Zero-Click Malware

August 23, 2023 by
Mark Nash

We've said it many times, and we will continue to say it as long as it's true, cybersecurity threats are continually evolving. One new type of threat gaining prominence is zero-click malware. This insidious form of malware requires no user interaction to silently compromise devices and networks. One example of a zero-click malware attack happened due to a missed call; the victim didn't even have to answer. This infamous WhatsApp breach occurred in 2019, enabled by a zero-day exploit. The missed call triggered a spyware injection into a resource in the device's software. A more recent threat is a new zero-click hack targeting iOS users. This attack initiates when the victim receives a message via iMessage without the need to interact with the message for the malicious code to execute and perform a total device takeover. Below, we will delve into further detail on what zero-click malware is and explore practical strategies to combat this growing menace.

Understanding Zero-Click Malware

Zero-click malware refers to malicious software that can exploit vulnerabilities in an app or system with no interaction from the user, unlike traditional malware, which requires users to engage with it, such as by clicking on a link or downloading a file. Zero-click malware is designed to operate in the background and attempt to hide itself from the victim until it is too late. It can infiltrate devices through various attack vectors, such as malicious websites, compromised networks, or even legitimate applications with security loopholes. Due to its stealthy nature and ability to bypass security measures, zero-click malware presents a significant threat. Once it infects a device, it can execute a range of malicious activities, such as:

  • Data theft
  • Remote control
  • Cryptocurrency mining
  • Spyware
  • Ransomware
  • Turning devices into botnets for launching attacks

Fighting Zero-Click Malware

Protecting yourself against malware this dangerous requires a proactive and multi-layered approach to cybersecurity. Here are some essential strategies to consider:

Keep Software Up to Date

Always update software as soon as you can, including operating systems, applications, and security patches. Fully patched software is vital in protecting against zero-click malware attacks. Software updates often contain bug fixes and security enhancements to address vulnerabilities targeted by malware developers. Enabling automatic updates can streamline this process and ensure devices remain protected.

Put in Place Robust Endpoint Protection

Deploying comprehensive endpoint protection solutions can help detect and block zero-click malware. Your endpoint protection should include tools such as advanced antivirus software, firewalls, and intrusion detection systems, in order to establish many layers of defense. These protections should be regularly updated, like the rest of your software, in order to keep them effective.

Use Network Segmentation

Your network should be segmented into separate sections based on user roles, device types, or sensitivity levels, with restricted access between sections. Segmentation like this adds an extra layer of protection against zero-click malware, as it enables you to isolate critical systems and install strict access controls to limit the damage of a hack by mitigating the lateral movement of malware and its potential harm.

Educate Users

Human error continues to be one of the most significant factors in successful malware attacks. 88% of data breaches are the result of human error. It is absolutely vital that you educate users about the risks of zero-click malware and good cybersecurity practices to keep them safe. Encourage strong password management and caution when opening email attachments or clicking on unfamiliar links. It is an excellent idea to provide regular training on identifying phishing attempts.

Use Behavioral Analytics and AI

Advanced technologies like behavioral analytics and artificial intelligence can help identify anomalous activities that may indicate zero-click malware. These tools can detect patterns, anomalies, and suspicious behavior for early hack detection and proactive mitigation.

Conduct Regular Vulnerability Assessments

Perform routine vulnerability assessments and penetration testing to identify weaknesses in systems and applications. Those weaknesses are what hackers often exploit through zero-click malware to breach your systems. Once vulnerabilities have been identified, address them promptly through patching or other remediation measures. Vulnerability assessments can significantly reduce the risk of cyberattacks and their potential impact.

Uninstall Unneeded Applications

Vulnerabilities can be found in any application, so naturally, the more applications on a device, the higher chance of it having more vulnerabilities. It is common for someone to download an app and then rarely use it but let it remain on their device, vulnerable to an attack. Unused apps are also more likely to lack updates, making them even greater vulnerabilities. It is a good idea to have your IT team remove unneeded apps from company devices.

Only Download Apps from Official App Stores

You should always be careful about what apps you download, but also where you download them from. Hackers frequently use third-party app stores to host their malicious apps to try and trick people into downloading them. It is always safest to only download from official app stores. Of course, malicious apps can still sometimes slip through the security controls before they're discovered, so even when you are using official stores, be sure to research any app before you download it, such as reading the reviews and comments on its page.