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What is a lateral movement attack and how does it occur?

by | Jul 19, 2023 | BLOG

A lateral movement attack occurs when the cybercriminal gains access to an initial target to move between devices within the network without their presence being noticed.

In this article, we explain in detail what side threats are and how to avoid them. Want to know more about it? Read our text to the end.

A lateral movement attack can present itself in a variety of ways and for a variety of purposes.

In practice, this type of action is related to accessing an entry point, which corresponds to the initial target, so that the attacker can later gain access to other locations on the network, being able to steal data or infect devices and demand a ransom payment, for example.

However, it is possible to avoid lateral threats with the support of an IT team prepared to identify them in a timely manner and with the support of powerful cybersecurity solutions, such as PAM.
In this article, we share key information about a lateral movement attack. To make it easier to read, we have divided our text by topics. They are:

1. What is a lateral movement attack?

2. How does a lateral movement attack occur?

3. Examples of lateral movement attack

4. How to detect a lateral movement attack?

5. How to prevent a lateral movement attack?

6. PAM senhasegura: the ideal solution for preventing lateral movement attacks

7. About senhasegura

8. Conclusion


Enjoy your reading!


1. What is a lateral movement attack?

Lateral movement attacks occur when cybercriminals use current access to move around the rest of the network, infecting computers and internal servers until they reach their target, unidentified.

After intrusion, the malicious attacker uses various resources to increase their privilege and gain access to sensitive data and other high-value assets.

As it avoids the detection of cybercriminals, this type of attack makes it possible for them to stay in the IT environment for a long time, and it may take weeks or even months for them to be discovered.


2. How does a lateral movement attack occur?

The lateral movement attack starts from an entry point, which could be a stolen credential, a malware-infected machine, or other intrusion strategies.

This point is usually connected to the attacker’s command and control (C&C) server, which allows it to store information stolen from remotely accessed devices contaminated by malware.

At that point, the attacker explores the network, observing its users and devices. Therefore, they understand host nomenclatures and network hierarchies, identify operating systems, and put together a plan to make targeted moves.

Malicious agents still use resources that make it possible to discover where they are located on the network, what they can access and what type of protection is in effect.


3. Examples of lateral movement attack

Several types of cyberattacks can be associated with lateral movement. Among them, we can highlight: spying, data exfiltration, botnet and ransomware infection.

In the case of espionage, hackers associated with rival nations and groups or competing companies can carry out a lateral movement attack in order to monitor the actions of a government or organization.

In practice, when the motivation for the crime is not related to financial gain, the tendency is for malicious attackers to try to remain hidden for a long period.

In data exfiltration, the attacker moves or copies information belonging to a company without authorization. The motivations for this type of attack can be several, among them, stealing intellectual property, requesting ransom of stolen data, or carrying out identity theft.

Botnet infection usually occurs in distributed denial-of-service attacks. In this sense, the hackers use lateral movement to add many devices to their botnet, enhancing its performance1.

Lastly, the lateral movement attack could also be related to ransomware, causing cybercriminals to infect as many devices as possible in order to demand ransom payment.


4. How to detect a lateral movement attack?

Actions taken by malicious actors can become suspicious for an IT team prepared to deal with a lateral movement attack.

This is because these professionals must remain alert to any unusual occurrence, investigating all movements in the IT environment rather than running the risk of overlooking anomalies that represent a threat of lateral movement.

To assist IT teams in this task, it is advisable for organizations to have automated solutions that monitor interactions between devices and/or computers and provide information on vulnerabilities found.

By gathering the necessary data, the application starts to control software, providing network security to prevent access by malicious attackers, who are prevented from performing lateral movements or obtaining privileges.

The main steps of a lateral movement attack are exploiting an initial target, establishing communication between the cybercriminal and the target, persisting with the initial target, and identifying and exploiting other targets on the network.

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5. How to prevent a lateral movement attack?

Most organizations have faced or will inevitably face attacks from malicious actors. Therefore, the ideal is that they are prepared to contain these threats as soon as possible, avoiding financial losses.

One of the ways to stop the lateral movement of ransomware and other types of attacks is micro-segmentation, which makes it possible to isolate assets and applications and prevent malicious attackers and ransomware from spreading across the network.

It is also possible to close vulnerable parts of the network by hiring an ethical hacker to perform a penetration test, which will show how far a cybercriminal could penetrate the network without being detected.

With the findings obtained by the hacker, the company will be able to fix flaws that generate insecurity.

If your goal is to prevent a lateral movement attack on your company, it’s also critical to adopt the Zero Trust network security philosophy, whereby no user, connection, or device should be trusted by default.

Endpoint security shouldn’t be overlooked either. Therefore, it is highly recommended to apply security technologies to devices such as smartphones, notebooks, and desktop computers.

The use of Multiple Authentication Factor is also recommended, which makes it more difficult for a malicious attacker to act, since in order to act, they would need, in addition to credentials, other authentication factors, such as a token or even the fingerprint of the user.

Finally, it is essential to limit user privileges through PAM, the most suitable solution for companies that want to prevent lateral movement attacks.

In practice, the role of PAM is to remove high privileges from regular user accounts and use administrative accounts with limited access to certain activities. This can reduce the chances of a successful lateral movement attack if the malicious attacker compromises an unprivileged user’s account.

Generally, companies maintain numerous privileged accounts, which allow administrative tasks in the IT environment, which poses a risk to their digital security. Therefore, PAM should be adopted to reduce the attack surface and protect systems and data against lateral movement attacks, among other threats.


6. PAM senhasegura: the ideal solution for preventing lateral movement attacks

As we mentioned in the previous topic, PAM is an indispensable solution to prevent successful lateral movement attacks.

Since 2001, we at senhasegura have offered the global market a PAM solution with features that ensure the digital security of organizations around the world. Among its benefits, the following stand out:

  • Fast deployment and simple maintenance

  • Full life cycle management of privileged accesses

  • No extra costs

  • Personalized offer of high-performance hardware appliances

  • Management of DevOps secrets

  • Integrated Digital Certificate Management

  • Solutions for cloud infrastructure, etc.


7. About senhasegura

We at senhasegura are recognized as leaders in cybersecurity by our customers and IT consulting companies worldwide.

Our mission is to guarantee the sovereignty of organizations over their privileged information through PAM, preventing data theft and leakage, as well as periods of inactivity that impact business performance.

To do this, we follow the privileged access management lifecycle using machine automation, before, during and after the access.

In addition to automatically auditing privilege usage, we investigate privileged actions to prevent abuse, reduce cyber risks, and bring organizations into compliance with audit criteria and standards such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, ISO 27001 and Sarbanes-Oxley.


8. Conclusion

In this article, you saw that:

  • A lateral movement attack can present itself in many ways

  • It occurs when hackers access an entry point and use that entry to move through the rest of the network, infecting computers and internal servers until they reach their target

  • Malicious agents can take weeks or even months to be discovered

  • Examples of lateral movement attacks include espionage, data exfiltration, botnet infection, and ransomware

  • To detect a lateral movement attack, it is important to have qualified professionals and effective solutions

  • To prevent this type of attack, the following are recommended: micro-segmentation, penetration tests, adoption of the Zero Trust security philosophy1 and endpoint security, and investment in a PAM solution, which provides each user with only the access necessary to perform their tasks. functions.


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