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Zero day exploit is an emerging cybersecurity threat where hackers exploit vulnerabilities in the wild before it’s known to the creators or the public. Before white hat hackers jump into the situation to resolve the issue, attackers breach data and penetrate systems and networks for malicious purposes. 

As per a report, the number of zero-day exploits in 2021 grew more than 100% compared to the previous record set in 2019. This scary statistic indicates that almost 40% of the total zero-day exploits occurred in 2021 alone. 

Read the entire blog to know what is a zero day exploit and why it is so dangerous. 

What is a Zero Day Exploit?

A zero day exploit is a cybercrime where hackers exploit software or system vulnerabilities unknown to vendors, providers, and users. Malware is one such zero day exploit that’s spread to attack government agencies, IT companies, financial institutions, etc. Malwares and ransomwares spread through spoofed emails can be mitigated using email security protocols like DMARC.

 It’s also synonymously called zero-day attacks or day-0 exploits. The term zero-day indicates the intensity of the issue and the fact that developers have zero days to fix the error before it becomes an urgent issue.

Zero-day vulnerability is a term associated with zero-day exploits, which basically refers to the undiscovered flaw in the program or software. A security vulnerability isn’t referred to as a zero-day vulnerability once developers discover the issue and disseminate its patch.

Life-Span of a Zero-Day Exploit

The usual life-span of a zero day exploit is divided into 7 stages. Let’s see what these are.

Stage 1: Vulnerability Introduced

While creating and testing software, a green sign is seen by the developer. This means the software has a vulnerable code without knowing. 

Stage 2: Exploit Released

A threat actor discovers the vulnerability before the vendor or developer knows about it and gets the chance to fix it.  The Hacker writes and deploys exploited codes for malicious purposes.

Stage 3: Vulnerability Discovered

In this stage, vendors become aware of the flaws, but the patch isn’t created and released yet. 

Stage 4: Vulnerability Disclosed

The vulnerability is publicly acknowledged by the vendor or security researchers. The users are intimated about the potential risks associated with the software.

Stage 5: Antivirus Signature Released 

An antivirus is released so that if users’ devices are attacked to launch a zero-day exploit, antivirus vendors can identify its signature and offer protection. But the system may be vulnerable to such risks if bad actors have other ways to exploit the vulnerability. 

Stage 6: Security Patch Made Public

Developers create and disseminate a security patch to address the vulnerability. The time taken for its creation depends on the complexity of the vulnerability and its priority in the development process. 

Stage 7: Security Patch Deployment Completed

In the last stage, the security patch installation is successfully completed. Installation is necessary as releasing a security patch doesn’t behave as an immediate fix because users take time to deploy it. Thus, companies and individuals using it are notified about the updated version. 

What Unique Characteristics of Zero Day Exploits Make Them So Dangerous?

Do you know what is a zero day attack’s advantage for hackers? It makes it easy and quick for them to penetrate into a system to steal and intercept sensitive data. That’s why the technique is a part of many ransomware attacks, including the recent one launched against Rackspace. 

Rackspace, the cloud computing giant, made a public announcement that hackers accessed the personal data of 27 customers during a ransomware attack. 

Continue reading to know what unique characteristics of zero-day exploits make them so dangerous.

Reason 1: The Vulnerability is Not Known To The Vendors or Developers

Programs are prone to vulnerabilities, and it isn’t practical for developers to detect everything. This is why they create and release patches as soon as they know of the flaws. However, if hackers found out about them before the developers, they are more likely to compromise them to penetrate systems.

Reason 2: Hackers Tailor Zero-Day Attacks

Hackers make attacks specific enough to launch a zero day exploit successfully. These tailorings make it hard to counteract their malicious moves. Often, the victim’s side ends up conjuring solutions on the fly since they are less likely to encounter such situations otherwise. 

Reason 3: There is No Defence or Protection in Place

Unless the developing company finds vulnerabilities or reports cases of compromises, it won’t create defense mechanisms in advance. Tackling the problem and its repercussions starts when you learn about it. 

Reason 4: People Follow Directions

Generally, users don’t follow good internet hygiene and pass on emails, download files, click links, or follow directions without scrutinizing the genuineness of the sender. This leads to zero-day exploits, SQL injection attacks, data breaches, misuse of financial details, etc. 

