Cyber hygiene and patching are key measures towards protecting data and systems. However, it’s not always possible or practical to patch when vulnerabilities and associated patches are announced. This problem gives rise to day one exploits. A day one exploit is an exploit that can be used against systems where the vulnerability has not been patched.

These days, exploits and malware are common and a natural outcome of the complex technological environment we live in. The use of cyber weapons is a very serious threat to national security and should be considered when discussing ways of protecting ourselves against cyber terrorism.

The problem with day one exploits is that they are often unrealistic, difficult to detect and may have wide-ranging effects on your data. It’s vital that you don’t wait until a vulnerability is exploited before implementing measures to protect your data.

Here are some ways you can reduce the risk of day one exploits:

1.        Legitimate patch management and patching processes
2.        Protecting physical access to systems at all levels (including hardware)
3.        Secure configurations that include authentication, authorization, security policies and procedures at all levels (including hardware)
4.        Secure configurations that include disaster recovery, fault tolerance and business continuity plans at all levels (including hardware, software and data)
5.        Appropriate use of encryption to protect data in transit and at rest
6.        Appropriate use of whitelisting to prevent unauthorized software and applications from running
7.        Frequent monitoring for anomalies and unusual behavior
8.        Use of anti-virus, anti-malware, and intrusion detection systems to prevent compromise and ensure acceptable levels of security through real-time monitoring (both on internal systems and on external networks)
9.        Penetration testing, periodic auditing, vulnerability assessments, logging and alerting
10.        Security awareness training for everyone in the organization (including hardware)

The above measures will not prevent all day one exploits but it will reduce the risks to your data. However, it is important to understand that there are many other ways to compromise your systems and data and it is unrealistic to expect that these may not happen. It’s essential that you have a strategy for success when the time comes.

Day one exploits therefore also need to be considered. It’s not just about patching vulnerabilities but also about how well you can protect yourself against them. If you follow the advice above, then you greatly reduce your chances of being compromised by day one exploits. However, it’s important to implement a plan for data recovery if a day one exploit does compromise your data.

It’s difficult to prevent day one exploits simply because hackers are very clever and ingenious people who will always find ways to circumvent security measures. The trick is to raise the cost of compromising your systems/data such that it’s not worth the while of hackers to do so.

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