Lateral Movement in Cyber Security

Lateral movement refers to an attacker's ability to traverse your network undetected and discover critical systems and data while exploring and mapping your infrastructure.

Lateral movement techniques typically serve two primary goals - accessing specific accounts or data or controlling multiple devices as often as possible. Much depends on the ultimate objective of the perpetrator - financial gain, theft of proprietary information, or further criminal activity may all be reasons to use lateral movement techniques.

What is lateral movement in cyber security?

Lateral movement is a cyber security term that refers to an attack's method for traversing one network or system to another without creating large-scale problems; it allows hackers to access sensitive data, credentials, and resources that would otherwise remain off limits.

Attackers typically utilize lateral movements with specific goals in mind, such as stealing information or gaining access to IT platform credentials to increase their chances of success in attacks.

Lateral Movement in Cyber Security

Social engineering techniques like spear phishing can be employed to compromise an account and gain access to resources that may prove valuable for an attacker's goal of further attacking another target. Once accomplished, they may use that compromised account as leverage against which to search for additional data or credentials that they can leverage against future targets in further attacks against that same account.

As soon as they've harvested enough information from their initial target network, lateral movement attackers will move onto other networks and systems in an attempt to extend their reconnaissance and expand access privileges until reaching their ultimate objective, whether that's reaching out to an important figure such as an executive of a company or intellectual property.

Standard security solutions cannot detect and prevent lateral movement since they're designed to monitor traffic entering and leaving the network (north-south) rather than within it (east-west). FortiNDR uses artificial intelligence and intelligent analytics to detect any suspicious network activity which might indicate potential lateral movement.

Preventing lateral movement may be difficult, but organizations must have an effective security posture. A robust security hygiene program can protect against threats like weak passwords, unsecured networks, and misconfigured devices that drive lateral movement attacks.

Furthermore, organizations should implement an effective backup plan for confidential data and essential apps to safeguard against their occurrence.

How Lateral Movement Works?

Lateral movement is an increasingly common tactic used by cybercriminals to penetrate deeper into networks in search of valuable data or assets that they can thieve, sell, or exfiltrate. Threat actors use this tactic to remain hidden while remaining undetected - it's. Therefore, you must understand how these attacks operate and take precautionary steps against them.

Step one of an attack requires hackers to gain entry to your network, typically via malware infection or phishing attack on an endpoint that grants access to vulnerable systems and serves as an initial foothold that they use to collect credentials and further weaken your security through privilege escalation, looking for valuable systems from which they can take data or information out.

After gaining entry to a compromised machine, threat actors use tools such as phishing and malware infections to move from system to system by impersonating authorized users and conducting internal reconnaissance to map out critical systems, determine naming conventions, and locate high-value data assets which they can later exploit in further attacks.

Preventing lateral movement requires closely monitoring east-west traffic and looking out for any indicators of possible threats, such as suspicious connections between hosts like PsExec or RDP sessions that indicate deeper penetration by an attack.

Microsegmentation can help your network protect itself against lateral movement by isolating data and workloads from one another and restricting east-west traffic flow. Akamai offers micro-segmentation solutions that isolate data and workloads from each other and limit east-west traffic, applying network hierarchies and process controls on critical assets to avoid any chance of lateral movement through their security policies which apply both to critical apps as well as any bare metal or virtual machines they run on.

What types of attacks use lateral movement?

Cybercriminals often employ lateral movement techniques to access network resources and high-value data. After infiltrating a server with malware or using stolen credentials, cybercriminals use this system's vulnerabilities and privileges to increase their privileges until they reach their desired targets.

Once they gain entry to your network, attackers often move from system to system for extended periods - sometimes weeks or months - before eventually targeting one system before moving on to the next - an attack known as Advance Persistence Threats (APTs).

These attacks can be challenging to detect because they often blend in with high volumes of legitimate east-west traffic, making it hard for security teams to detect lateral movement activity even if they monitor user behavior logs and file-sharing traffic.

An essential aspect of cybercrime is lateral movement, which takes place following the initial compromise of an endpoint or server, often through credential dumping or other means.

Attackers typically attempt to gain additional privileges and access to continue penetrating the network until they obtain all of the data or assets they are after - this process is known as pivoting.

To effectively detect such techniques, you must constantly be vigilant on logins from unfamiliar devices that do not belong to accounts, suspicious administrative tasks and file-sharing activities on these devices, and suspicious administrative processes or file transfers taking place on them.

These techniques may not be new to security experts, but their use has grown increasingly prevalent as hackers seek faster ways to gain entry. Luckily, advanced network detection and response solutions can quickly identify attempts at lateral movement attacks to avoid these exploits occurring and ensure that valuable network assets and data do not fall into malicious hands.

Why do Attackers Use the Lateral Movement Techniques

Lateral movement is an effective means for attackers to move through an organization's network, bypassing security controls and compromising additional targets on the way to their desired data payload.

The primary aim of the lateral movement technique is gaining access to more sensitive data and systems, including customer credit records, employee email exchanges, or intellectual property. This can be accomplished by hacking into companies' internal networks or breaking into PCs to simultaneously access other devices on either one network or multiple networks.

Attackers employ this tactic to obtain high-profile data that they can then sell on dark web markets or use to develop ransomware. Many recent high-profile breaches, including Equifax's, employed this approach to expand their reach and make more money.

Cybercriminals have increasingly turned to lateral movement techniques as an attack strategy due to the complex nature of modern workplaces and IT infrastructures. Cloud storage services, remote working models, and collaboration arrangements with outside organizations require lateral movement techniques to penetrate these environments successfully.

Effective lateral movement tactics require strong endpoint visibility, secure network segmentation, and network intrusion detection/prevention tools to be implemented successfully. With such capabilities, defenders can avoid an uphill battle containing attacks that move unhindered from device to device.

Steps to Preventing Lateral Movement

Cyber security practitioners frequently employ lateral movement as an attack method. It allows malicious actors to penetrate networks undetected, moving from machine to machine in search of valuable assets and information.

Lax lateral movement attacks have become increasingly frequent, but steps can be taken to limit and protect sensitive data. Zero trust security offers one such effective method - users are only granted access once their identity has been precisely validated on multiple occasions.

Network segmentation can also help stop lateral movement by preventing attackers from exploiting vulnerabilities that allow access to sensitive systems and devices.

Endpoint security is another effective means of guarding against lateral movement, using detection, prevention, and response technologies to stop malware attacks or any other possible risks.

Once lateral movement has been identified, teams can use endpoint security solutions to analyze data and prevent an attack before it begins. Furthermore, such solutions provide early warning when malware runs on an endpoint device.

User and Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA) can also help detect lateral movement. This type of solution can detect behaviors indicative of such movement - for instance, multiple login attempts from devices not generally associated with those accounts in short succession are an indicator.

FAQ Section

Lateral movement refers to the technique used by attackers to move horizontally across a network, gaining unauthorized access to different systems and escalating privileges.

Attackers exploit vulnerabilities in one system to gain access and then use that access to move laterally through the network, compromising additional systems and expanding their control.

Implementing strong access controls, monitoring network traffic for suspicious activities, using intrusion detection systems, implementing network segmentation, and conducting regular security assessments can help detect and prevent lateral movement.

While it is challenging to eliminate the risk entirely, organizations can significantly reduce the impact of lateral movement by implementing robust security measures, timely patching, employee education, and proactive threat hunting.

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