Common Targets of a Zero-Day Exploit

A zero-day exploit can target any individual or organization that can bring them profits. The common ones are:

  • Companies with poor cybersecurity.
  • Companies that record users’ data like names, contact details, financial details, addresses, social security numbers, medical details, etc.
  • Government agencies.
  • Companies that handle confidential data.
  • Companies that develop software and hardware for customers.
  • Companies that work for the defense sector.

How to Detect Zero Day Exploits?

Companies are responsible for protecting data and client information. Regulatory bodies are taking stricter actions against organizations mishandling them; thus, you and your team must be aware of zero day exploit detection methods. Some important ones are listed below.

  • Conduct Vulnerability Scanning

It’s the process of zero-day exploit detection, where experts hunt down the flaws in a system or software. Once you know the vulnerability, you can create and release a patch for the users.

Vulnerability scanning can be planned as an independent activity or a regular part of the development process. Some companies outsource the job to cybersecurity firms. 

  • Gather and Analyze Reports From System Users

System users interact with software regularly and are more likely to detect issues before the developing team can do. Thus, you should motivate them to report such issues so that they can be fixed before malicious actors compromise them to launch zero day exploits.

  • Monitor Your Website’s Performance

You can’t directly figure out if a hacker has been trying to compromise your web application, but take action if you or your team notices the following:

  1. Issues while logging in.
  2. Changes in how your website used to look. Don’t ignore slight alterations as well.
  3. Your website redirecting you to another cloned website.
  4. Deflection in website traffic.
  5. You are seeing browser warnings like “This site may be hacked.”
  • Use Retro Hunting

Retro hunting is a practical way to detect zero-day exploits, where IT experts look for reports of nefarious cyberattacks and check if their software was affected in a similar manner. Ensure that you do the following to get the maximum benefit from retro hunting.

  1. All the emails from software vendors should land in a central inbox.
  2. Check these emails for notifications about security vulnerabilities.
  3. Be updated with cybersecurity news.
  4. Check if hackers can penetrate your system through methods used in the most infamous attacks.
  • Notice Deflection in Network Speed

When a cyberactor penetrates your system through malware injection, the spike in traffic slows down the network speed. Take requisite action if you notice this.

  • Track Software Performance

Your program’s speed can slow when hackers inject malicious code into it. You may also encounter alterations in functions, appearance, settings, etc. These unexplainable changes indicate that someone has been maneuvering with your software.

3 Best Ways to Prevent Zero-Day Exploits

You know that prevention is better than cure, right? So, here we have mentioned the best and most practical ways to prevent zero day exploits before things go out of your control.

1. Make Use of Security Software

Security software help shield your system against spiteful malware, internet-based intrusions, and other security threats. Use the ones that are specialized in scanning downloads, blocking illegitimate users from using your system, and encrypting sensitive data. Also, enable plugins that prevent brute force attacks and hunt down dodgy comments. 

2. Keep Your Software and System Updated

Educate your team to update software and systems as soon as they get notifications. The updated versions have patches that can combat new attacking techniques of malicious actors. Updated versions fix minor bugs that are otherwise vulnerable to fuzzing.

3. Restrict User Access

It isn’t sufficient to know zero day exploit definition, you should also consider restricting user access. Use allowlisting or blocklisting methods to let only authorized entities access systems, software, and confidential data.  This will make it easier to contain the damage and patch limited vulnerabilities.

Whaling—spear phishing—is a cyber crime involving convincing a high-value target (HVT) to click on malicious links or open a malicious file to gain access to the HVT’s computer and sensitive data.

Have you ever heard of cyber whales?

It’s not a term your average person bandied about. The chances are that you didn’t unless you are a hacker or part of the security industry. Your average Joe would have no idea what it meant. That is until now because we are going to tell you what is whaling cyber awareness!

Whaling in Cybersecurity: What’s That?

Whaling is a form of phishing that targets high-level executives. It’s designed to trick them into giving up corporate information such as passwords and account numbers. Whaling attacks are often a part of larger cyberattacks, such as data breaches or ransomware attacks, but they can also be used independently.

Whaling attacks can be used to:

  • Steal sensitive data from companies’ networks
  • Gain access to sensitive systems within the network (for example, those with financial details)
  • Use compromised credentials for malicious activity on victims’ computers

What is Whaling Cyber Awareness?

“Whaling” is a type of phishing attack that targets high-level executives and other individuals within an organization who hold sensitive information. These attacks are often more sophisticated and more difficult to detect than traditional phishing scams, which typically target a large number of individuals with a generic message.

