Risk Reduction: Zeroing In on the Zero-Day Vulnerability

January 30, 2017 @ 7:30 AM
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2 min read

All it takes is one zero-day vulnerability to ruin the release of software that is otherwise secure or put devices at risk after a critical update. Despite a growing focus on defeating zero-days, they remain popular among cybercriminals.

As noted by SC Magazine, an actor called CyberZeist claimed to have leveraged such a flaw on the FBI’s website to access backup records containing account data, names and passwords encrypted with SHA-1. So what’s the prognosis for effective risk reduction? Can companies zero in on zero-day exploits?

A Growing Market

One of the biggest challenges in managing zero-day difficulties is the increasing availability of these exploits. Thanks to dedicated cybercriminal groups and emerging Dark Web marketplaces, advanced attackers are no longer the only ones capable of cracking new code.

A group known as the Shadow Brokers, for example, recently claimed it had access to a critical Windows vulnerability that used the Server Message Block (SMB) to compromise victims’ devices. While security professionals couldn’t confirm the flaw, the group, which also sold National Security Agency (NSA)-related hacking tools last year, was confident enough to ask for $600,000 from interested buyers with only a few screenshots as verification.

According to TechRepublic, meanwhile, there’s also a growing commercial marketplace for zero-day flaws. One site enables fraudsters to both buy and sell exploits created by individuals, cybergangs and even supposed government agencies. Similarly, another, founded by cybercrime group Vupen Security, sells its exploits directly to government clients and offers a clean, easy-to-use interface.

Troubling Trends

Cybersecurity Ventures’ new “Zero Day Report” highlighted current trends and offered potential avenues of defense.

First, the bad news: The total application attack surface is growing by 111 billion lines of new code every year, and much of this code is open source. In fact, the report suggested that open source code will eventually appear in 99 percent of mission-critical applications.

While this code may be higher in average quality, it also comes with greater risk, since open source components are often used across multiple products or applications. As a result, a single zero-day vulnerability could compromise 10, 20 or even hundreds of different programs.

Avoiding a Zero-Day Vulnerability

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. The report offered several ways for companies to lower their total risk. First and foremost, always harden open source library stock once it’s integrated into any piece of software. Too many companies leave it as is and thus open to critical vulnerabilities.

Next, consider paring down total functionality. Many pieces of code are designed to support multiple functions, but why run with 25 features when only two are required? Limiting functions means limiting flaws.

Companies can further reduce their risk by lowering the total number of solutions they use. According to Mike Cotton of Digital Defense, as quoted by CSO Online, firms “might use two to three databases or SML parsers, but it’s better to centralize and settle on one platform or one component that can take care of all their needs.”

Zero-day threats are on the rise as the Dark Web market grows and open source code becomes critical. By hardening shared software, limiting feature sets and slimming down platforms, companies can help zero in on zero-day attacks.

Douglas Bonderud
Freelance Writer

A freelance writer for three years, Doug Bonderud is a Western Canadian with expertise in the fields of technology and innovation. In addition to working for...
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