What is Attack path analysis?

Cybercriminals rarely use a single attack vector that leads them to their goal. More often, they use an attack path that exploits multiple vulnerabilities. This approach makes finding the root cause of a data breach challenging, particularly in a cloud-native environment. The route a hacker takes is called an attack path.

Attack path analysis visualizes the security exploitation route

Considered by Gartner as a core capability of a Cloud-Native Application Protection Platform (CNAPP), attack path analysis tools visualize the route an adversary uses among interrelated and dynamic assets. These resources can include cloud architectures and services, containerized apps, data, networks, and identities.

While traditional cybersecurity solutions may approach each attack path as an independent scenario, it’s more effective to understand the cumulative effect of minor vulnerabilities that, when leveraged together, can enable access to significant assets.

These vulnerabilities comprise common attack vectors like stealing or accessing high-level credentials, using privilege escalation to reach protected resources, weak passwords, network misconfigurations, or inadequate asset encryption. Attack path analysis highlights and can even prioritize which security vulnerabilities and attack vectors must be mitigated.

Why use attack path analysis?

Attack path analysis can be used retrospectively—to conduct a detailed assessment of the route an adversary has attempted or used successfully—and prospectively—to run simulations based on patterns tried in the past.

This modeling demonstrates how a hacker would likely attack their environment, but it also reveals an organization’s most valuable assets and previously hidden vulnerabilities. A simple but disciplined exploitation process that attack path analysis can uncover typically includes: reconnaissance, weaponization, delivery, exploitation, control, execution, and maintenance. While not always linear, each step could be used and refined, leveraging interdependencies and vulnerabilities as they are discovered.

What are the benefits of using attack path analysis?

Several essential motivations exist for using attack path analysis, particularly in complex environments that combine cloud-native or hybrid-cloud architectures and containerized or distributed resources.

Visualize the connections among assets and uncover hidden vulnerabilities

Breaches, typically, aren’t siloed anymore. Attack path analysis tools provide needed context to see how various vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and errors are connected and exploited along a continuum toward the ultimate goal. Attackers poke at various doors using different techniques. Attack path analysis peels back the curtain to illustrate that route and connect the dots, which can reveal new or unknown risks.

Determine attack patterns to support risk-prioritization

Cloud security relies on prioritizing risk in a dynamic and ever-changing environment. Attack path analysis tools support priorities by visualizing leverage nodes and providing a risk score. This streamlines where precious IT and security staff time should be spent. Ultimately, revealing and prioritizing attack patterns and pathways can lead to risk reduction and faster attack mitigation.

Simplify attack path analysis through a graph-based approach

Attack path analysis is complex and unwieldy if done manually. Using graph-based algorithms to find attack paths and enhance risk management effectively models activity and behavior to identify critical nodes in the cloud environment. Large and multi-cloud architectures can benefit from cloud mapping combined with their attack path analysis. It not only helps see the broader possibilities for attack vectors but provides a larger context in which to visualize attack paths.

Features to look for in attack path analysis tools

A few key capabilities make an attack path analysis tool valuable to a DevOps or cybersecurity team.

Attack graphs: These should offer an easy-to-understand representation of all paths through a system toward the security objective.

Exposure node visualizations: Look for exposure path visualizations that present data on individual node activity. These representations may correlate risk factors, including vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, network access, secrets, identities, and authorization levels.

Highlight crown jewels: A tool should present which assets are targeted or leveraged most often, as well as prioritize those high-value assets.

Prioritize and score risks: Any solution should present and highlight high-risk pathways, assets, and vulnerabilities, allowing a team to rank order mitigation steps or reveal concerns that require further analysis.

Maintain diligent, context-aware attack path analysis

The popularity of cloud-native and hybrid cloud environments necessitates attack path analysis. These tools reveal the dynamic and multi-vector approach most adversaries take when attempting or succeeding to leverage vulnerabilities to achieve their security objective.

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