What are Zero-Day Attacks and End of Life Dates?

Software developers do their best to find security vulnerabilities in their products before criminals exploit the security holes.

When a software product is supported, developers release patches to fix vulnerabilities that become known to them. Academic and private researchers often discreetly disclose the vulnerabilities they find to software manufacturers, so patches can be deployed before criminals can exploit the bugs and design flaws.

Sometimes software manufacturers don’t know about a vulnerability until after a criminal uses it. This is called a zero-day exploit. Modern cybercriminals are often well-funded professionals these days, so it’s a grueling race in which software developers and multiple criminal factions fight to find the security holes before the rest.

When a software program is no longer supported, it’s called end-of-life. Software eventually turns end-of-life because manufacturers need to focus on newer versions and spend software development labor on new features and compatibility with newer, faster hardware. Manufacturers expect their customers to upgrade software to newer, supported versions before old versions turn end-of-life.

Do you know the end-of-life date of the software you use? 2023 brings the end of several common Microsoft operating systems, including:

  • Windows 8.1 ends January 10, 2023
  • (Windows 7 ended January 14, 2020)
  • Windows Server 2012 and 2012 R2 ends October 10, 2023
  • (Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2 ended January 17, 2020)

On the date a software program goes end-of-life, chances are it will continue to function, but it may not be compatible with new software or hardware. More importantly, as new security vulnerabilities are found, manufacturers will not patch them. Going back to the race metaphor, end-of-life software lets the criminals win by default because the software manufacturers don’t show up to the race. Criminals love vulnerabilities in zero-day exploits and end-of-life software because it’s very hard, if not impossible, for manufacturers to release a fix in time to stop the criminals before they strike.

Why Are Zero-Day Exploits and Attacks on End-of-Life Software So Dangerous?

The main reason why zero-days and end-of-life attacks are so devastating is that they are undocumented and therefore hard to predict or take action to prevent. This unknown factor means that people often don’t know the vulnerabilities exist until the flaw is being leveraged by criminals, making it even more crucial that developers act with haste to patch the flaw.

What Can You Do About Zero-Day Attacks and End-of-Life Software?

Keep your software up-to-date. Make sure none of the software installed on your systems is past its end-of-life date. Make sure the latest patches are installed. Zero-day flaws are inherently dangerous because security researchers and professionals have precious little time to address them. This is where technology like EDR and SNAP-Defense MDR & SOC can be invaluable since they can detect unusual traffic patterns and stop suspicious behavior independent of patch levels of end-of-life status.

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