Whether you are playing a friendly game of chess, planning a flanking attack for a modernized military force, or protecting your business against malicious threat actors, one thing is for certain: it is advantageous to be able to anticipate your adversary’s next move. A chess master, for example, memorizes famous moves to improve strategy and decision-making, recognize patterns, and predict opponents’ tactics. This knowledge drawn from historical plays and other masters’ strategies boosts their ability to plan, adapt, and counter effectively, thus securing a competitive advantage.
Understanding Your Cyber Adversary
The good news for IT and cybersecurity teams is that there’s no need to memorize the tactics of today’s most prolific hackers and cybercriminals. A more efficient method exists to understand their thought processes and attack strategies called the MITRE ATT&CK framework. MITRE employs a behavior-focused, threat-based methodology for understanding network compromises. In a way, you can look at it as the counterpart to Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT), which operates on the principle that the more you understand about your target, the greater your chances of a successful breach. Since threat actors dedicate time to understanding you, it’s only logical to reciprocate by learning about them.
The framework serves as a valuable resource, offering an in-depth model of cyber adversary behaviors by categorizing their actions into tactics (the “why” or objective) and techniques (the “how” or method). This allows organizations to precisely tailor their defenses by identifying potential adversary tactics and techniques, thereby facilitating the simulation of adversary actions to rigorously test and enhance defenses against common attack strategies.
Filling in the Gaps
The MITRE framework serves as a highly detailed peer review reference to assist organizations in combatting common threats. Let’s take the case of ransomware as it is at the top-of-mind awareness of both IT and business leaders today. While most understand the result of such an attack, you may not understand how susceptible your business is to ransomware. MITRE ATT&CK gives you the opportunity to see how an actual ransomware attack might be deployed against an environment like yours.
The framework is not tied to specific technology or software. It is instead a structured matrix intended to simplify the understanding of cybersecurity defenses. It allows individuals to learn about ransomware and other forms of attacks without needing expert-level knowledge in cybersecurity. The Matrix is organized by tactics (columns representing the stages of an attack) and techniques (rows detailing how each stage may be executed). Key tactics of a ransomware attack might include the following:
- Initial Access (how attackers gain entry to your network)
- Execution (how the ransomware is run on a system)
- Persistence (ensuring the malware remains on the system after a reboot)
- Privilege Escalation (gaining higher-level permissions)
- Defense Evasion (avoiding detection)
- Impact (in the case of ransomware the impact is encryption)
Under each relevant tactic are cells containing the techniques commonly employed. For example, under “Initial Access” you might find techniques like Phishing as a popular method for gaining entry using deceptive emails. Each of these techniques may be broken down into sub-techniques that offer more detailed insight into a specific execution method. The Matrix is further enriched by incorporating strategies for detection and mitigation, as well as insights into how adversaries might try to circumvent these measures.
Think More than Just Defense
An adage concerning the American game of football is “A good offense is the best defense.” In the case of the sport, the longer your own offense is on the field, the less time there is for the opposing team to implement their offensive plans. This principle aligns with the defensive yet proactive nature of the MITRE ATT&CK framework. It equips organizations to take an offensive stance against potential threats by enabling the simulation of attacks that mimic real-world adversary tactics. Red teams and penetration testers leverage the framework to assess and strengthen an organization’s security measures.
Other Benefits of MITRE ATT&CK
While alerts still play an important role in threat detection, the proactive approach to MITRE ATT&CK alleviates any overreliance on logs and alerts, as well as the fatigue created by alert storms that such systems can create for IT and security teams. Furthermore, the MITRE ATT&CK framework plays a crucial role in educating the next generation of cybersecurity professionals, addressing the global demand for skilled experts in the field.
Most Effective in the Right Hands
The MITRE ATT&CK Framework provides great documentation covering the tactics of current and emerging tactics. It currently documents more than 240 different types of attacks. To unlock its full potential however, it is essential to operationalize the framework, transforming it from a research and preparation tool into an integral part of your organization’s security strategy under the guidance of experts skilled in its application.
Like the MITRE, CYREBRO has worked to automate the process of constructing attack stories to get to the “what happened” for each investigation. This capability is rooted in our extensive years of detection and response experience, coupled with insights derived from a diverse client base. Our expertise has allowed us to embed tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) within CYREBRO’s proprietary detection rules, ensuring wide-ranging security coverage for our clients. Yet, despite our strong history of experience, we continue to use resources such as the MITRE ATT&CK framework to stay updated on the latest attack strategies.
The emergence of cybercriminals targeting your business stems from opportunity, prompting the development of resources like MITRE ATT&CK to counteract these opportunistic threats to your business continuity and financial well-being. You can no longer afford to just be on the defensive. It’s crucial to predict how adversaries plan to circumvent your defenses and prepare to counter their moves. The ATT&CK framework has become a pivotal tool in cybersecurity, though its complexity may be challenging for newcomers. Ultimately, as with all forms of knowledge, its effectiveness is greatest when wielded by those who know how to maximize it.