Zero-Day Exploits: A Comprehensive Checklist For Universities And Higher Education


data leaks exploits conceptThe term “zero-day attack” refers to a cybersecurity vulnerability or software flaw that is exploited before vendors or developers are aware of the attack. In other words, the parties interested in mitigation have “zero days” to fix the problem because it occurred before they discovered it.

Zero-day attacks can be highly detrimental to educational institutions, and since they are executed before developers are aware of a vulnerability, they can be challenging to prevent. With the help of IT experts, universities and institutions of higher education can create robust defenses against zero-day attacks.

What Are Zero-Day Attacks And How Are They Discovered?

When zero-day attacks occur, hackers typically identify a vulnerability and then breach the system in a manner that draws as little attention as possible. One way this can be accomplished is by sending malware emails to users under the guise of a known name, asking them to open certain files or websites that would inevitably result in stolen data.

This is especially easy in higher education when students are used to receiving emails from unfamiliar senders, and not all have been educated on proper internet security hygiene. Because zero-day exploits happen before a patch or fix has been developed, organizations and any parties they work with are placed at high risk of losing valuable data.

However, recent technological advances have improved the chances of preventing zero-day attacks.

Essential Steps To Prevent And Remediate Zero-Day Exploits

As technology continues to advance, the most effective steps to help prevent and remediate zero-day exploits have become more sophisticated. They include directives such as:

  • software cycle development conceptUse secure software lifecycle development to protect your programs
  • Begin vulnerability management and patching programs for the ability to immediately update software
  • Pay attention to announcements concerning zero-day exploits and install patches immediately
  • Carry out vulnerability scanning
  • Block and/or respond to multiple types of attacks by integrating firewalls, intrusion detection and more

Build A Robust Cybersecurity Framework

Preventing and remediating zero-day exploits involves preemptively tackling many of the previous points, but they are just one part of an overarching cybersecurity strategy that can handle zero-day attacks if they do occur.

It is imperative that universities and colleges integrate suitable people, processes and policies to build a robust cybersecurity framework. A few measures that institutions should implement to mitigate the damage of zero-day exploits include:

  • Manage consistent security assessments
  • Embrace a threat-hunting philosophy
  • Station next-generation firewalls and an IPS
  • Strengthen endpoint security mechanisms
  • Ready leadership for a possible compromise

Establish Vulnerability Management And Patching Programs

vulnerability conceptWhen software does not regularly download patches with the latest security features, programs and processes can become vulnerable to hacking attempts or unintentional information leakage. Updating software to the newest patches as soon as they are available shields institutions from known vulnerabilities and makes the existing software framework more difficult to break through, thus ensuring the software or code’s security.

Leverage Automated Threat Intelligence Tools

Threat intelligence tools are a necessity against the modern and complex cyberattacks utilized to exploit codes and software. The tools offer protection against large-scale and automated zero-day attacks, thus acting far more efficiently compared to a manual approach––which may make zero-day patching complex and slow.

Some examples of automated threat intelligence tools that organizations and corporations can purchase are Kaspersky Threat Intelligence, IntSights External Threat Protection (ETP) Suite, The Recorded Future Security Intelligence Platform, ThreatFusion, and many more. Integrating these with existing processes and choosing the right combination for a university’s use can be done with an CISO’s guidance.

Deploy Layered Security Controls And Limit Access To Users

Stationing layered security controls and limiting access to a minimal number of users will help prevent vulnerabilities and weaknesses caused by human error or lack of strong and updated security. Strengthening security controls by installing next-gen firewalls and reinforcing endpoint security mechanisms will help in detecting zero-day attacks that are in progress.

Develop Comprehensive Disaster Recovery And Backup Plans

Despite robust security protocols, it is still possible that a cybersecurity breach will occur. What is most important at this juncture is having a strong, comprehensive disaster recovery and backup plan. Typically, organizations will form contractual relationships with incident response firms and experts to help aid in immediate action when a zero-day attack does occur.

Utilize Penetration Testing To Detect Vulnerabilities

man performing penetrating testing on laptopPenetration testing involves intentionally imitating cyber attacks on a software or computer system to examine weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the code, as well as identify how the university responds to a perceived attack. Higher education institutions can hire people to conduct penetration testing on their behalf, or they can complete it in-house.

Perform Input Validation and Sanitization

By executing input validation and data sanitization, institutions can “close the attack vector that comes with input fields on sites and applications.” In other words, input validation and sanitation filters data inputs that pose potential problems or expose weaknesses in the code or software.

Learn More About Preventing High-Risk Vulnerabilities In Higher Education

High-risk vulnerabilities caused by zero-day attacks can have wide-reaching effects, particularly in higher education, where thousands of people and their families may be impacted.

Hartman Executive Advisors is experienced in helping universities and colleges navigate technological transformation to efficiently intercept and respond to zero-day attacks and cybersecurity breaches. Reach out to learn more about preventing high-risk vulnerabilities in higher education or to schedule an appointment to get started.


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