Protecting your Business Against Attack Vectors and the Evolving Threat Landscape

Understanding Attack Vectors

An attack vector is the way that an adversary can gain unauthorized access to your network or devices. Over the years, there have been dozens of different attack vectors, many of which have adapted and evolved over time to cause harm or hold companies hostage. Today, networks and organizations are interconnected using both private and public clouds leaving the door ajar for attack vectors that are more sophisticated than ever. What should smart businesses look out for, and how can they protect themselves?

The Evolution of Cyber Attack Vectors

Traditionally, having hardened perimeter security was enough to protect data centers. Layers of security to detect and prevent a breach coming in or out of data centers meant that you could ward off attack vectors to your infrastructure and hardware, which was almost exclusively on-premise.

The Cloud and mobile solutions have changed all of this. The reality for data centers today is keeping data private and secure while running an environment that spans public, private and hybrid clouds. Companies now use a mix of compute resources: Containers, Serverless Functions and VMs. However hackers are not just targeting your compute resources, they are sneaking in via routers and switches, or storage controllers, and sensors. From this vantage point, attackers can then scale their attack, compromising an entire network with lateral movements and connected devices. The MITRE ATT&CK Framework is a great resource to dive deeper on the different initial access attempts¹.

As the way we access the internet changes, cyber attack vectors adapt their own designs right alongside. Assuming that we are plugging all the holes on the IT side is not enough. The human factor has always been a key vulnerability in the security scheme. It has become more prevalent with the advance in end-user technology in recent years. Smartphones are a good example of this. Mobile attack vectors are not something that any organization had to be aware of a decade ago, and now they are an ever-present reality providing an easy gateway into many organizations.

While most people know not to click on dangerous links that arrive via SMS from unknown numbers, and no longer fall prey to email phishing campaigns like unexpected warnings of your bank password being changed, new attack vectors come from unexpected places. The recent Man in the Disk attacks on Android devices are something no one could have anticipated. This malware relies on vulnerabilities in third-party application storage protocols that are not regulated by sandbox restrictions through Android². This careless use of external storage can lead to potential malicious code injection, or the silent installation of unrequested apps to the user’s device. From there, the journey of an attacker to leverage this access to a deeper data center one is very short.

As technology evolves, there are more ways than ever for bad actors to launch attacks. Smart devices and Cloud-solutions only serve to increase the number of platforms which can be used for malicious intent.

Which Attack Vectors Are the Biggest Threats Today?

Email and phishing schemes have been the attack vectors of choice for a large amount of malicious attacks over the past few years. However, as simple attacks are becoming more recognizable, more complex threats are increasingly in vogue. Worryingly, the trend in malware is a movement away from reliance on human error, to clever attack vectors that can strike without any conscious act by the user whatsoever³. Man-in-the-Disk was just one example of this.

Take Drive-by-Downloads. A user only has to visit a compromised website, and malicious code can be injected through their web browser. Once done, this can swiftly move laterally across a network. Mouse Hovering hacking is also growing, a technique that launches javascript when a user hovers over a link to see where it goes. This has been seen in familiar applications such as PowerPoint, showing that even what users consider to be ‘safe’ environments can be dangerous. Increasingly sophisticated attack vectors that can spread without a user’s knowledge or their initial action are only going to become more common over time. If these tactics are leveraged against a user with administrator access to your data centers, the results could be catastrophic.

Administrator access could be the weak link when it comes to keeping your data centers safe overall. By accessing admin privileges, adversaries have access to the most valuable information you store, and can therefore cause the most harm. It’s important to think about the way your business works in a crisis when you’re planning preventive security measures. Used in an emergency, local authentication options are often not logged in the same way as your admins usual activity, and the credentials may even be shared across workloads and hosts for the sake of ease of use.

As well as smarter attack vectors, the growth in threats such as file-less attacks show that attackers are getting better at learning how to cover their tracks. 77% of cyber-crime in the US last year used a form of file-less attack⁴. Research shows that this type of malware is ten times as likely to succeed as traditional file based attacks, and helps attackers stay well beneath the radar.

AI is also an area that is likely to be compromised in the near future, with many companies creating chatbots and machine learning tools as the customer-facing representative of their websites and apps. As virtual assistants are built by humans, they are subject to the same gaps that human knowledge has. Studies are beginning to show that AI has problems with hallucinations and recognition⁵. Let loose on customer data and processes, it’s easy to see how advanced malware may slip through the cracks.

More than ever, in preparation for the next stage of intelligent malware, companies need to secure their data centers effectively against the latest attack vectors.

How Can Businesses Protect Themselves from Cyber Attack Vectors?

Keeping your IT environment safe from the latest attack vectors means being able to detect threats faster, and with better intelligence.

This starts with visibility. Being able to identify application flows across your entire infrastructure means that you have granular visibility across your whole IT stack. Dynamic deception tactics automatically trap attackers, even when the end-user isn’t aware of what is going on under the surface. Reputation analysis instantly uncovers anything suspicious or out of the ordinary, from unexpected IP addresses and domain names to file hashes within application flows. Even new attack vectors are isolated in real-time, with mitigation recommendations so that incident response is streamlined.

Ring-fencing, the separation of one specific application from the rest of the IT landscape is one way that companies are limiting the reach of the latest attack vectors from their most sensitive data or valuable assets. This and other kinds of micro-segmentation allow your business to truly limit the attack surface of any potential breach.

There are a number of benefits to this. Regardless of operating system limitations, communication policy can be enforced at the layer 4 transport level as well as the Layer 7 process level. By segmenting your flows by the principle of least privilege, even if a breach occurs, you ensure that it is quickly isolated, and attackers are unable to make lateral moves or scale their intrusion any further. When micro-segmentation is enforced alongside breach detection and threat resolution, even new attack vectors can quickly become a known quantity, and are unable to pose real danger.

Staying Safe Against Future Cyber-Attack Vectors

The way that data is stored and transferred is dynamic in and of itself. Our methods and processes are always changing as the capabilities of the cloud and the hybrid nature of our IT environments continue to grow. In direct response, attack vectors will never stay the same for long, and hackers will always have new tricks up their sleeve to compromise the latest solutions and catch us unaware. As well as current attack vectors that take advantage of IoT devices and no-fault infiltration, predictions for the future include AI-driven malware and an increase in file-less malware attacks, allowing hackers to hide their activities from detection.

The only solution is true visibility of all your applications and workflows. Using this mapping alongside segmentation policy that controls communication flows can restrict attackers in their tracks at the smallest sign of an anomaly. Even against new or unknown attack-vectors, these tools enable true threat resolution that can protect your entire infrastructure in real-time.


1. https://attack.mitre.org/wiki/Main_Page
2. https://research.checkpoint.com/androids-man-in-the-disk/
3. https://churchm.ag/was-it-human-error/
4. https://www.securityweek.com/fileless-attacks-ten-times-more-likely-succeed-report
5. https://www.wired.com/story/ai-has-a-hallucination-problem-thats-proving-tough-to-fix
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