials.

How Do Zero Day Attacks Work?

The clock starts ticking the moment a zero day vulnerability comes to light. It is a race against time. Cybersecurity experts scramble to fortify defenses and track potential compromises. Meanwhile, threat actors are already at work. They craft attacks and launch waves of attacks on unsuspecting targets.

The Modus Operandi of a Zero Day attack

Identify an uncharted vulnerability and weaponize it. Attackers code malware to attack specific weaknesses and turn it into a deadly payload. When executed, this malicious code infiltrates a system. This is why you see data breaches, ransomware deployment, or worse.

A usual honeypot is phishing emails with attachments or links that conceal true intentions. 

Remember the infamous Sony Pictures Entertainment breach of 2014? 

A zero day attack played a starring role, exposing sensitive data to the public. Unreleased movies, confidential emails, and strategic plans fell into the wrong hands. Even tech giants are not defended against such evolving forms of attacks.

The bad news is that a multiplier is involved for cloud-native apps due to a higher attack surface. 

These Zero Day attacks occur due to weak links in cloud security and failure to prepare damage reports periodically. Here is a handbook of Cloud Security tips for your next internal application review. Consulting this may significantly reduce and weed out such Zero Day vulnerabilities. 

Recent Zero Day Attack Exploits

DateAttack NameDetails of the Attack
April 2024QakBot attacks with Windows zero day (CVE-2024-30051)Researchers discovered a new zero day vulnerability (CVE-2024-30051) in the Windows Desktop Window Manager (DWM). The vulnerability allows for privilege escalation to gain system privileges. By mid-April, an exploit was detected being used with QakBot malware and potentially by multiple threat actors. Microsoft patched the vulnerability on May 14, 2024.
May 2023MOVEit Transfer Zero DayExploited a zero day vulnerability in the MOVEit Transfer software, compromising sensitive data transfers and resulting in large-scale data breaches.
April 2023Spring4ShellThis zero day vulnerability in the Spring Framework allowed attackers to execute remote code on affected servers. It was exploited to deploy malware and gain unauthorized access to sensitive information.
March 2023Zimbra Zero DayA zero day vulnerability in the Zimbra Collaboration Suite was exploited to gain unauthorized access to email accounts, leading to data theft and espionage.
December 2022Log4ShellThis zero day vulnerability in the Apache Log4j library allowed attackers to execute arbitrary code on affected systems. It compromised critical infrastructure, including cloud services, financial institutions, and government agencies.

Why are Zero Day Attacks So Devastating?

Zero day attacks leave a trail of destruction. Notable damage includes:

  1. Loss of Critical Data. Sensitive information, customer data, and proprietary secrets vanish. Always be backed up. 
  2. Erosion of Trust. Trust takes years to build, yet only moments to shatter. Customers losing faith in an organization’s security measures can be detrimental.
  3. Resource Drain.  Valuable engineering resources get diverted from innovation to firefighting. Dealing with a zero day attack isn’t just about plugging the hole. 
  4. API Hacking. They can fool the system by making it believe all systems are healthy and running as expected by overriding API systems or injecting custom code in the rootkit that whitelists dangerous malware so that it never surfaces. Planning API endpoints with great care needs testing, container security, and healthy deployment of CI/CD pipelines. 

For a full narrative, check out the CSO Online article that unveils 55 zero day attack exploits and how this has affected security risk management. 

Source: Google Blog

Significance of Zero Day attacks in the DevSecOps Landscape

A zero day attack is a serious threat in the world of DevSecOps. Before developers can reply, hackers attack flaws, leaving victims defenseless. The immediate manipulation of vulnerabilities makes zero day attacks crucial.

The development and security teams have little to no response time. Hackers take advantage of this possibility to migrate laterally within systems. They steal critical information, multiplying the potential harm.

These incidents highlight the seriousness of zero day attacks. During the 2016 DNC hack, attackers attacked six zero day vulnerabilities to steal emails from the Democratic National Committee. Researchers predict an increase in zero day attacks. 

Projections show development from one vulnerability in 2015 to one per day by 2024.

