Zero Day Vulnerabilities and What They Mean

October 20, 2023

For cybersecurity professionals, staying a step ahead of attackers is a significant challenge. One of the most powerful tools in cybercriminals’ arsenal is exploiting zero-day vulnerabilities, which are concealed from the very developers who create and are responsible for defending against them. When these vulnerabilities are exploited by attackers, user data, company secrets, and government intelligence can be placed at significant risk.

To protect against these covert and devastating flaws, security experts must outpace attackers, discovering these vulnerabilities before they are exploited and rapidly deploying patches and updates to fix them. Tech giants like Google and Windows are facing these challenges more frequently and are developing new strategies to identify and mitigate their impact.


Understanding Zero-Day Vulnerabilities

A zero-day vulnerability is a hidden passageway into computer software or systems that developers don't know about. Because they’re unaware of the issue, they’re not working on the solution and, once identified, there is often no quick fix available. When attackers identify the issue first, developers are already behind and thus have “zero days” to fix a problem they didn’t even know existed. In the meantime, attackers can sneak through this entryway to steal information or install malicious software. Developers will take great strides to secure their products, but they won’t fix what they don’t know is broken. Zero-day vulnerabilities are increasing in frequency and can take a variety of forms. On web browsers, attackers can take control of a user’s computer when visiting a specific website. In an operating system like Windows or macOS, attackers can use malicious software to infect a computer without the user’s knowledge. Similarly, mobile apps are a popular target for attackers, exploiting unknown flaws to commit cybercrimes or manipulate a user’s access. If there are no security updates to protect users, attackers can gain unauthorized access to data, like passwords and credit card numbers, using these vulnerabilities to launch secretive and damaging attacks on individuals, companies, and governments.

To stay safe, security experts need to uncover these vulnerabilities before anyone else knows they exist and then release updates and patches to fix the issue. To protect themselves, users should keep software up to date and be knowledgeable about common tactics used by attackers, such as using deceitful links or email attachments.


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Google Chrome Under Attack

Recently, a zero-day vulnerability was found in Google’s Chrome browser, which was related to a video compression format called VP8. This flaw, which also affected Mozilla’s Firefox browser and impacted software like Skype and YouTube, allowed attackers to run harmful code on a user’s computer or make it crash when they opened certain video files.

For Google, this vulnerability is the second of its kind in recent weeks, which was identified in outdated code. Though Google released a patch for the issue shortly after it was identified by Apple Security Engineering, they have stated that a commercial spyware vendor used this vulnerability to target high-risk individuals. It's not clear how many other software packages were—or still may be—at risk, so Google has reminded users to be vigilant while using software that deploys VP8.


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Dealing with an Ever-Evolving Threat

While all developers are at risk for unknowingly leaving or creating vulnerabilities in their products, Google has patched five zero-day vulnerabilities for their Chrome web browser this year alone. These threats encompassed issues like memory corruption, type confusion, and integer overflow. They’ve also patched vulnerabilities that have weakened their graphics, image, and video libraries. Like the newest vulnerability, attackers used these then-unknown issues to steal data, install malware, and take control of users’ computers before Google was able to patch them.

Zero-day vulnerabilities are complex and challenging to fix, there are often delays in fixing them. Occasionally, companies will issue emergency patches to address ongoing attacks until a more permanent solution can be deployed. These problems can compromise browser security and stability, making regular updates and prompt patch application essential for users.

In the face of these recent threats, Google has restated their commitment to promptly addressing zero-day vulnerabilities. They invest heavily in security research, encourage better reporting through a bug bounty program, and collaborate with other security organizations to make it easier to patch security issues. Regardless, zero-day vulnerabilities will likely continue to impact companies like Google that provide essential digital services, putting critical data and systems at risk until each issue is addressed.


Cybersecurity at Capitol Tech

Capitol Technology University’s programs in Cyber and Information Security can prepare you to stay one step ahead of cyber attackers by identifying zero-day vulnerabilities before they can be exploited. For more information, contact our Admissions team at