Double Your Threat Blocking in 90 Days
By Picus Labs • October 10, 2023, 15 min read
Risk posture refers to an organization's overall security status and its readiness to defend against cybersecurity threats. For organizations, having data-driven visibility into their risk posture is paramount. This detailed insight allows them to understand and prioritize vulnerabilities, guiding effective remediation strategies. When direct mitigation isn't feasible, a clear understanding of the risk enables organizations to make informed decisions about accepting or transferring the risk, ensuring that strategic choices are made with a full appreciation of the potential consequences.
In this blog, we delve into cybersecurity risk, risk posture, and the crucial importance of visibility for a proactive security strategy.
Security risk refers to the potential threats that can lead to unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, or destruction of information systems and data. While it involves dangers to technical infrastructure, software, and data from cyber threats and vulnerabilities, it isn't limited to just large sectors in various countries; individuals are vulnerable as well.
Take, for instance, the 2020 Marriott International data breach . Malicious actors exploited a third-party vendor's vulnerabilities to infiltrate Marriott's network, exposing personal data of over 5.2 million guests, including names, addresses, emails, and passport details. Beyond the immediate financial repercussions and reputational damage for Marriott, this incident underscores the real-world consequences of security risks, affecting both businesses and their customers directly.
Risk posture of an organization is a comprehensive evaluation of its capability to defend against, respond to, and recover from cybersecurity threats. It paints a holistic picture, considering both tangible factors like security controls, tools, and infrastructure, and intangible aspects such as organizational culture, awareness, and training. By taking into account the organization's defensive strategies, adaptability to the evolving threat landscape, and capacity to recover from breaches, risk posture provides a multi-faceted view of the organization's cybersecurity strengths and vulnerabilities. This assessment ultimately guides strategic decision-making, helping prioritize resources and actions that best mitigate cyber risks.
For example, in early 2022, CD Projekt, the developer behind the popular game Cyberpunk 2077, fell victim to a ransomware attack . The attackers encrypted several devices and threatened to release sensitive data unless a ransom was paid. Following the breach, CD Projekt had to critically assess its risk posture. This assessment involved
reviewing current security measures,
identifying vulnerabilities in its defense mechanism, and
formulating a robust response strategy for future threats.
Such incidents emphasize the pivotal role a sound risk posture plays, with an organization's preparedness being instrumental in determining the magnitude and repercussions of potential security breaches.
There are five key points as to the benefits of assessing security risk posture of an organization.
Here is the most in-depth explanation of these key points.
For a comprehensive risk posture assessment, organizations must first establish a detailed asset inventory.
The accuracy of a security risk posture assessment hinges on a thorough understanding of organizational assets and the vulnerabilities they harbor. Such transparency is vital in pinpointing resources at risk, determining the appropriate remediation or mitigation strategies, and, when these are not feasible, accepting the risk but ensuring it's minimized to a non-business-critical level. Knowing where vulnerabilities exist is the first step to a robust defense, ensuring that no weak link is left unaddressed.
Prioritizing business-critical risks is essential, given their potential to significantly disrupt an organization's core operations, tarnish its reputation, and inflict financial harm. Conducting risk posture assessments can aid organizations in developing a focused approach to these grave threats, ensuring they don't go overlooked.
The SolarWinds breach serves as an example . The incident revolved around a compromise in the Orion software updates, which allowed adversaries to infiltrate countless networks, both in the government and private sectors. For organizations relying heavily on this software, the vulnerability was undoubtedly a business-critical risk.
A thorough risk posture assessment might have spotlighted the dependency on the software and its potential as a singular point of failure. With such an understanding, heightened monitoring or alternative redundancies could have been implemented. This real-world event underscores the pivotal role risk posture assessments play in helping organizations prioritize and address vulnerabilities that could have the most profound impact on their operations.
Adopting a proactive stance in assessing risk posture equips organizations to anticipate and counter potential threats. Rather than waiting to react after a breach has occurred, a forward-looking approach allows businesses to identify and rectify vulnerabilities in advance. This ensures that they remain ahead of potential threats, reducing the likelihood of being compromised.
