Breach and attack simulations test an organization’s defenses against a cyber threat. They do so by simulating a particular attack path that a cyber threat actor may use.

For example, a BAS may be based on the MITRE ATT&CK framework, which describes how an attacker can accomplish specific goals in the cyber-attack lifecycle. It also describes the particular tactics used by prominent cyber threat actors. A BAS simulator can use this information to simulate an advanced persistent threat (APT) attack.

After defining the attack path, the simulation can be launched to test the organization’s security controls and defenses. During the simulation, the testers can identify vulnerabilities and gaps in the organization’s security.

After the simulation comes a retrospective where the security team can identify security holes and lessons learned. These can help close these gaps and inform security education efforts for security teams to address the root causes of incidents.

Types of breach and attack simulations

Breach and attack simulations are designed to emulate the various types of attacks that an organization could face. Some kinds of BAS exercises include:

  • Network-Based: Cyberattacks may exploit vulnerabilities in network services to move laterally through an organization’s network. Network-based BAS exercises will emulate these types of attacks.
  • Web Application: Exploitation of web application vulnerabilities is another common attack technique. These simulations will start by exploiting vulnerabilities in public-facing web applications and moving on from there.
  • Email-Based: Emails can carry malware attachments or contain malicious links. These simulations will carry malware designed to operate like real threats without causing severe damage.
  • Social Engineering: Social engineering attacks are designed to trick or coerce their target into performing some action. BAS may include social engineering attacks performed via a computer.

Key values of conducting BAS

BAS provides several benefits to the organization, including the following:

  • Vulnerability Detection: BAS can enable an organization to identify weaknesses and vulnerabilities in its systems. Finding these in advance allows the organization to close these security gaps before they are exploited by an attacker.
  • Improving Incident Response: BAS gives the security team additional practice in dealing with realistic cyberattacks. This enables the security team to evaluate and refine processes to improve incident response capabilities.
  • Reduced Cyber Risk: With BAS, organizations face cyber threats in simulations and can fix issues before they are exploited in an actual attack. This reduces an organization’s risk of falling victim to an actual attacker.
  • Cost Savings: Proactive testing and remediation enable companies to avoid cyberattacks and fix vulnerabilities on their schedule. This reduces the cost of potential cyberattacks and the overhead of rushed fixes after an incident.

Risks associated with conducting BAS

BAS can be a powerful tool for improving an organization’s cybersecurity. However, companies can face challenges when conducting these simulations, including:

  • Access to Resources: For BAS to be an effective tool, the simulated attacks must be realistic. However, an organization may lack the tools and security expertise to perform realistic simulated attacks.
  • Business Disruption: A BAS exercise simulates a real-world attack against the organization. If not designed and implemented carefully, this can disrupt normal business operations.
  • Simulation Accuracy: BAS is most effective if the simulated attacks realistically recreate real-world attacks. However, companies may struggle to accurately replicate the techniques used by APTs or in real-world attacks.
  • Cost and Time Constraints: More security testing is always better due to the diversity and evolution of cyber threats. However, companies may have time and resource constraints that limit their ability to perform regular, realistic simulations.

How to get the most out of your BAS recommendations

A BAS exercise will end in one of two ways. Either the organization fends off the attack or successfully exploits a hole in the company’s defenses and uses that security gap to achieve its goals.

In both cases, the security team will likely extract takeaways, whether detected vulnerabilities or process issues. If an organization doesn’t implement these recommendations, it doesn’t gain any value from the BAS.

Some best practices for implementing recommendations from a BAS include:

  • Risk-Based Prioritization: A BAS exercise may uncover multiple vulnerabilities in an organization’s systems. When planning remediation efforts, these should be prioritized based on the risk they pose to the company, enabling it to maximize ROI as soon as possible.
  • Optimize Processes: Even if the organization successfully defends against an attack, BAS exercises may uncover inefficiencies in its incident response processes. Look for ways to streamline and improve these processes to speed up responses to real, future attacks.
  • Search for Root Causes: The vulnerabilities and weaknesses found during a BAS exercise may have been caused by other factors. Seeking out these root causes may enable an organization to prevent other attacks in the future.

Why complete a breach and attack simulation?

Breach and attack simulation exercises test an organization’s defenses against specific attack paths. By emulating the techniques used by various threat actors or in real-world attacks, they determine whether an organization can defend itself against these real-world threats. Based on the result of the exercise, the organization can take steps to improve its cyber defenses.

Regular BAS exercises can be a valuable tool to improve an organization’s security posture and protect against cyber threats. In the long run, finding and fixing vulnerabilities in an exercise is cheaper and safer than discovering them when an attacker exploits them.