What is Zero Day Vulnerability?

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby

Kaitlin has a BA in political science and extensive experience working in the business world as Director of Marketing and Business Development at a financial advice firm.

While Zero Day Vulnerability may sound more like a spy movie than a computer security concern, the fact is that it remains one of the worst possible jobs that a software developer must face.

What does Zero Day Vulnerability Mean?

Your life as a software developer is pretty uneventful, to be honest. However, one day you wake up and find that your phone is full of missed calls from clients, worried texts, and worst of all, a stack of e-mails. What could be the cause of so much concern? Upon reading some of those messages, one of your worst fears has been realized - your software has a zero day vulnerability. You make a big cup of coffee and then rush to the office because it is going to be a long day.

But wait, what is a zero day vulnerability? A zero day vulnerability is a hole in the software that you didn't know about but that a hacker has been able to find. Literally, the software development team has zero days to work on a patch because the vulnerability is happening right now. Think of it like leaving the back door of a warehouse open - you've got to find a way to close that door as soon as possible!

Why is it such a point of concern?

More and more, software is used to hold a wide range of data of individuals and companies. Companies and individuals trust software suppliers to make sure that the program is as safe and secure as possible. A zero day vulnerability puts all that trust at risk. Every minute that a zero day vulnerability continues is another minute that your client could be subject to data breaches, meaning the possibility of lost income, lost time, and even lawsuits. In short, if your product has a zero day vulnerability, you won't be having a good day.

How do teams respond?

Remember that big cup of coffee I mentioned earlier? That's because the first thing that a software supplier should do when a zero day vulnerability is find a way to stop unauthorized data access. This is often accomplished through a patch that, hopefully, does not take long to write. Think of the patch like a tourniquet on a bleeding limb - it doesn't address the cause, but it does limit the bleeding.

Once the data breaches have been stopped, the team should then examine how the hackers got into the system. Being able to retrace their steps means that the software developer may be able to identify other places where the product has weaknesses that could be compromised. This means less of a chance of a zero day vulnerability in the future.

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