How to Prevent and Detect Lateral Movement Attacks?

Detect Lateral Movement

Cyber-attacks are increasing day by day, and one of the main types of attacks is Lateral Movement. Lateral Movement attacks include cybercriminals accessing an organization and moving laterally inside your network to take advantage of system vulnerabilities and access sensitive information.
To protect your organization from such cyberattacks, it’s necessary to understand how to figure out and prevent lateral movement attempts. In this blog, we will explore the best strategies to detect and prevent your system and network from unauthorized access through lateral movement.

Why Do You Become a Victim of Lateral Movement

To successfully secure your system against lateral movement attacks, you will need to understand why cyberpunks attempt lateral movement attacks. Here is how they attack and how you can safeguard your system or network from such attacks.

Financial Gain

One of the main motives behind Lateral Movement in Cyber Attacks is financial gain. Cybercriminals aim to compromise networks and access valuable financial information, such as credit card details or personal data.

Data Theft and Intellectual Property Espionage

Corporate espionage is another motive of cyberpunks to go for lateral movement attacks. Competing businesses may attempt to breach networks to steal intellectual property or sensitive company data.

Persistent Control and Access

Some lateral movement attacks aim to establish long-term control and access within a compromised network. Attackers move laterally to escalate privileges, gain administrative control, and implant backdoors or remote access tools.

Expanding the Attack Surface

Once initial access is obtained, cybercriminals pivot through the network, looking for additional vulnerable systems or weak points to exploit. By broadening their reach, attackers increase their chances of compromising more systems or infiltrating higher-value targets within the network.

Evading Detection and Persistence

By evading detections, attackers can blend in with legitimate user behavior and avoid raising suspicion. Remaining undetected gives attackers more time to achieve their objectives and maximize the impact of their attack.

Targeting Privileged Accounts and Credentials

By exploiting and moving laterally from privileged accounts, cybercriminals can bypass security controls, escalate ownership, and gain elevated access to critical systems and sensitive data.

Sabotage and Disruption

Cybercriminals seek to cause chaos, interrupt services, or damage critical infrastructure. By moving laterally and compromising key systems, they can initiate destructive actions, manipulate data, or launch ransomware attacks, crippling the organization’s operations and reputation.

Symptoms of Lateral Movement in Cyber Attacks

1.    Unusual network traffic patterns include increased data transfers or unusual protocols/ports being used.

2.    Sudden increase in failed login attempts, particularly on privileged accounts or critical systems.

3.    Abnormal account behavior, like simultaneous logins from multiple locations or unauthorized access to resources.

4.    Suspicious system activities, including the creation of new user accounts or unauthorized modifications to system configurations.

5.    Unexpected service interruptions, system crashes, or performance degradation.

6.    Anomalous data access or exfiltration, such as unusual file transfers or data access from unfamiliar locations.

7.    Increased malware infections across different systems or a surge in antivirus alerts.

8.    Unexplained system modifications, unauthorized changes to firewall rules, or security settings.

How to Protect Lateral Movement Attack

Lateral movement often goes undetected, making it crucial for organizations to implement practices to prevent lateral movement. Here are some precautionary measures you can try!

Harden Your Network’s Defenses

Start by implementing a multi-layered security approach that includes strong firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and endpoint protection. Regularly update your security software and promptly patch any vulnerabilities to minimize the risk of exploitation.

Implement the Least Privilege Principle

This is an important step for network administrators. If they restrict user access and only allow the necessary access required according to the role, the system can be protected against lateral movement attacks. Allowing multiple permissions on a user account can increase the potential threat of getting deep into the system shell and accessing more data.

Segment Your Network

It is recommended to split your network into multiple segments and categories. If critical data and sensitive information is segmented separately, the chances of potential risk are reduced. The PowerShell network segmentation is highly recommended to monitor and control your data traffic and keep intruders out of your network segment reach.

Continuous Monitoring and Intrusion Detection

Continuously monitoring your network activity can help you detect any potential threat. If there is any suspicious activity detected, the entire network should be scanned and new security measures should be implemented. Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS) and Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) can be robust technology to identify and mitigate any potential lateral movement threats.

User Awareness and Training

All users should be trained on how to safeguard networks and devices from any type of cyberattack. Network administrators should conduct an awareness training program to guide users and restrict them to click on unknown links and malicious attachments, and browsing unsecured web pages.

Conduct Regular Vulnerability Assessments

Regularly assessing your network for vulnerabilities is essential for preventing lateral movement attacks. Perform penetration testing and vulnerability scanning to identify weaknesses that attackers could exploit. Address these vulnerabilities promptly by applying patches, updating software, and enhancing security measures to fortify your network’s defenses.

Incident Response Planning

Despite your best efforts, there is always a possibility of a successful lateral movement attack. Having a well-defined incident response plan in place ensures a swift and efficient response to such incidents. Establish clear roles and responsibilities, define escalation procedures, and conduct periodic drills to test the effectiveness of your incident response plan.

Summing Up

Preventing and detecting lateral movement attacks requires a proactive and multi-layered approach. By hardening your network’s defenses, implementing the least privilege principle, segmenting your network, continuously monitoring for intrusions, providing user awareness and training, conducting vulnerability assessments, and having a robust incident response plan, you can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to these insidious cyber threats. Stay vigilant, keep your defenses strong, and regularly update your security practices to protect your organization’s valuable data.

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