What Is a Zero-Day Exploit?

Protect yourself from online attacks that threaten your identity, your files, your system, and your financial well-being.


A “zero-day” exploit is one of the most dreaded security issues that can happen to a piece of software or hardware. It refers to a situation where a vulnerability in a program, hardware device, or other system is used to attack the same day that the hole is discovered.

In practical terms, it doesn’t have to be exactly the same day. The term refers to a situation in which hackers act on the news of a security hole before anyone can patch it. Since there simply isn’t enough time to close the breach.

Let’s unpack the idea of a zero-day exploit and look at what sort of threat this cybersecurity emergency can present.

What Is an Exploit?

It’s worth taking a second to look at a word in the term you might gloss over – exploit.

In the world of cybersecurity, the term “exploit” has a rather specific meaning. An exploit is something such as commands, software code, or data that leverages a vulnerability or bug.

Exploits are usually the result of asymmetry between developer resources and those of the hackers. No matter how carefully you design and write your code, you can never come up with every possible angle of attack or combination of circumstances.

Many exploits are incredibly obscure, but it only takes one hacker probing software and hardware obscurities to find it. There are many more people poking at systems to see where they are weak than there are people building these systems. Ultimately it’s a numbers game.

The Forms Zero-Day Attacks Take

The exact form of a zero-day attack varies according to the type of exploit it is. If it’s a vulnerability that’s amenable to a man-in-the-middle attack, then that’s what’s likely to happen. If the exploit is better taken advantage of by a virus, then a virus it shall be. The entire array of hacker tools are open to use in the case of a zero-day exploit. However, it’s reasonable to expect that suitable attacks that are faster to prepare will appear sooner.

As you might imagine, the responses to these attacks are almost entirely dependent on what precise form they take or which sorts of use cases they take advantage of. Let’s have a look at what you can do when zero-day attacks happen.

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