A zero-day attack exploits weaknesses in networks and systems that organizations have not yet identified. These attacks can go undetected for weeks or even months. As a result, they represent one of the hardest types of cyber attacks to prevent.
There’s good news for targets of zero-day attacks: in 2012, research found that the average zero-day attack exploited vulnerabilities for 312 days without detection. By 2020, that number dropped to 42 days – and in 2021 it shrunk to only 12 days.
In order to limit an institution’s risk and not only prevent but detect zero-day attacks requires an institution to be proactive with an executable plan.
What Is A Zero-Day Vulnerability?
A zero-day vulnerability is a gap in security in an operating system, network, or device. Cyber attackers identify these vulnerabilities and strike before targets can patch the weakness.
Zero-day attacks pose two major threats: first, they are difficult to prevent. Every system has weak points. Even though potential targets assess vulnerabilities in new software programs or systems, gaps can occur and solutions such as a security patch or software update, might be implemented too late.
Second, zero-day attacks are often invisible to targets because organizations have not yet identified the weakness and fail to realize as attackers exploit it.
As a result, proactive detection and prevention are key for stopping zero-day attacks.
What Do Zero-Day Attacks Mean For Higher Education Institutions?
Unfortunately, the rate of cyber-attacks impacting colleges and universities is growing. Nearly two out of three colleges reported a ransomware attack in the past year.
Cyber criminals see higher education institutions as high value targets with lagging defenses. Many Institutions have outdated systems that tend to be highly customized, which limit the ability to easily upgrade to the latest version of technology. Further, keeping up with software releases is expensive, from the cost of upgrade itself, to personal time and training required for successful implementation.
Compared with other sectors, attacks against higher education institutions succeeded at a higher rate. That means they need stronger defenses – particularly for zero-day attacks.
A proactive approach can prevent cyber-attacks, detect ongoing zero-day attacks, and patch vulnerabilities faster. The following steps translate into a more robust defense against cyber attacks of all types.
1. Timely Patch Implementation
A 2021 study in the Journal of Cybersecurity identified patch release time as a key factor in preventing zero-day attacks. By targeting both prevention and detection, institutions can limit the harm from zero-day vulnerabilities.
2. Cybersecurity Framework
Risk management is a key part of cybersecurity. A comprehensive framework of IT security policies, best practices, and security procedures can limit the damage caused by cyber-attacks. Higher education institutions need a dedicated cybersecurity team to identify and react to cyber-attacks of all types, including zero-day attacks. They must also create procedures to address potential breaches and mitigate risk.
3. Conduct Routine Vulnerability Assessments
Cyber attackers regularly look for weak points in networks. As a result, higher education institutions need to conduct vulnerability assessments regularly. These assessments find weaknesses before attackers can exploit them. By identifying vulnerabilities and pushing patches quickly, institutions can bolster their defenses. Schedule vulnerability assessments regularly and assign team members to conduct systematic reviews of weaknesses. Create a process to prioritize vulnerabilities and address them.
4. Utilize Next-Generation Firewalls And Prevention Systems
Zero-day attacks are difficult to prevent. However, using out-of-date cybersecurity systems leaves networks at greater risk of attack. Higher education institutions must implement next-generation firewalls and other prevention mechanisms. Instead of reviewing cybersecurity systems after an attack, these reviews and updates must occur proactively.
5. Incorporate Advanced Endpoint Protection Technology
Campuses offer a wealth of entry points for would-be attackers. Any endpoint – including remote access networks, campus computer systems, and a variety of personal devices accessing institutional systems – can let in unauthorized users. Advanced endpoint protection technology halts attacks before they take place. As institutions introduce new entry points, these protection technologies ward off attacks.
Work With an Outsourced CISO To Safeguard Systems And Information
Many institutions do not have a dedicated chief information security officer (CISO), particularly smaller ones. While they may not have the resources to hire a full time CISO, they can’t afford to be without a senior executive focused on protecting systems and information.
For institutions without a CISO, consider engaging an outsourced CISO to provide experienced leadership and serve as a cybersecurity authority. Creating clear processes and divisions of responsibility helps organizations bolster their security. Contact us today to take the next steps in protecting your institution. By working with our team of CISO experts, you can gain access to seasoned professionals who have architected, implemented, and managed complex security infrastructure and who can help you solve your toughest cybersecurity challenges.