Today we live in a world where cyberattacks are commonplace. DDoS exploits take down web sites we rely on. Spear-phishing attacks trick us into revealing personal information. And data breaches compromise our credit cards stored in retailers’ databases. Everyone, it seems, is defenseless against relentless attacks that target everything from Facebook accounts to the SCADA systems controlling our power stations.

The problem is, cyber defenses that historically protected us from attack aren’t always still able to do so. For example, firewalls, anti-malware tools and the like cannot block zero-day attacks that weren’t previously identified. Zero days can slip past conventional perimeter security tools undetected and wreak havoc inside the network.

The Pattern of a Data Breach

Data breaches such as those discovered at Target, Sony Pictures, and elsewhere are not random. They generally follow a set pattern, and require careful planning and execution.

First, the attacker identifies his target, and searches for security weaknesses that can be exploited. It’s simple to find tools and sites (like Shodan) online that can scan for systems that have known vulnerabilities.

After the point of entry is identified, the attacker needs access to a system which can serve as an escalation point. Again, tools like Metasploit make it easy to do this. This step is usually accomplished through a brute force attack, or by using credentials gathered from somewhere in the target’s environment, often through social engineering.

Once privileged escalation is achieved, the intruders generally have unrestricted freedom on the compromised systems. They can extract data, change system settings, and install back doors for future access.

Getting the stolen information out of the breached organization, and covering their tracks in the process, is relatively easy for the intruders to accomplish with applications such as Corkscrew. Tor, or other deep web services, can then be used to move the information. And the intruders generally have plenty of time to do so. According to Ponemon Institute, hackers are present on the network for an average of 206 days before being discovered.

Stopping Malware and APTs

Despite the prevalence of cyberattacks, and the seemingly insurmountable task of stopping them, malware and APTs do have an Achilles heel. To be able to do their worst, they need privileged access to a system. If an intruder can't install something, he can't attack.

The often-overlooked cyber defense practice of securing privileged accounts - whether used by administrators, services, tasks, whatever - stops attacks that penetrate the perimeter in their tracks. That means organizations that deploy privileged access management can prevail in today’s environment of unremitting cyber warfare.

Want to learn more? Check out the above on-demand webcast with more insight into defending against the common cyberattack steps.

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Chris Stoneff

VP Security Solutions, Development