Financial ramifications of cyber-attacks can be severe. By consistently assessing their risk posture, organizations can significantly reduce the chances of breaches that might result in monetary damages, regulatory penalties, or legal actions. Investing proactively in cybersecurity measures can offer considerable long-term financial benefits.
Consider ransomware attacks, for instance. Organizations frequently find themselves paying ransoms to adversaries to regain access to their systems. A refusal to meet these demands can result in the loss of access to business-critical information, potentially affecting millions of individuals and leading to damaged reputations, diminished trust, and other intangible losses. Moreover, if found negligent in safeguarding customer Personal Identifiable Information (PII), governments might levy legal actions against these organizations, further exacerbating financial strains.
The digital threat environment is constantly changing. Regular risk posture assessments provide organizations with insights into both
It's essential for organizations to be knowledgeable about the threat landscape, understanding which threat actors are behind specific attack campaigns and discerning whether these campaigns target their sectors, regions, or other facets. Importantly, awareness of vulnerabilities that adversaries target in real-time is crucial. Organizations should evaluate assets that may have these vulnerabilities, considering the potential business impact of a breach. All these considerations form an integral part of an organization's risk posture. Hence, ongoing risk posture assessments are not just beneficial but necessary. This continuous approach to understanding threats ensures organizations are always equipped to navigate and respond to evolving challenges, safeguarding them from unforeseen pitfalls.
Assessing cyber risk posture demands a structured methodology to understand an organization's cyber defenses, vulnerabilities, and preparedness against emerging threats. Begin by cataloging all digital assets, such as hardware, software, third-party dependencies and data. Identify and classify vulnerabilities within these assets utilizing tools like vulnerability scanners. Risks should be prioritized considering their potential business-impact and occurrence probability, giving precedence to business-critical assets. It's vital to evaluate existing security controls, policies, and procedures, benchmarking them against established industry practices and norms.
Penetration testing and red teaming practices are crucial, simulating real-world attacks to test the organization's defensive capabilities. Modern security control validation platforms, like Picus' Complete Security Control Validation, offer advanced attack simulations. These platforms empower organizations to test the effectiveness of their security controls and/or defensive layer solutions, even against emerging threats, by leveraging an up-to-date threat library. This continuous simulation and validation approach ensures that an organization's risk posture remains robust and responsive to the ever-evolving cyber threat landscape.
At the heart of enhancing an organization's cyber risk posture is the necessity to have
threat detection and response mechanisms. Detection Rule Validation (DRV) serves as a cornerstone in achieving this.
One of the key challenges organizations face in cybersecurity is ensuring their detection systems operate optimally at all times. With ever-evolving threats and the intricacies of security systems, even minor misconfigurations or unexpected changes can impact rule performance.
Figure 1. An Arbitrary Organization’s Average Rule Response Time
This could mean a rule, previously optimized for near-instantaneous execution, now experiences latency, taking several minutes due to factors like increased
database query delays, or
log source unavailability.
This elongated execution time compromises its real-time threat detection capability and undermines its intended purpose in the cybersecurity framework.
In such scenarios, it's pivotal for security teams to detect the change immediately. Picus Detection Rule Validation assists in this by providing real-time health checks, ensuring that organizations are always aware of their rules' operational status. This continuous insight and monitoring reduce potential windows of vulnerability, directly contributing to an improved risk posture.
Not all security threats hold the same level of danger. Certain issues, if not addressed promptly, can cripple an organization's defenses.
Detection Rule Validation (DRV) is instrumental in highlighting these high-priority issues.
Figure 2. An Arbitrary Organization’s High Priority Log Source Issues
For instance, if a network Intrusion Detection System (IDS) rule, like the 'Network - IDS Category Tracker - Lookup Gen' from the SA-NetworkProtection app, encounters issues with the summary index update, especially when accelerators are enabled in datamodels, it might suffer from delays or inconsistencies in processing recent data. As a result, this rule could potentially miss or be delayed in detecting new threat patterns, thereby compromising its ability to recognize and alert on emerging threats in real-time.
