Zero-Day Research: Time From Discovery to Exploit Shrinks to Four Days

A zero-day vulnerability is just a potential threat until it is weaponized or incorporated into an exploit kit, but research unveiled at this week’s Black Hat security conference showed the process of doing so is getting shorter all the time.

Those who aren’t attending Black Hat can get a good overview of the research, conducted by Malwarebytes, by watching a video the company posted. It outlines all the steps to turn zero-day exploits into full-fledged attacks, including discovering the vulnerability, reverse engineering it and testing it. While this process once took about eight days, the report’s analysis found many cybercriminals are now managing it in four.

As Infosecurity Magazine pointed out, a key example cited by Malwarebytes concerned one of the zero-day exploits involved in the Hacking Team leak. That could explain the accelerated nature of the exploit to some extent, since the Italian security company not only had details on the vulnerability in question but actual instructions on how to turn it against a prospective victim. Less than 24 hours later, the first attacks surfaced.

The pace of zero-day weaponization has rarely been calculated. The Register noted that new malware authors are likely to draw attention to their work, but as more high-profile data leaks come to light, the work started by Malwarebytes may become an important element of how large enterprises conduct a risk assessment and allocate the necessary security resources to defend against potential attacks. When you know the clock is ticking faster, it’s probably a good incentive to be better prepared.

In fact, Malwarebytes was not the only one presenting some troubling numbers at Black Hat 2015. BetaNews reported that Secunia released an early look at its own zero-day vulnerability research. Among other things, it showed that the industry has already detected 15 zero-day exploits this year. Given that 25 exploits were tracked over the entirety of 2014, it’s probably safe to say the situation is only getting worse, and cybercriminals getting more productive in deploying their attacks.

Softpedia added that, just as zero-day exploits are proliferating, so is the scope of platforms affected. Whereas Android might have been considered a prime target in the past, for instance, the Secunia report showed a rise of cybercriminals looking directly at Apple’s iOS. That means that no users are safe — and everyone needs to prioritize security and incident response plans if they want to successfully defend against attacks.

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Shane Schick

Writer & Editor

Shane Schick is a writer, editor and speaker who focuses on how information technology creates business value. He lives...