What is lateral movement?
Lateral movement refers to a type of movement through a network. In the way that crawling, running or dance are movement forms that we might engage in, lateral movement is a type of movement that hackers engage in. Lateral movement refers to a means of moving through a system.
Once hackers have moved through your system via lateral movement, they often aim to increase their privileges. Hackers’ primary objectives often include accessing information or IT platform credentials. With more access, hackers can steal a greater quantity of information and/or create havoc in a way that is optimally profitable for them.
Serious cyber security breaches occur everyday. Ransomware attacks may even occur as often as every 11 seconds, according to experts. Within the information technology sphere, prevention and detection of lateral movement across networks can stop massive organizational damage.
Examples of lateral movement
As cyber attackers conduct “research” about organizations with the ultimate goal of launching a hard-hitting attack, they may move laterally across networks. Understanding where certain tools, privileges and resources are located on a network enables attack optimization on their part.
To discover where these assets reside, hackers often leverage a suite of special tools and open-source scanning strategies. The hackers also aim to discover which cyber security mechanisms exist in which network locations so that they can avoid detection. However, a strong cyber security posture can prevent and detect lateral network intrusions.
How can organizations prevent lateral movement?
Firstly, organizations must understand the network characteristics of a lateral attack. Cyber security tools, such as those for packet analysis, can provide administrators with information about which devices are on their network, what their communication patterns look like and what a network anomaly might look like.
Organizations can opt for strong endpoint security controls. Hackers often access systems through unprotected laptops or mobile devices. In addition, organizations may want to focus on both prevention methodologies and detection efforts. In the past, firms prioritized detection. However, in the contemporary threat landscape, detection tools may sound the alarms a little too late.
Further, organizations can consider a single, consolidated cyber security solution as to avoid mismatched metrics and poor alignment around incidents and alerts. When a series of point solutions continually flag alerts with varying levels of importance, cyber security professionals may not know which to investigate first. And, an overabundance of alerts across diverse cyber security systems can lead to alert fatigue.
Zero Trust technologies can stop lateral movements in their tracks. Zero trust segments privilege access, meaning that a hacker who steals an employee’s credentials likely will not have the opportunity to access sensitive data. Zero trust can prevent advanced attacks and can help contain incidents.
Recognition of techniques that hackers commonly leverage to bypass security mechanisms can also assist. Teams may also want to engage in threat hunting activities to ensure that they can discern nefarious lateral movement from regular business network usage.
Lateral movement enables hackers to access sensitive business data. This can consist of anything from the CEO’s email exchanges to intellectual property. While the compromise of a network rarely results in troublesome network damage, the attack conducted after hackers follow through on reconnaissance initiatives often does lead to large-scale difficulties. Protecting your organization from lateral movement represents a cornerstone of good cyber security posture management.