What is Cyber Reconnaissance?

    Cyber reconnaissance is a term used to describe the initial preliminary phase of a cyber attack. It encompasses the process that an adversary uses to gather intelligence about target network systems, relating to aspects like network topology, potential attack vectors, security vulnerabilities, and valuable assets. Cyber reconnaissance informs how adversaries launch attacks on target organizations, making it a critical phase in the cyber attack lifecycle. As such, understanding and preventing it is essential to navigating the cybersecurity landscape

    How does cyber reconnaissance work?

    During the cyber reconnaissance phase, attackers utilize a variety of different techniques and tools to gather information. Often, this begins with the use of legitimate, publicly available informational resources, such as public databases, search engines, or social media platforms to identify their target.  

    Once they have selected a target organization, it is common for attackers to probe the organization’s networks using network scanning tools or vulnerability scanners. They may also use techniques like footprinting to map network topology and identify endpoints. This can help them locate open ports or exploitable attack vectors which will enable them to infiltrate the network perimeter.

    In addition, attackers may leverage tactics like social engineering in the reconnaissance phase, as obtaining sensitive information like login credentials may help them gain initial access to an organization’s network or escalate privileges once inside the perimeter.

    What is the purpose of cyber reconnaissance?

    The purpose of cyber reconnaissance is for adversaries to collect actionable intelligence about the network infrastructure and personnel of their target organizations in preparation for later phases of a cyber attack. Cyber reconnaissance gives attackers insights into attack vectors, vulnerabilities, and attack paths to assets so that they can increase the likelihood of achieving their objectives when they eventually execute their attacks.

    What are the types of cyber reconnaissance?

    Cyber reconnaissance can broadly be broken down into two main types: passive cyber reconnaissance and active cyber reconnaissance.

    Passive cyber reconnaissance encompasses activities through which an attacker gathers intelligence about a target organization’s systems or networks without interacting with them directly. This includes collecting information through media sources, search engines, and public databases.

    Active cyber reconnaissance, on the other hand, relates to the information-gathering process which involves direct interaction with the target organization’s systems and networks. This encompasses activities like network enumeration, vulnerability scanning, port scanning, and footprinting, which provide information about network infrastructure, vulnerabilities, and potential attack vectors.

    How can organizations prevent cyber reconnaissance?

    To prevent cyber reconnaissance, organizations should seek to implement proactive security measures to limit the availability of information that might aid attackers in their objectives.

    One way to do this is to employ network segmentation. This breaks networks down into isolated sections, making it more adversaries for adversaries to gain a comprehensive knowledge of an organization’s wider network topology.

    Another useful practice is to deploy continuous monitoring and detection technologies such as intrusion detection systems (IDS) and security information and event management (SIEM) tools, as this can help security teams to recognize and respond to cyber reconnaissance activities.

    Additionally, organizations concerned about cyber reconnaissance can take care to manage information shared online and to promote employee awareness about the risks of practices like phishing.

    Preventing cyber reconnaissance to mitigate threat risk

    Cyber reconnaissance plays a pivotal role in the cyber attack lifecycle by providing malicious actors with the intelligence they require to plan and execute attacks on target systems and networks. As such, it is imperative that organizations take proactive measures to limit the information available to would-be attackers. By understanding the techniques that attackers use, organizations take preventative action to restrict the information-gathering capabilities of cyber adversaries. In doing so, they can better defend against potential threats and mitigate the risk of cyber incidents.

    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