September 22

The Peril of Zero-Day Attacks and the Changing Face of Ransomware: Insights from Akamai

A "zero-day attack" refers to the exploitation of a software vulnerability that is unknown to the software vendor or, in some cases, the vulnerability is known but a fix or patch has not been released yet. The term "zero-day" essentially means that developers have "zero days" to fix the problem because it's already being exploited in the wild.

Here's a more detailed breakdown:

  1. Vulnerability Discovery: A hacker or researcher finds a security flaw in a software, which isn't known to the public or the software's developers.
  2. Zero-Day Exploit Creation: The hacker creates an exploit—a method to take advantage of the vulnerability—to compromise the software or system.
  3. Undetected Phase: The exploit is used against targets without the knowledge of the public, software developers, or antivirus firms. This period can last from days to even years, during which the hacker can use the exploit without any detection.
  4. Public Disclosure: The vulnerability becomes known to the software vendor or the public, often due to detection by security researchers or when it becomes widely used by hackers.
  5. Patch Development: Once the software vendor knows about the vulnerability, they will usually start to work on a fix or patch for it.
  6. Patch Deployment: The software vendor releases the patch to the public. Systems that update with this patch become protected against the vulnerability.

Zero-day attacks are especially concerning because they target vulnerabilities for which there are no current defenses. This makes them very effective and potentially damaging. As a result, there's a black market where zero-day vulnerabilities and their exploits are bought and sold for significant amounts of money. The buyers can range from governments to criminal organizations.

Rampant Abuse of Zero-Day and One-Day Vulnerabilities

Diving deeper into the impact of these vulnerabilities, a recent report by Akamai Technologies Inc., titled "Ransomware on the Move: Exploitation Techniques and the Active Pursuit of Zero-Days", shines a spotlight on the evolving threats within the ransomware domain. The findings are alarming: there has been a 143% spike in the number of ransomware victims between Q1 2022 and Q1 2023, attributed to the rampant misuse of Zero-Day and One-Day vulnerabilities.

The report further unveils a concerning evolution in ransomware strategies. Perpetrators are increasingly turning to file exfiltration—unauthorized extraction or transfer of sensitive data—as their main mode of extortion. This development underscores the point that merely backing up files isn't enough to secure against contemporary ransomware threats.

In the ever-shifting world of cyber-threats, LockBit ransomware has emerged as the dominant force, claiming responsibility for 39% of all victims from Q4 2021 to Q2 2023. This figure dwarfs the number affected by the next most prolific ransomware group, which is over four times smaller. Additionally, the CL0P ransomware group has been actively developing zero-day vulnerabilities, marking a 9x surge in its victims year-on-year.

Manufacturing, an industry vital to global supply chains, saw a 42% escalation in victims between Q4 2021 and Q4 2022, with LockBit behind a significant 41% of these attacks. The healthcare sector wasn't spared either, observing a 39% uptick in victims, primarily at the hands of ALPHV (or BlackCat) and LockBit ransomware factions.

Some more salient points from the report include:

  • Firms reporting revenues up to $50 million faced the highest threat, accounting for 65% of targets.
  • Those victimized more than once by ransomware had a staggering 6-fold likelihood of experiencing another attack within three months of the initial breach.
  • Financial institutions witnessed a 50% rise in the total number of affected organizations year-on-year. Meanwhile, the retail sector took the third spot in terms of industry-specific ransomware victims, seeing a 9% increase.

Commenting on the gravity of the situation, Pavel Gurvich, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Enterprise Security at Akamai, stated, "Adversaries behind ransomware attacks continue to evolve their techniques and strategies striking at the heart of organizations by exfiltrating their critical and sensitive information." He emphasized the importance for organizations to stay abreast of these evolving threats to ensure their ongoing security and resilience.

For a more comprehensive understanding of these findings and to connect with Akamai's threat research team, interested individuals and organizations can visit the Akamai Security Hub and follow them on Twitter at @Akamai_Research.


The recent findings from Akamai Technologies highlight an alarming trend in the cyber threat landscape. Zero-day and one-day vulnerabilities, once just a niche concern in the cybersecurity world, have now escalated ransomware attacks to unprecedented levels. With ransomware groups like LockBit leading the charge and a drastic shift towards file exfiltration as a primary extortion method, organizations across all sectors find themselves at heightened risk.

It's clear that traditional defensive measures, such as mere file backups, are no longer adequate in this evolved threat scenario. As cyber adversaries become increasingly sophisticated, organizations must proactively update their defensive strategies and remain ever-vigilant. The onus is not just on enterprises but also on cybersecurity solution providers to innovate, educate, and prepare for the continually morphing challenges ahead.

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Cyber Attacks, cyber threats, cybersecurity, Hacker, Patch Development, Zero day attack

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