Conducting Effective Breach and Attack Simulations: 4 Tips for Success

Last year was the worst year in history in terms of the number of cyber attacks and the total damage that they caused for businesses. Across the board, from malware and ransomware to phishing and hijacking, every single form of threat is reaching new peaks. And, considering that on average a single breach takes 277 days for a security team to fix, this is time that your business simply doesn’t have.

In order to keep your business protected, companies are turning to the world of cybersecurity more than ever before. At the current rate, the total global spend on cybersecurity training alone will surpass $10 billion per year by 2027. All eyes are on this field, with any defensive strategy needing to be taken to a new level as soon as possible.

Let’s dive into one of the most effective formats of security refining, breach and attack simulations (BAS). We’ll dive into this method, detailing how businesses can conduct them better to obtain better results, more benefits, and help to reduce the overall threat to their company.

Tip #1: Understand The Strengths and Weaknesses of Your Security Posture

Every business, no matter how international or how effective they are, will have a distinct security posture. In this context, a security posture is the current cyber security status of a network or system, directly referring to the defenses that the business has in place. While some businesses may excel in one or two areas, their current configurations could be leaving holes in their overall defenses.

Before running a breach and attack simulation, your business should take time to recognize its own security posture. What do you excel in? Where could you use a little extra support? Making a list of your current configurations and their strengths and weaknesses will allow you to then create a targeted breach and attack simulation.

When you have a specific area of focus or target, it becomes much easier to then run effective breach and attack simulations. Always start off by running this pre-plan exercise before starting with your actual BAS.

Tip #2: Practice Guilt By Association

Throughout your breach and attack simulation exercises, you’re going to encounter a number of vulnerabilities within different software components. Most of the time, you’re going to be balancing open source software, third-party components, and your own home software in any platform or application.

As a rule of thumb, practice guilt by association when you come across a vulnerability. That is to say, if a particular third-party vendor has one or two vulnerabilities in one bit of software, predict that all of their components will contain similar errors. While you can spend time checking each piece of software, it often saves time to simply look for a replacement.

The time you spent checking each component is much better spent simply replacing this culprit altogether. While this may seem like a pain at the time, being able to move to a more reliable vendor will help ensure the longevity of your safety. With that in mind, it’s always a great idea to practice guilt by association when running your breach and simulation exercises.

Tip #3: Use External Teams

Breach and attack simulations aren’t just something you run once per year. Ideally, you should conduct these as often as possible if you’re going to be better equipped to deal with the mounting cyber threat. Yet, if the same team members occupy the same roles in the red and blue team, then you’re going to run into a knowledge problem fairly quickly.

Even if your team is familiar with the MITRE Attack Framework, there will be certain areas that they overlook or simply don’t have the skills to investigate. That’s where bringing in external teams comes in handy. Not only do external teams have a blank slate to work with, meaning they’ll stumble upon vulnerabilities more naturally, but they may also have other specialized knowledge.

Illustration: Jcomp / Freepik

By working with external teams, you can put your systems against a more realistic threat. Just like real hackers, this external BAS team will work through your systems and attempt to break in. Their broad and distinct knowledge will radically increase how effective your BAS exercises are.

Equally, when putting external teams against your home blue team, it often turns into a very fun - and productive - cybersecurity exercise for everyone.

Tip #4: Practice Kindness

Our final tip is one that we’ve included to help ensure your team remains positive while running breach and attack simulations. A lot of the time, BAS exercises will expose vulnerabilities that your own software engineers have created. Instead of making your team feel bad or embarrassed because of these vulnerabilities, you should practice kindness.

Ensure that you use a no-fault policy. Finding these vulnerabilities is in the best interest of your business. If you want your employees to feel safe and cared for at work, they also need to feel as safe as possible. A no-fault policy will help your team fix errors without a sense of shame or guilt.

In the long run, this will be better for your team, your business, and your pursuit of vulnerabilities through breach and attack simulations.

Final Thoughts

Breach and attack simulations aren’t going anywhere. As one of the most effective methods of screening your own security defenses, this method is a vital part of every cyber security expert’s tool book. Yet, we can push BAS to be even better and deliver more when we include the tips outlined in this article.

From practicing guilt by association to positioning your team in reaction to your unique security posture, there are a number of ways that you can improve the outcome of BAS. If you’re looking to conduct effective breach and attack simulations, then working through this list should be at the top of your list of priorities.
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