Why Defenders Need to Embrace a Hacker Mindset

Hacker's Mind

Today’s security leaders must manage an ever-evolving attack surface and a dynamic threat environment due to connected devices, cloud services, IoT technologies, and hybrid environments. at work. Adversaries are constantly introducing new attack methods, and not all companies have internal Red Teams or unlimited security resources to keep up with the latest threats. On top of that, today’s attackers are indiscriminate and every business – big or small – needs to be prepared. Not enough for security teams notice and respond; we must now too prediction and prevention.

To manage today’s security environment, defenders must be agile and innovative. In short, we need to start thinking like a hacker.

Getting into the mindset of an opportunistic threat actor allows you to not only gain a better understanding of potential exploit channels, but also to more effectively prioritize your remediation efforts. It can also help you overcome potentially harmful biases, such as the false belief that your organization isn’t interesting or big enough to target.

Let’s explore these concepts a little deeper.

The Hacker’s Mindset vs. Traditional Defenses

Thinking like a hacker can help you gain a better understanding of potential exploits.

Many organizations use a routine approach to vulnerability management, documenting their assets and identifying associated vulnerabilities, often on a strict schedule. One of the problems with the current strategy is that it forces defenders to think in lists, while hackers think in graphs. Malicious actors begin to identify their targets and what is important to them is to find at least one way to access the crown jewels. Instead, defenders must ask themselves: What assets connect and depend on other assets? What is facing the outside? Could a hacker build a base on a non-critical system and use it to gain access to another, more important one? These are important questions to ask to determine the true risk.

Thinking like a hacker will help you prioritize repair activities more effectively.

Deciding which issues require immediate action and which can wait is a complex balancing act. Few companies have unlimited resources to respond to their entire attack at once – but hackers are looking for the fastest way with the biggest reward. Knowing how to decide which remediation activities will eliminate a potential path to your crown jewels can give you a clear advantage over malicious actors.

Thinking like a hacker can help you more critically evaluate existing biases.

Small organizations tend to think – incorrectly – that they are not an attractive target for an opportunistic hacker. However, the reality shows otherwise. Verizon’s 2023 Data Breach Investigation Report identified 699 security incidents and 381 confirmed data breaches in small businesses (those with fewer than 1,000 employees) but only 496 incidents and 227 confirmed breaches in large businesses (those with more than 1,000 employees.) Automated phishing attacks are indiscriminate. And ransomware attacks can still be very profitable for smaller organizations. Thinking like a hacker explains that whatever organization is a practical target.

how to Think Like a Hacker

How are security professionals successfully implementing this shift in thinking? In a recent Pentera webinarErik Nost, Principal Analyst at Forrester and Nelson Santos, Pentera Security Expert, outline four important steps.

1. Understand the Tactics of Attackers

Adopting a hacker’s mindset can help security leaders anticipate potential breach points and build their defenses. It starts with a realistic understanding of the methods used by malicious actors to get from A to Z.

An example: now attackers use as much automation as possible to target multiple systems in modern networks. This means that defenders must prepare for brute force attacks, loaders, keyloggers, exploit kits, and other rapidly deployable tactics.

Security teams must also evaluate their responses to these tactics in real-world scenarios. Testing in a lab environment is a good start, but peace of mind only comes when testing production systems directly. Similarly, simulations are informative, but teams need to go a step further and see how their defenses can stand up to penetration attempts and strong attacks.

2. Reveal Complete Attack Paths, Step by Step

There is no weakness in being different. Hackers almost always combine multiple vulnerabilities to form a complete attack path. As a result, security leaders must envision the “big picture” and test their entire environment. By identifying critical pathways that attackers can take from reconnaissance through exploitation and impact, defenders can proactively and effectively remediate.

3. Prioritize Remediation Based on Impact

Hackers usually look for the path of least resistance. This means you need to address your most impactful channels first. From there, you can work your way through less likely scenarios if resources allow.

Leaders must also consider the potential business impact of the vulnerabilities they need to fix. For example, a wrong network configuration or a user with too many permissions can lead to many possible attack paths. Prioritizing high-value assets and critical security gaps will help you avoid the trap of spreading your resources too thin across your entire attack surface.

4. Validate the Effectiveness of Your Security Investments

Testing the real-world effectiveness of security products and procedures is critical. For example – is your EDR correctly detecting suspicious activity? Is the SIEM sending alerts as expected? How fast is your SOC responding? And more importantly, how effective are all the tools in your security stack together? These tests are important as you measure your efforts.

Traditional attack simulation tools can test known scenarios and test your existing defenses against known threats. But what about testing against what you don’t know? Using an adversarial perspective allows you to autonomously test against all scenarios and threats, which may reveal hidden misconfigurations, IT shadows or incorrect assumptions about how to operate. of the controls. These unknown security gaps are the most difficult for defenders to detect and are therefore actively sought after by attackers.

Validation test findings should go all the way to the CEO and the board in a way that articulates the impact on the business. Reporting a percentage of vulnerabilities patched (or other similar vanity metrics) does not truly convey the effectiveness of your security program. Instead, you must find more meaningful ways to communicate the impact of your efforts.

Stay one step ahead of security threats with automated security validation

We understand how challenging it can be to continuously evaluate and improve your security posture. With Pentera, you don’t have to do it alone.

Our Automated Security Validation method reveals your security readiness against the latest threats by securely testing your complete attack against real-world exploits. Defenders who embrace the hacker mindset to continually challenge their security defenses using platforms like Pentera can be confident in their security posture at all times.

For more information, visit our website at pentera.io.

Note: This article was written by Nelson Santos, Principal Sales Engineer at Pentera.

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