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Software is an essential component of just about all computer systems. While programmers do their best to make sure the software is working as intended, there are always going to be bugs that exist and need to be fixed. Occasionally, these bugs result in a vulnerability that allows hackers to gain some type of unauthorized access into the system.

In some cases, the bug will give hackers the ability to get into certain things that they shouldn’t, but it does not represent a real threat, so the developers will simply fix the issue when they have time. In other situations, the bug results in a serious threat to the software, or even the whole system where the software is installed. When these bugs are discovered, they are called “Zero Day Bugs.”

What is a Zero Day Bug?

A zero-day bug is any newly discovered bug or exploit that is found in software and represents a serious vulnerability. The term originally started as a reference to software that hackers were able to obtain before it was released by gaining access to the developer’s systems. The term has evolved over time to refer specifically to these more serious vulnerabilities that require developers to create and distribute a fix for as soon as possible. 

In most cases, zero-day bugs are discovered by ‘white hat’ hackers (hackers who use their skills to find problems and help get them fixed) and then reported to the developers. The developers will then create a fix for the problem and roll it out to users as fast as possible. Sometimes, however, zero-day bugs are found by hackers who exploit the vulnerability for their own purposes. Once the developers realize that there is a problem, they immediately work on getting it fixed.

Distributing the Patch

In most cases, zero-day bugs can be fixed relatively easily with a simple patch to the software. Developers can come up with a solution right away and make it available for users of the software to apply. The problem, however, is that the users of the software often do not learn about the issue or take steps to implement the fix for some time. As long as the software remains unpatched, hackers will be able to take advantage of the vulnerability. There are several different types of patching strategies that can impact how long it will take for a zero-day bug to be fully mitigated.

  • Developer Side Updates – Some software is set up so that the developers can push updates to it remotely. For example, the Windows Operating System regularly checks for updates that are available from Microsoft. By default, these updates are scheduled to be installed automatically at convenient times. Developers can take steps to attempt to get the patch to be installed as quickly as possible.
  • Client-Side Updates – Most software will require that the user requests the updates and directs them to be installed. This is often done through a button that needs to be clicked to check for updates. In many cases, the software will check for patches and updates occasionally (upon launch, once per day, once per week, etc) but can also be checked manually by the end user. Software like this will generally take several days or weeks before the majority of users have a patch installed.
  • Firmware Updates – Firmware is a unique type of software, and will always need to be installed manually. While very rare, a zero-day bug on the firmware of a system would take a significant amount of time and effort to be fully mitigated.

Once a zero-day bug is found, there is essentially a race between the developers and the hackers. Developers work hard to get the patch made and distributed as widely as possible as quickly as possible. Hackers work to exploit the vulnerability as much as possible while it is available. As time goes by and more systems have the patch installed, the hackers have a more difficult time finding systems that are still vulnerable.

How to Protect Your Business from Zero Day Bugs

You are responsible for making sure that your computer systems are as safe as possible. When a zero-day bug is discovered, you will want to be able to take steps to protect your business as effectively as you can. The following are important steps that you can take to minimize the threat of zero-day bugs in your computer environment:

  • Use the Latest Patches – Installing software patches soon after they are available is one of the most effective things you can do to protect your systems. In addition to making sure that patches to these bugs are installed as soon as they are available, it also minimizes the risk of ever being at risk. This is because many zero-day bugs are found in older software versions, so updated software was never at risk.
  • Follow Computer Security News – The existence of zero-day bugs is usually made public after a patch is created. Developers want to minimize the number of hackers who learn about a bug until they actually have a fix in place. Following cybersecurity news on a daily basis will help you to become informed as soon as significant zero-day bugs are made public.
  • Use Effective Antivirus Programs – A good antivirus and malware strategy for your company will go a long way toward protecting your systems from many threats, including zero-day bugs.
  • Monitor Your System Traffic – Keeping an eye on the traffic that is coming into and going out of your network will help you to spot problems more quickly. Actively monitoring your network’s traffic is a great way to get alerted to system exploits fast so that you can respond appropriately.

Read more Security Resources on Smart Buyer

Taking All Cybersecurity Seriously

In the end, zero-day bugs are just one of many types of cybersecurity threats that businesses need to be aware of. Taking the time to develop a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy for your organization is essential for your long-term success in this dangerous digital world.

Michael Levanduski

Author Michael Levanduski

Michael Levanduski is a writer with over 20 years of experience working in the IT industry. He regularly writes for a variety of different publications, providing content on a wide range of different topics, including multiple different niches within the tech field. He lives in West Michigan with his family where he enjoys camping, hiking, and of course, writing.

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