Zero-Day Exploits are exploits in software, hardware, or firmware criminals use to attack systems. They exploit unknown flaws in software or firmware in ways that gain unauthorized access to sensitive data or vital systems.
Vulnerabilities are rarely discovered immediately; sometimes, it takes days, months, or years before vendors become aware of a bug and begin working to create a fix for it. Meanwhile, hackers use vulnerabilities like these to gain network entry and steal sensitive data.
Stuxnet was used in 2010 to launch an extremely effective cyberattack against an Iranian nuclear facility, distinguishing itself by targeting machinery rather than personal data. Stuxnet is widely seen as the first true "cyber weapon," prompting many security professionals to reconsider how they view the threat posed by malware.
Stuxnet was an advanced cyber worm designed to penetrate industrial systems such as power plants, dams, and oil refineries; however, its most notable attack was against centrifuges at Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment facility. Stuxnet compromised PLCs that controlled these centrifuges to manipulate their operation by changing the code running on these centrifuges.
Hence, they spun faster or slower than intended causing physical damage such as breakdown or explosion of centrifuges - something no country has admitted doing - although speculation exists as both countries developed it simultaneously.
It infiltrated machines at the nuclear site by exploiting multiple Windows Zero days that had yet to be patched by Microsoft, using infected USB drives to spread. Once inside Siemens computers at four outside companies that worked with the nuclear plant, the worm searched for and infiltrated Step 7 software used for PLC control; when found, it injected a rootkit and modified code related to PLC operation.
Though Stuxnet no longer operates, its widespread media coverage has encouraged cyber criminals to use it as an entryway into further attacks. One such malicious family, Duqu, has been taking advantage of Windows shortcut vulnerabilities exploited by Stuxnet while exploiting other zero-days and infiltrating university computers in Saudi Arabia and Ukraine.
Adobe Flash Player
Zero-Day Exploits are software bugs exploited by hackers to steal data from victim computers and use this information in targeted attacks, making regular software updates incredibly important to stay safe from these exploits.
Recently, Adobe issued security updates to Flash Player that target an active exploit in targeted attacks. The updates are available for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and Chrome OS operating systems and upgrade Flash Player to version 220.127.116.11 while fixing three other flaws.
This exploit employs a malicious Office document to execute a Flash file, opening up a window on victim machines that downloads and installs malware associated with APT3. APT3's hacking group targets include Middle Eastern political figures, opposition bloggers and activists, and regional news correspondents.
Kaspersky Lab specialists have again identified a zero-day vulnerability in Adobe Flash this year; their first discovery came in February and allowed attackers to infiltrate victim systems with malware covertly.
Steve Jobs issued an open letter detailing his reasons for rejecting Adobe's Flash player on iPhones and iPads in April 2010. He labeled it cumbersome, unreliable, a security risk, and a drain on battery life - discouraging users from switching to HTML5-based applications for videos and animations instead.
Researchers note that Adobe Flash is being targeted in a new attack by APT 3, exploiting a heap buffer overflow flaw known as CVE-2018-4878 in its plugin. According to security researchers, attackers have distributed this exploit via Microsoft Word documents containing fake applications containing exploit code.
Once a document is opened, exploit code activates a memory corruption bug allowing an attacker to control and run malware. Malware created for this purpose can transform infected machines into part of a botnet network and be used for various purposes - such as turning them into spam bots or carrying out advertising fraud.
Sony Pictures, an American subsidiary of Japanese electronics giant Sony, was attacked with malware believed to have exploited a Zero-Day vulnerability in 2014. This breach crippled its systems and resulted in sensitive data being released on file-sharing websites, such as personal information about employees and their families, movie production details, and release dates.
Zero-Day vulnerabilities offer attackers immense value as they enable them to gain entry to systems that have not yet been patched, giving them access to sensitive information or disrupting operations without fear of patching it themselves. They can then either steal information from these systems, disrupt operations, spread malware to inflict other systems or spread an attack that infects even more systems. These attacks are so powerful they're often employed in cyber espionage and warfare operations or used to gain control over critical infrastructure such as power plants or nuclear facilities.
One of the most notable Zero-Day attacks was Stuxnet, a malicious computer worm designed to attack industrial systems. Stuxnet exploited a vulnerability in Siemens' Step7 software used to run industrial manufacturing equipment. Once activated, Stuxnet would alter centrifuge speeds at Iran's enrichment plants, causing them to either break down completely or act erratically; many believe Stuxnet was devised by both America and Israel, but neither country has officially acknowledged its creation.
Hackers responsible for the attack against Sony Pictures took advantage of a Zero-Day vulnerability to breach its corporate network. Then they used malware to destroy files on servers and erase hard drives containing data, thus leading Sony to cancel its film The Interview's release and suffer threats from public opinion while losing jobs due to this attack. Former employees have since filed several class action lawsuits alleging it failed to take appropriate safeguards to protect personal information.
Researchers have traced the malware used in the Sony hack to a South Korean threat group known as Lazarus Group; however, details remain murky regarding how attackers gained entry. One way to protect against Zero-Day vulnerabilities is keeping all operating systems and software up-to-date; most vendors provide patches for newly discovered vulnerabilities in new releases of their products.
According to reports by security researchers and hackers, Google recently patched five vulnerabilities affecting Chrome zero-day exploits this year. Google did not reveal too many details on this matter but recommended users upgrade to the latest version of their browser for protection.
Google does not disclose much information regarding its zero-day vulnerabilities; however, Clement Lecigne of their Threat Analysis Group identified this particular flaw, and it was considered serious as it could allow attackers to bypass Chrome's sandbox and access other systems through backdoor methods.
Xcitium believes the recent attacks were part of a larger campaign that began in March. Email spam campaigns using iframes to load an exploit kit targeted companies involved with cryptocurrency, fintech, and banking industries - the victims were then lured into clicking fake job ads leading directly to phishing sites.
Cybersecurity experts attribute the surge in Chrome zero-day exploits to Adobe Flash being banned as an attack vector on web attacks. With Flash no longer a target, threat actors have focused on Google's Chromium rendering engine instead. Google's swift response to recent vulnerabilities demonstrates its seriousness about taking care in responding to these flaws.