Figure 3. An Arbitrary Organization’s Particular Rule’s Insights with Possible Issues
Detection Rule Validation (DRV) would flag such issues as high-priority, guiding the security teams to act swiftly, ensuring that defenses remain robust.
Operationalizing and aligning detection rules with the MITRE ATT&CK framework means that organizations can map their defenses against known adversary behaviors. Take the example of the OS Credential Dumping (T1003) ATT&CK technique, a common tactic used by adversaries. If an organization's rules aren't effectively guarding against this, it's a glaring vulnerability.
Detection Rule Validation (DRV) helps in identifying such gaps, suggesting detection rule content that directly bolsters defenses against these known attack vectors. By continually refining and aligning to frameworks like MITRE ATT&CK, organizations are better equipped to guard against known threats, enhancing their risk posture.
Cyber threats don't remain static; they are continually evolving, demanding that defenses do the same. An organization's risk posture is only as strong as its ability to adapt and evolve. Detection Rule Validation fosters this adaptability. By enabling proactive validation, security teams are not only reacting to threats but also anticipating them, ensuring that their systems are always a step ahead. This continuous testing and iterative improvement mean that the organization's defenses are always refined, updated, and ready for the next threat, solidifying a robust risk posture.
Picus’ Attack Path Validation module plays a crucial role in aiding organizations to enhance their risk posture. This module enables organizations to simulate sophisticated attacks using an intelligent decision engine. This engine, which is positioned to be as an intelligent, adaptive and skilful adversary, continuously seeks the most
attack paths within an organization. As a result, organizations gain clear visual insights into their most pressing and business-critical vulnerabilities.
In this section, we are going to explain each main item and how they help organizations to improve their risk posture.
In the evolving cyber landscape, adversaries are continually innovating their tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) to bypass security controls, and one of their prime strategies has been leveraging fileless malware. Traditional malware, which often leaves a footprint on the disk, has become easier to detect with modern security tools. In contrast, fileless malware operates entirely within memory, leaving no trace on the system's hard drive, making it notoriously difficult to detect and thereby a preferred method among advanced threat actors.
Red teaming practices, which aim to replicate real-world attack scenarios to assess an organization's vulnerabilities, must necessarily adapt and incorporate these advanced tactics to provide a genuine test of an organization's defenses. This is precisely where the Picus Attack Path Validation module excels. By incorporating fileless malware in its simulations, it gives organizations a realistic evaluation of their current defenses against such stealthy and prevalent threats.
Figure 4. Deciding on the Filesless Implant that Triggers the Automated Red Teaming Simulation with Picus
When an organization runs an Attack Path Validation simulation, they achieve data-driven visibility into their risk posture. It's not merely a theoretical assessment; they can witness firsthand how their existing controls respond to a fileless malware attack. This hands-on approach offers invaluable insights, revealing potential weak points and blind spots in their defenses.
By understanding how their security infrastructure holds up under a real-life like fileless malware attack, they get a clear picture of the real risks their organization’s security infrastructure faces. Consequently, organizations are better positioned to take necessary remedial actions, prioritize security investments, and enhance their overall risk posture in the face of evolving threats.
Real-world attackers operate with precision and purpose, driven by clear motivations. Whether it's for financial gains, tarnishing reputations, cyber espionage, or data breaches, they strategically target key assets. They understand the value of stealth and purpose, avoiding outdated and noisy "spray and pray" methods in favor of more effective, targeted techniques.
Recognizing this shift in adversary behavior is essential for meaningful security testing. Attack simulations without defined objectives don't accurately mirror genuine threat scenarios. So, for organizations to truly understand their vulnerabilities and the risk they pose to business operations, it's imperative that simulations emulate the nuanced tactics of genuine threats.
Picus' objective-based Attack Path Validation approach aligns with this philosophy.
The Decision Engine, central to Picus' approach, begins by understanding user-defined objectives. It doesn't just go after any and every asset; it respects the user's defined scope, ensuring simulations target specific assets or network segments. This precision means that testing reflects real-world attacker intent, focusing on what's truly at risk rather than everything under the sun.
But the Decision Engine goes a step further.
