What Is Breach and Attack Simulation?

Breach and attack simulation is a way for organizations to test the efficacy of their security controls. This article will explore three common types of attack simulations and where these approaches can fall short.

Common Attack Simulations

Tabletop Exercises

A tabletop exercise (TTX) simulates an actual crisis. It is a security incident preparedness activity that takes security teams through the process of a simulated incident scenario. Security teams can use a tabletop exercise to run through their organization’s response plans for a ransomware infection or a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, for instance. In the process, they deepen their understanding of the impact of those security incidents, identify areas where they can improve, and make corresponding changes to their policies and procedures.

Red Teaming

The purpose of a red-teaming exercise is for experienced security professionals to identify weaknesses that attackers can leverage to try to access an organization’s systems and data. According to Security Intelligence, red-team testers emulate an advanced threat actor by using stealth-based tactics and attempting to evade existing security controls. They employ those techniques without the organization’s blue team having received prior knowledge of the attack. This allows defenders to respond as they would with a real attack (assuming they detect it). It also provides an opportunity for the red team and the blue team to discuss Indicators of Compromise (IOCs), defensive tactics, and other relevant details during a debriefing session.

White-hat Penetration Tests

Per Infosec Institute, a white-hat penetration test is where an organization hires ethical hackers to test their security defenses. These engagements serve a function like those of red teaming with some exceptions. For example, blue team members have knowledge of the penetration test (otherwise known as “pentest”) before it begins. This foreknowledge de-emphasizes the need for attackers to use stealth.

Why Breach and Attack Simulations Sometimes Fall Short

Operational Costs

Breach and attack simulations are an important part of any organization’s security strategy. But they aren’t always as effective as intended. Part of the problem is their operational costs. The simulations described above require organizations to set aside budget for third-party consultants and to pull internal resources away from other projects. To limit the commitment of time and money, leaders may subsequently decide to shrink a test’s scope and/or duration.

Simulation Doesn’t Always Represent Reality

Organizations could make mistakes along the way. For example, they could run their simulation on a system that’s configured differently for testing purposes. Whatever happens with that system would be an outlier. It would reveal nothing of how other devices and environments in the organization’s infrastructure might behave, limiting the effectiveness of the test. And as noted above, organizations might arrange the test to target a small subset of their attack surface or to coincide with conditions defined in their SIEM or EDR platform. Both these mistakes would also misrepresent how human operators might seek to prey upon the organization, were they to gain access to its systems.

They Don’t Deliver a Comprehensive Picture

Finally, tabletop exercises, red teaming, and white-hat penetration tests are all limited in what they can reveal. They are terminal events that happen over a limited amount of time. As such, they provide a snapshot of the security of an organization’s systems and data then and only then. They don’t yield ongoing visibility into the organization’s security defenses.

How to Avoid Common Breach and Attack Simulation Mistakes

Organizations can mitigate the limitations discussed above by using an automated approach like the ReliaQuest Verify capability to streamline their breach and attack simulations. In contrast to manual and ad-hoc testing, Verify comes with fully packaged and field-tested scenarios that organizations can use to run in their environments. This saves organizations time and money, as they don’t need to wait on third-party consultants to carry out those tests.

That’s not the only way Verify stands out among other testing services. Operators can run Verify’s scenarios on-demand or continuously. In that capacity, they can respond to word of a new exploit by immediately testing their systems for susceptibility, information that they can use to prioritize their patching efforts. Simultaneously, they can use other scenarios to test their systems for perennial threats like ransomware on an ongoing basis. ReliaQuest continually updates Verify with threat intelligence, which gives operators the confidence that their tests are taking new and emerging threats into account.

Last but not least, Verify integrates findings into the detection workstream. This helps security teams to save time in their efforts to continually enhance their organization’s security defenses.

Take your breach and attack simulations to the next level with Verify ➞