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May 25, 2021

What is a Zero-Day Exploit and Can You Protect Yourself From Them?

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Have you ever given much thought to how your digital devices work? How does your phone send text messages; how does your laptop create documents? How does your fitness tracker count your steps, and how does your doorbell recognize when someone you know has come for a visit? Of course, there’s a complex answer to these questions, but the basic answer is software. Software is the set of instructions your devices (and their applications) receive which tell them what to do and when. In order to keep your devices functioning properly, and in new ways, programmers regularly send out software updates. But what happens when, instead of improving how your device and its apps work, these updates instead open you up to security risks? One of these risks is known as a zero-day exploit. Let’s take a look at what that means:

  • What is a zero-day exploit?
  • Why are they dangerous?
  • Can I protect myself?

What is a Zero-Day Exploit?

Sometimes, when a programmer releases a software update, the update includes an accidental flaw that hackers and cybercriminals can exploit. In some cases, these flaws can remain in a piece of software for years, just waiting to be discovered. The term for this type of flaw is “zero-day exploit.” The term “zero-day” refers to the day the programmer becomes aware of the flaw. Once discovered, the clock starts to create a patch for the issue. 

Why Are They Dangerous?

A zero-day exploit can remain undiscovered by a programmer in a piece of software for years. Because of this, it’s a race against time and hackers. If a hacker discovers the exploit before the programmer, they can freely take advantage of it (an event known as a zero-day attack) until the programmer puts out a patch. This can take some time, even if they notice the flaw in the program as soon as it’s exploited. 

Through a zero-day exploit, a hacker can do a lot of damage to you and your device. For example, they can gain access to your files, which allows them to steal your data or take over your device entirely. In other instances, the vulnerability allows them to install malware on your device.

Can I Protect Myself?

In general, we must rely on the programmers responsible for our software to find and fix any zero-day exploits in the software. However, there are a few methods you can use to afford yourself a little more protection.

  • Install updates right away. The sooner you install available software updates, the sooner the software will receive any patches for potential vulnerabilities.
  • Use antivirus software. Antivirus software is always paying attention to malware and other system dangers, even when you aren’t. If a hacker is trying to install malicious content onto your device through an exploit, antivirus software can help you stop the attempt.
  • Report flaws. If you have some technical know-how and happen to notice a security flaw in a piece of software, always report it to the programming team. This allows them to begin working on a patch, hopefully before a hacker notices the vulnerability.

We trust our devices to be safe for use, but that’s not always the case. Zero-day exploits are just one of the many dangers we face every day. Stay up-to-date with the latest tips and tricks for better digital security by following HotBot VPN on social media!

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