Such software vulnerability discoveries drive the development of tendencies. Adobe products had 135 vulnerabilities in 2016. According to the Cybersecurity Ventures 2017 Q1 Report, Microsoft products were featured 76 times. All this can be attributed to the lack of a decent Cloud Native Application Protection Platform (CNAPP) and Zero Trust mismanagement. 

The growing reliance on open-source code increases the risk. During a zero day attack, a weakness in a single block of open-source code deployed across many devices increases the attack surface. 

In 2019, zero day attacks accounted for 50% of all malware discovered. 40%+ companies have adopted the Zero Trust security paradigm. They now enable zero-trust network access using remote access VPNs. This highlights the importance of reinventing security paradigms within the DevSecOps ecosystem.
For a full list of attacks to date with a complete breakdown, refer to this exhaustive database by Zero Day Tracking Project

Source: Palo Alto

Techniques for Detection of Zero Day Threats

Detecting zero day threats poses a significant challenge due to their elusive nature. Here are key strategies to enhance detection capabilities:

  1. Backed by Statistics
    Leveraging machine learning, historical data from past attacks is collected. Real-time monitoring establishes a baseline for safe behavior. Still, this approach needs to be adaptable to evolving attack patterns. It also requires continuous profile updates.
  2. Based on Behavior
    Analyzing user interactions with software to discern malicious activity. This method predicts network traffic flow by learning expected behavior to block anomalies.
  3. Signature Analysis
    A traditional process involves cross-referencing local files and downloads with existing malware signatures. It identifies known threats but needs to improve in detecting novel zero day threats.

Interested in learning how DevSecOp teams and security engineers strategize and sprint to tackle such exposed threats? Redhat covers this in detail, reviewing the preparation, mitigation, categorization, and rule development. You can take a note from their playbook. 

How to Prevent Zero Day Attacks

Code vulnerability mitigation needs security from all fronts. A CNAPP that offers CSPM and CWPP with agentless models is a great solution to consider. Important risk-reduction approaches and tools include:

  1. Browser Isolation protects end-user devices and networks from potential risks during surfing by segregating code execution.
  2. Remote Browser Isolation is when code is loaded and executed on external cloud servers via websites.
  3. On-premise Browser Isolation is similar to remote isolation, but performed on servers managed internally.
  4. Client-side Browser Isolation AKA sandboxing ensures the user-device separation of code and content.
  5. A firewall is an important security system that monitors incoming and outgoing traffic based on predefined policies, protecting trusted networks and data.

Hardware, software, or hybrid firewalls deliver threat prevention by blocking dangerous content and preventing data leakage.

Characteristics of an Optimal Solution

Do a regulated assessment of existing security architecture to detect potential avenues of entry for cybercriminals. Mandate code reviews to ensure no internal flaws in the system.
Quick reaction to evolving risks following these techniques input validation. Endpoint security is achieved through code sanitization. Put in place powerful application firewalls.
Use intelligent behavioral and market analysis to pick cloud security tools.
Patch Management leads to timely deployment of software fixes. It addresses discovered vulnerabilities.
Secure connections for microservices, containers, and APIs across several cloud platforms. For real-time threat detection, use threat intelligence powered by AI.
Defend against spam and malware with email monitoring, 24×7 threat analysis, IP reputation filtering, and antivirus engines.

The best cloud security tool selection is a strategic choice that requires serious thought. Making educated selections is made easier by using behavioral and market analysis. Find a balanced solution that meets your infrastructure’s needs while also being in line with security goals by consulting a CNAPP Buyer’s Guide.

Conclusion

Detecting and avoiding a zero day attack in DevSecOps requires a mix of modern tools and behavior analysis. Robust protection involves using methods like statistics-based, signature-based, and behavior-based detection. Browser isolation and firewalls also help. 

As discussed, the ideal system includes vulnerability detection, input validation, security planning, patch management, business infrastructure security, and spam/malware protection. DevSecOps teams may significantly reduce monetary losses and customer paranoia following these techniques. 

Zero Day Attacks cost $3.9M on average

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According to the latest IBM cloud attack report - Each cloud attack on an average costs $3.92M

Total Exposed Attacks in 2024 Costed

~$1.72 Billion
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