A “whaling attack” is a term use to describe a spear phishing attack that is directed specifically at a high-profile target, such as a CEO, CFO, or other high-level executive. The attacker will often research the target and craft a message that appears to be from a legitimate source, such as a senior member of the organization or a trusted business partner, in an attempt to trick the target into providing sensitive information or transferring money.

“Cyber awareness” refers to the understanding and knowledge of the various types of cyber threats and the measures that can be taken to protect against them. This includes understanding the risks associated with using the internet and other digital technologies, as well as knowing how to identify and respond to potential cyber attacks. 

In the context of whaling, cyber awareness would include understanding the specific tactics and methods used in these types of attacks, as well as knowing how to recognize and respond to suspicious messages that appear to be from high-level executives within the organization.

Therefore Whaling Cyber awareness is the awareness of this specific type of threat, how to identify and prevent it.

What is the Whaling Cyber Awareness Challenge?

Whaling Cyber Awareness Challenge is a unique program that combines technology, education, and hands-on experience. The US Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the American Computer Society (ACS) developed the program with funding from the Department of State’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program (ATA).

The Whaling Cyber Awareness Challenge is designed to teach participants about cybercrime, how to protect themselves online, and how to recognize when they’ve been targeted for malicious activity.

4 Modules of Whaling Cyber Awareness Challenge

The challenge consists of four modules:

Targeted Attacks

In this module, students learn about the types of attacks used in whaling, the different types of attackers, and the types of social engineering attacks they use. They also learn about the most common targets for whaling attacks: businesses, government agencies, and individuals.

Defense

In this module, students learn how to recognize common signs of a whaling attack and how to respond if someone tries to impersonate them or their organization through social engineering techniques. Also, they learn about common security mistakes that can lead to successful whaling attempts, as well as tips for protecting yourself from identity theft.

Investigation

This module investigates attempted whaling attacks so law enforcement agencies can take appropriate action against the criminals responsible for these crimes. You will also learn about the legal issues surrounding cyber security investigations and how these investigations are conducted by law enforcement agencies worldwide.

Legal Issues 

An investigation into an attack that did not happen but might have happened if certain conditions had been met. The goal is to consider some legal issues that could arise from such an attack and how law enforcement agencies or other governmental entities might address them.

What are the Methods of Protection from Whaling Cyber Awareness Attacks?

There are several methods that businesses can use to protect themselves from whaling cyberawareness attacks:

  • Employee education and training: Ensuring that employees are aware of the risks of whaling attacks and how to recognize and avoid them can be an effective way to prevent these attacks.
  • Two-factor authentication: Requiring an additional form of authentication, such as a one-time code sent to a phone or email, can help to prevent unauthorized access to accounts.
  • Strong passwords: Using strong, unique passwords for all accounts can make it more difficult for attackers to gain access.
  • Email filtering: Implementing email filtering to block suspicious emails or to flag them for review can help to prevent employees from falling victim to phishing attacks.
  • Use of security software: Using security software such as antivirus and firewall protection can help to prevent malware infections and other security breaches.
  • Regular software updates: Ensuring that all software is kept up to date with the latest patches and security updates can help to prevent vulnerabilities from being exploited.
  • Strong network security: Implementing strong network security measures such as network segmentation and access controls can help to prevent unauthorized access to corporate networks.
  • Incident response plan: Having a plan in place for responding to security incidents can help to minimize the impact of a whaling attack and allow for a more rapid recovery.

Make DMARC a part of your Whaling Cyber Awareness Agenda 

You can set up DMARC to restrict the delivery of messages from your domain that don’t comply with your DMARC policy. This helps protect your organization from phishing scams, where fraudsters impersonate your brand in order to steal money or sensitive data.

DMARC provides several benefits:

  • It enables you to reject email that fails SPF or DKIM checks (indicating spoofing).
  • It allows you to require Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) authentication for all outbound email sent from your domain.
  • It provides a mechanism by which you can stop spoofed emails from being delivered to the recipient’s inbox.

Final Words

We hope you learned a thing or two from this guide about what is whaling cyber awareness and that it’s been useful in giving you an overview of the cyber security market. Of course, there are many more aspects you could focus on when approaching cyber security from a business perspective. Still, we covered some of the basics here to help get your mindset headed in the right direction for your cyber security plan.

For more details, reach out to the experts at PowerDMARC and learn more about cyber awareness whaling and general email security and authentication practices!