What Is Breach and Attack Simulation?

Using the principle of ‘the best defense is a strong offense’, breach and attack simulation is about attempting to penetrate your own cybersecurity defenses to reveal weaknesses. The thought behind this is to expose vulnerabilities in your security, fixing them before actual attackers get the chance to exploit them.

Typically, breach and attack simulation is a planned event, with cybersecurity professionals working in teams to attempt to forcefully enter through cybersecurity defenses. These simulations, when executed correctly, can save your business money, improve its security defenses, and ensure that your business never falls prey to real cyberattacks.

In this article, we’ll be discussing:

  • Types of simulation
  • How breach and attack simulation works
  • Final thoughts on breach and attack simulations

Let’s break down exactly how you can breach your own defenses before someone with malicious intent does. 

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What Are the Different Types of Breach and Attack Simulation?

There are three main types of breach and attack simulation, each with slightly different methods and primary objectives. These are:

  • Vulnerability Assessment – Conducted on a regular basis, a vulnerability assessment aims to harvest data from the business. It is automatic and will compare a list of known connected devices to those that are currently connected to the system, finding out if anyone is already exploiting a vulnerability to gain access to the system. 
  • Red Teaming – The most common breach and simulation exercise is where you split your team into two, the red team (attackers) and the blue team (defenders). The red team will attempt to gain access to your systems while the blue team actively work to defend them. This is a great training exercise and helps your whole team understand your security system even more.
  • Penetration Testing – This involves an attacker using your IT infrastructure to penetrate your most sensitive systems and data. It aims to test your automatic defenses and find vulnerabilities.

The most active of these three types is Red Teaming, which will be the primary focus of this article.

How does Beach and Attack Simulation Work?

There are three steps to red teaming, each equally important as the next. These stages aim to prepare the attackers as much as possible for the business they’ll be attacking and ensure that the simulation is a success, then producing a report on its findings. Here are the stages:

  • Preparation
  • Execution
  • Reporting

Let’s break these down further.

Red Team Preparation Stage

The first stage of red teaming is about planning exactly how the simulation will run. You may decide to hire an external red team to work against your internal blue team, or you may assign some of your own security department to be the red team.

At this stage, the red team should gather intelligence on how an attacker would act. The best way to know which key forms of penetration they’ll most likely attempt is to consult the MITRE Attack Framework. This framework is a globally sourced database of the different hacking methods currently known. It is expansive, detailed, and is always a good place to start for your red team.

Additionally, your red team should work out which methods are most common for your industry, letting them more accurately build up an attack that you’re likely to see in the future. 

After your team knows how they’ll be attacking, they should then document their plans and get approval from team leaders. This will act as a final warning stage, where leaders can signal certain areas of the business that are off-limits or mark critical data that employees aren’t allowed to see. These precautions ensure that the simulated attack doesn’t end up actually causing damage to the business.

Once documentation is complete, and the attack is signed off on, it’s time to begin. 

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Executing a Breach and Attack Simulation

This stage is about launching the attack, having the red team carry out their planned operation, and try to gain access to the business. Depending on the industry you’re working in, the first stage of the operation will change. However, for most businesses, this begins with a phishing attack to install malware to the company’s systems.

The red team should aim to breach security, take access of key systems, and steal any data or credentials they can. One essential aspect of this stage is that all steps must be documented by the red team. They must write down everything they’re doing, so it can then be traced later. 

Remember that your attack strategies can be as much physical as they are digital. You could test to see if an attacker can disable swipe identity card systems, allowing one of their red teammates to access a restricted area in your facility.

Report Phase

After the simulation has concluded, either with breaches or an inability to breach, your team should move onto the final stage. This ultimate phase is all about reporting any findings and documenting the outcome.

Any vulnerabilities found should be documented, with the process the team took to get there being written down. From there, your team will be able to rank the vulnerabilities on a scale of most critical to least critical. 

Starting with the most critical vulnerabilities, your team should then work together, using the data acquired by the simulated attack, to then fix these weak points. 

Final Thoughts 

A breach and simulation attack is a vital strategy used to improve the cybersecurity of your business. By using these simulated attacks to find vulnerabilities in your systems, you’ll then be able to organize and execute fixes.

Over time, by running these simulations frequently, you’ll be able to ensure your business becomes increasingly secure. If, at any point, you can’t find any vulnerabilities, be sure to consult the MITRE Attack Framework and attempt new techniques of penetrating systems.

Instead of staying in the dark about how effective your systems are, breach and simulation attacks allow you to develop a further understanding of the strength of your own cybersecurity defenses. 

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