Using a weighted graph model, it can gauge the stealth and effectiveness of potential attack paths. It thinks on its feet, swiftly pivoting from one technique to another if the former seems to
get caught by defense layer solutions,
create an alert, or
be simply ineffective.
This adaptability ensures that the engine not only replicates attacks but also the strategies of sophisticated adversaries. Now, in terms of risk posture, this methodical and objective-centric approach offers several benefits.
By focusing on realistic attack scenarios and genuine threat behaviors, organizations gain insights into their most pressing vulnerabilities.
They understand where they're most exposed and can prioritize defensive efforts accordingly. It's not about addressing every possible threat but mitigating the most probable and impactful ones.
This understanding and focus inherently strengthen an organization's risk posture, making them less susceptible to sophisticated tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPS) of real-world adversaries.
The Attack Path Validation platform offers organizations a tangible visual representation of potential threats to their critical assets, often termed the "Crown Jewels".
Not all organizational assets are of equal value. Just as in a game of chess, not every piece has the same strategic importance. Visualizing attack paths allows organizations to pinpoint and prioritize their defense around assets that, if compromised, would cause the most harm.
Figure 5. An Arbitrary Attack Path that Achieved the Set Objective of the Simulation
This visualization goes beyond isolated vulnerabilities; it presents a connected view of multiple sophisticated threats. Picus Security's graph-based Attack Path Validation module maps out these paths, emphasizing the routes adversaries are most likely to take. It delineates each path's value and likelihood, helping security teams prioritize their efforts effectively. Instead of being overwhelmed by a myriad of potential threats, teams can direct their attention and resources to the most significant 5%, ensuring their most valuable assets are safeguarded. Through this, organizations achieve clarity on their actual security risk posture, allowing for more informed and strategic decision-making.
The Attack Path Validation module's reporting capabilities play a transformative role in enhancing an organization's risk posture visibility. Understanding risk is pivotal for businesses, but risk, when looked at in isolation, can often be misleading or insufficient. What organizations truly need is a contextual understanding of the vulnerabilities present in their systems, especially when these vulnerabilities could lead to compromising their most valued assets.
Figure 6. A Sequence of Attack Vectors of an Arbitrary and Successful Attack Path
When the Picus Attack Path Validation module generates comprehensive reports post-simulation, it isn’t just offering a list of vulnerabilities. It provides a detailed narrative on how these vulnerabilities might be exploited in a sequence, mapping out the potential attack paths. The graphical representations, such as the critical attack path marked in red, provide a direct visual insight into potential high-risk sequences. When decision-makers can see these paths, they gain a clearer understanding of the 'real-world' risks they face.
The module's quantification further enhances this clarity. By breaking down findings, such as the number of captured account credentials or hashed credentials discovered, the report doesn't just say there's a risk – it specifies the magnitude and scope of that risk.
Now, when we talk about risk posture visibility, it's this level of detail, context, and quantification that truly matters. It allows organizations to discern between what's a theoretical risk and what's an actionable one. Armed with this detailed knowledge, they can better allocate resources, prioritize defenses, and create more informed and effective risk mitigation strategies.
In essence, Picus' Attack Path Validation module does more than highlight vulnerabilities; it contextualizes them in the landscape of potential threats. Such depth and clarity in reporting empower organizations to move from a reactive to a proactive stance, where they're not just identifying risks but actively strategizing to mitigate them, thereby significantly enhancing their overall risk posture visibility.
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 Bloomberg, “CD Projekt ransomware hack severely disrupts work on Cyberpunk updates,” Hindustan Times, HT Tech, Feb. 25, 2021. Available: https://tech.hindustantimes.com/gaming/news/cd-projekt-ransomware-hack-severely-disrupts-work-on-cyberpunk-updates-71614221481051.html. [Accessed: Oct. 05, 2023]
 S. Oladimeji and S. M. Kerner, “SolarWinds hack explained: Everything you need to know,” WhatIs.com, Jun. 27, 2023. Available: https://www.techtarget.com/whatis/feature/SolarWinds-hack-explained-Everything-you-need-to-know. [Accessed: Oct. 05, 2023]
Understand the 4 trade-offs limiting security teams in managing their organization's threat exposure.