How Automated Breach and Attack Simulation Protects Businesses From Various Threats

Cybercriminals are relentless, and they’ve never had a lull in finding new ways to defeat cyber defenses. According to a cybersecurity report conducted by the nonprofit National Cybersecurity Alliance, data breaches and ransomware attacks have been worsening. Unfortunately, most people and organizations are not doing enough, not even the basics, to address this problem.

This is not to say that cybersecurity experts have not been doing anything to counter the evolution of cyberattacks. Cyber defenses have also improved significantly. One of the most remarkable relatively new ways organizations can use to protect themselves from cyber threats is automated breach and attack simulation (BAS).

A Market Research Future study says that the automated BAS market is set to grow by a CAGR of 27.6 percent, reaching a $3.5 billion value by 2026. Market Research Future describes this growth as a rapid expansion attributable to the increase in cybersecurity challenges and the massive growth in digital platform and service usage.

The need for automation and simulation

The volume and sophistication of cyber-attacks are becoming overwhelming, especially for organizations with limited resources to spend on cybersecurity. Some have no idea what they should be doing to secure their IT resources especially in terms of security testing. The good thing is that there are security solutions that make the job easier. Security validation solutions like automated breach and attack simulation, for example, provide organizations an effective and efficient way to spot weaknesses in their security controls and fix them before they get exploited by cybercriminals.

It is not easy to keep track of threats, identify, and block or remediate their impact manually, especially when these attacks come in a wide variety of forms in an endless stream. Organizations need not only the ability to identify the attacks but also an efficient way to mitigate the impact of instances when the attacks manage to penetrate. No cyber defense is perfect, so it is crucial to have a systematized way of threat identification, prevention, and mitigation.

Automation allows organizations to continuously scan and deal with cyber threats with minimal or even without human supervision to some extent. Simulation makes it possible to examine different kinds of attacks in situations that would otherwise remain unexplored if cybersecurity professionals were limited to actual cases of cyber attacks. Together, automation and simulation enable efficient security validation across the board.

The threats BAS prevents or mitigates

Coupled with updated cyber threat intelligence and a standardized threat detection framework like MITRE ATT&CK, breach and attack simulation provides significant advantages in an organization’s security posture. It thoroughly scrutinizes and validates security controls in view of the current and most recent techniques used by advanced persistent threats (APTs). The simulation follows through an entire attack path towards an organization’s critical assets

With this process, BAS is able to provide protection against the following attacks.

  • Endpoint attacks – Endpoints remain to be among the top targets of cybercriminals. According to Dark Reading’s State of Endpoint Security, around 84 percent of security professionals believe that any attack will be initiated at an endpoint. These attacks include ransomware, vulnerability exploits, drive-by downloads, email phishing, and watering holes.
  • Data exfiltration – This refers to the unauthorized transfer of data from a computer or server facilitated by malicious software or an insider adversary. It results in the theft of personal information, secrets such as login credentials and decryption codes, confidential organization data, and intellectual property.
  • Malware infection – As the phrase suggests, this is about introducing malicious software or code to a computer, server, or system. 
    • One example is SQL injection, which targets SQL servers in cloud infrastructure responsible for the operation of database applications. 
    • Another example is cross-site scripting or the injection of malicious scripts including JavaScript and ActiveX into a dynamic web page, which then executes these scripts to achieve harmful outcomes that benefit the attacker. 
    • XML rewriting or wrapping attacks are also a form of malware injection. They utilize XML signature wrapping to take advantage of security vulnerabilities observed when web servers are validating signed requests. This happens in the process of translating Simple Object Access Protocol messages between a legitimate user/client and the webserver.
  • Sophisticated APT attacks – APTs refer to attack campaigns with a long-term presence and advanced planning to penetrate secured networks or systems. They focus on mining sensitive data and sabotaging critical infrastructure. The high-profile SolarWinds attack is an example of a sophisticated APT allegedly backed by state actors.

Breach and attack simulation examines and monitors email and web gateways, web application firewalls, endpoint security controls, activities that can become opportunities for data exfiltration, as well as full kill chain APT to ensure that the aforementioned cyber attacks are promptly detected and stopped. If cessation is not possible, automated BAS platforms typically present mitigation options to prevent the aggravation of the impact of a successful attack.

Advantages over security validation by humans

Automated BAS is not a perfect security validation solution; it does not make human input and actions completely unnecessary. However, in many aspects, it has its superiority over security testing conducted by people.

For one, it can be undertaken repeatedly and continuously. By doing this, organizations become proactive instead of keeping a reactive stance. There are no people who will eventually tire out or feel the fatigue of doing the same tasks over and over again. Human resources can be assigned to more critical roles that require more complex cognitive abilities and decision-making.

Additionally, breach and attack simulation is designed to incorporate the attacker’s perspective in formulating and fortifying cyber defenses. BAS enables continuous security validation, which
“allows an organization to take cyber attackers’ perspective and stress-test its security stance,” as ISACA puts it. Instead of simply working on things that can be done to stop attackers, the cybersecurity team aided by BAS gets to examine situations in the eyes of adversarial parties to see more vulnerabilities and anticipate lateral attacks that can be undertaken to evade existing security controls or spot other security weaknesses.

Moreover, since automated BAS is a security solution that does not rely on human skills and actions, it is free from mistakes that can be attributed to insufficient experience in dealing with cyber threats, poor judgment, and oversight. It makes security validation faster, ceaseless, and inexpensive.

In conclusion

Automated breach and attack simulation represents some of the best developments in cybersecurity at present. It enables efficient security testing without compromising on the desired outcomes. However, as mentioned, it is far from perfect, so organizations cannot expect it to be a be-all and end-all solution. There are instances when human inputs and intervention are still necessary, but having BAS as part of an organization’s security posture is definitely a massive advantage.