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The trends in zero-day exploits are both distressing and hopeful

Zero-day attacks can be an infuriating quandary for developers. With the right exploit, skilled hackers can find a security hole in a piece of software and use it to hold hostage data from the software’s users. Because it puts developers in a hurry to fix the issue immediately, before threats begin to impact its users, this type of attack is known as a zero-day exploit — as in the developer has zero days to release a patch before things go haywire.

In 2012, there were 14 zero-day exploits out in the wild. By 2013, this increased to 23, and in 2014, there was only one more discovered, making the total 24. After that, unfortunately, and as security firm Symantec points out, the zero-day exploit situation did not improve, nor did it only moderately worsen. Instead, from 2014 to 2015, the number of classified zero-day exploits jumped 225 percent, from an already daunting 24 to a distressing 54.

The drastic upturn in last year’s exploits is due in part to the Hacking Team breach, which unleashed six of these zero-day exploits on its own, inspiring Adobe and other developers to accelerate their fixes.

Related: Ransomware learns the art of customer service to help victims pay up

“It is difficult to defend against new and unknown vulnerabilities,” reads Symantec’s yearly Internet Threat Report, “particularly zero-day vulnerabilities for which there may be no patch, and attackers are trying hard to exploit them faster than vendors can roll out patches.”

The report notes that the most popular exploit kit in 2015, Angler, took advantage of these new zero days to conduct over 19.5 million attacks that were, in turn, blocked by Symantec.

Over the last year, the most common victim of zero-day attacks was Adobe Flash, which infamously survived 10 vulnerabilities, comprising 17 percent of the total zero-day attacks in 2015. While this is clearly not something a company should take pride in, that was an improvement over 2014 when Flash’s zero-day exploit count stood at an unfortunate 12. Notably, though, Microsoft also endured 10 zero days in 2015.

On the bright side, however, Adobe has been a serious contributor to the reduction in the amount of time it took developers to issue zero-day patches in 2015. Compared to the average 59 days it took in 2014 and even the four it took in 2013, the average repair time of just one day in 2015 isn’t too shabby.

Meanwhile, the total time of exposure was seven days last year, as opposed to 295 days in 2014 and 19 days in 2013.

So even though we’re now seeing more zero-day attacks than ever, the time it is taking to address them is diminishing rapidly. That could arguably put us in a better place than before.

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