What is an Attack Path?

    An attack path is a route that malicious actors follow when infiltrating the IT environment of target organizations. While navigating attack paths, adversaries commonly bypass security controls, leverage security gaps, and escalate privileges to gain access to and compromise assets within a target network or system. 

    What’s the difference between an attack path, attack path, and attack surface?

    The concepts of attack paths, attack vectors, and attack surfaces are closely interconnected, but there are important distinctions to be drawn between them.

    An attack path is the chain of steps that attackers take as they seek to access specific assets to achieve their objectives. Once an attacker has leveraged an attack vector to gain entry to the organization’s network, they utilize attack paths to navigate it.

    The term “attack vector”, on the other hand, refers to the method an attacker uses to exploit vulnerabilities in security measures and gain access to a target system of a network. This could include malware, SQL injection, Man-in-the-Middle attacks (MitM), or social engineering techniques such as phishing. In this sense, an attack vector relates to the initial “break-in point” through which an attacker penetrates an organization’s network perimeter.

    Lastly, the term “attack surface” comprises all possible vulnerabilities or points of entry within an organization’s IT environment. It is the sum total of all available attack vectors and encompasses applications, systems, and network infrastructure.

    Why are attack paths important?

    Attack paths are important because they can give insights into the likelihood and potential risk of attacks. By identifying and accurately mapping routes that attackers might take, organizations can better understand how their security measures might be penetrated, and by extension, the level of risk to which their critical data assets are exposed. As such, analyzing attack paths can empower more informed decision-making, enabling organizations to identify controls that need upscaling, prioritize them, and allocate resources accordingly to ensure maximal protection against known threats.

    What are the benefits of understanding attack paths?

    The following are some of the primary benefits of understanding attack paths:

    • Risk mitigation: Through the identification and analysis of attack paths, organizations can proactively mitigate risks by strengthening their defenses.
    • Enhanced incident response: When organizations understand the routes that attacks might follow, they can closely monitor them and devise response strategies to ensure that threats are detected and addressed in real-time.
    • Resource optimization: Understanding which attack paths are available enables organizations to prioritize the use of resources to ensure that their most vital assets are protected effectively.
    • Regulatory compliance: By understanding attack paths and establishing comprehensive controls to prevent their exploitation, organizations can better protect sensitive data assets to stay in compliance with industry standards and regulations.

    What tools and technologies aid in attack path analysis?

    There are a variety of tools that organizations can utilize to aid them with attack path analysis.

    Network mapping tools are commonly used to get an overview of network topology and uncover possible attack paths. Penetration testing tools and vulnerability scanners can also be of use by enabling organizations to test the effectiveness of security controls and identify areas where exploitable vulnerabilities exist. 

    Additionally, organizations may also leverage threat intelligence platforms to their advantage, as they provide insights into emerging threats and indicators of compromise, allowing security teams to identify attack paths and make informed decisions about how to proactively protect their assets.

    Secure vital assets with attack path management

    In an evolving threat landscape, proactivity is paramount. To protect vital digital assets from would-be attackers, organizations must actively investigate and analyze the potential routes they might take in order to access them, and this is what attack path management is all about. By engaging in attack path analysis and management, organizations establish complete visibility over their IT environments and map all possible attack routes so as to strengthen their defenses pre-emptively. In doing so, they can reduce the chance of a successful attack, mitigate risk, and strengthen their overall security posture.

    Glossary related terms
    Automated Penetration Testing Automated Security Breach and Attack Simulation (BAS) External Attack Surface Management (EASM) Red Teaming Security Control Validation Security Validation Vulnerability Management