There have been more zero-day hacking attacks worldwide this year than ever before. A report by MIT Technology Review, based on the data collected from multiple sources, said at least 66 zero-days have been found to be in use in 2021, which is almost double the number of such attacks recorded last year. It blamed government-backed hackers for the rapid rise in such attacks. Though there has been an increase in such attacks, several cybersecurity experts said it's not as if there's only a negative side to the story. If the attacks have increased, they added, there has also been an increase in capacity to detect or stop them before they could cause big damage.
The term zero-day describes recently discovered security vulnerabilities that hackers can use to attack computing systems. It refers to the fact that the developer has only just learnt of the flaw, meaning they have “zero days” to fix it. So, a zero-day attack takes place before the developer comes to know about the flaw.
The report said that the rapid proliferation of hacking tools could have contributed to the higher rate of reported zero-days. Jared Semrau, a director of vulnerability and exploitation at the American cybersecurity firm FireEye Mandiant, said China alone is suspected to be responsible for nine zero-days this year. And some other countries who don't have the infrastructure or talent to undertake such espionage initiatives themselves, purchase them from others. Semrau added, “one-third of the zero-days they've tracked recently can be blamed on financially motivated actors."
But this rise in zero-day hacking attacks is not necessarily a bad thing. The report said none of the experts it spoke to believed the number of attacks more than doubled in such a short period of time. That could mean defenders are getting better at their job.
Mark Dowd, founder of Azimuth Security, said defenders are now detecting complex hacks and it shows their increasing ability to detect sophisticated attacks.