A Hacker’s Playground
In the world of cybersecurity, lateral movement is one of the most commonly used and destructive tactics employed by hackers. It is a technique in which an attacker who has gained access to a compromised device within a network then uses that access to move across the network, compromising other devices and systems. According to a study by VMware Contexa, 44% of intrusions include lateral movement, making it a significant threat to organizations of all sizes.
What is Lateral Movement?
Lateral movement is a technique used by hackers to gain access to additional devices and systems within a network. Once a hacker has successfully breached one device, they can use the access they have gained to move laterally across the network, potentially accessing valuable data, exfiltrating data, or deploying ransomware.
Lateral movement can take many forms, but one of the most common is the use of stolen credentials. Hackers often use phishing or other social engineering tactics to obtain user credentials, such as usernames and passwords, which they can then use to access other devices within the network. Once inside the network, the hacker can use various techniques to evade detection, such as using encryption, tunneling, or other forms of obfuscation to hide their activity.
Another common form of lateral movement is the exploitation of unpatched vulnerabilities. Hackers can use known vulnerabilities in software or systems to gain access to a device, and then use that access to move laterally across the network. In some cases, hackers may even create new vulnerabilities in the software or systems they compromise to make lateral movement easier.
Why is Lateral Movement so Dangerous?
Lateral movement is dangerous because it allows hackers to access multiple devices and systems within a network, potentially compromising valuable data and systems. This can lead to data theft, financial losses, and even system shutdowns. Lateral movement also allows hackers to “island hop” across networks, gaining access to systems in other organizations that are connected to the compromised network.
Once hackers have gained access to a network, they can use lateral movement to maintain persistence, meaning that they can continue to access the network even if some of their access points are detected and removed. This makes it more difficult for organizations to detect and remove the hackers from their networks, increasing the potential damage that can be done.
How Can Organizations Protect Themselves?
Organizations can protect themselves from lateral movement by implementing several cybersecurity best practices. One important step is to implement multi-factor authentication, an extra level of security, which requires users to provide additional forms of identification beyond just a username and password. While it isn’t completely foolproof, it can help prevent hackers from using stolen credentials to access additional devices within the network.
Another important step is to regularly patch software and systems to address known vulnerabilities. When companies stay on top of it, they can prevent hackers from using vulnerabilities to gain access to the network and move laterally across devices. Additionally, organizations should use network segmentation to limit the lateral movement of hackers. In an explanation provided by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) they explain that it is “a physical or virtual architectural approach dividing a network into multiple segments, each acting as its own subnetwork providing additional security and control. Creating boundaries between the operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) networks reduces many risks associated with the IT network, such as threats caused by phishing attacks. Segmentation limits access to devices, data, and applications and restricts communications between networks.” This can help contain the spread of a potential attack and limit the damage that can be done.
Organizations should also regularly monitor their networks for suspicious activity, such as unusual login attempts or data exfiltration. This can help identify potential breaches early on and allow organizations to take action before the damage is done.
Finally, it is important for organizations to provide regular cybersecurity training to their employees. This can help employees recognize and avoid common phishing and social engineering tactics, which are often used by hackers to obtain credentials and gain access to networks.
It’s extremely important for organizations to take lateral movement seriously and take steps to protect themselves against this type of attack. By implementing best practices and staying vigilant, organizations can reduce the risk of a successful lateral movement attack and protect their valuable data and systems. Continuous monitoring is a cybersecurity practice that involves constantly monitoring an organization’s networks and systems for suspicious activity or threats. By implementing continuous monitoring, organizations can detect potential lateral movement attacks early on and take action before any significant damage is done.
Continuous monitoring involves the use of automated tools that can detect and alert security teams of any unusual activity on the network. This can include unexpected login attempts, unauthorized access to sensitive data, and attempts to exploit vulnerabilities in software and systems.
In addition to automated tools, continuous monitoring also involves regular human oversight and analysis. Security teams can review alerts and data logs to identify potential threats and investigate any suspicious activity. This can help identify and stop lateral movement attacks early on, before they can cause significant damage.
Overall, continuous monitoring can be a valuable tool in the fight against lateral movement attacks and other cybersecurity threats. By implementing this practice, organizations can improve their security posture and reduce the risk of a successful attack.