Why Lateral Movement is a Significant Security Challenge, and How MDR Can Help

The Rise of Network Breaches and Lateral Movement

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The landscape of cyber threats is evolving rapidly with an increasing number of attacks centered around compromised credentials and zero-day exploits. While this upward trend in perimeter attacks and subsequent successful breaches is concerning, it doesn’t tell the whole story. An initial breach often occurs through less-privileged systems that may be low-risk in terms of immediate data loss but can open pathways to more critical assets. This progression to more valuable systems, known as lateral movement, poses a significant threat that increases in severity the longer attackers go undetected.

Lateral Movement Explained

This critical phase in a cyber attack allows bad actors to elevate their access levels and reach sensitive areas within the infrastructure. Key techniques employed during lateral movement include:

  • Credential Manipulation: Attackers often harvest or forge credentials to masquerade as legitimate users, gaining broader access to critical network segments.
  • Session Hijacking: This technique involves taking over legitimate sessions between a client and server to bypass authentication processes and access sensitive data.
  • Exploitation of System Vulnerabilities: Attackers exploit unpatched vulnerabilities or inherent system flaws to escalate privileges and infiltrate deeper into network layers.

Lateral movement can begin within hours or even minutes of a successful breach. During this phase, dwell time—the duration attackers remain undetected within the network—becomes critically important. The longer attackers go unnoticed, the more time they have to methodically explore the network, identify high-value targets, and strategically extract or compromise valuable assets. Typical targets during lateral movements are databases holding financial records, personal identifying information (PII), and proprietary intellectual property. If these are compromised, organizations can experience considerable business and reputational damage.

The Role of MDR in Mitigating Lateral Movement

Because lateral movement can significantly escalate the severity of threats over time, rapid detection and containment are critical. Managed Detection and Response (MDR) services combine automated technology with human expertise to continuously monitor network activity for signs of suspicious behavior. This comprehensive approach helps detect anomalies that may indicate a breach, reducing the time it takes to respond. MDR services typically include several key components:

  • 24/7 Monitoring and Response: Round-the-clock monitoring and fast response to security incidents.
  • Advanced Threat Detection: AI and machine learning to identify and address known and emerging threats, like Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) and zero-day exploits.
  • Expertise and resources: A SOC with security professionals with extensive knowledge and industry certifications.
  • Data for Compliance Reporting: Data and reporting to help businesses with important documentation often requested for compliance audits.

Benefits of Implementing MDR

The primary advantage of MDR is increased speed and efficiency in detecting and responding to threats. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are paired with behavioral analytics to continuously monitor network activities and compare against a baseline of normal operational patterns. These technologies identify anomalies and potential threats more quickly and accurately than traditional methods, which often rely on manual detection or signature-based systems.

MDR can also help transform how organizations budget for cybersecurity. By shifting some security expenses from capex to opex, MDR offers a more predictable and manageable cost structure. This approach reduces the need for significant upfront investments in security hardware and software, spreading costs over time with regular service fees.

Additionally, organizations that leverage MDR services can maintain security standards without the need for extensive in-house expertise. This offloads the burden from internal teams, freeing them to focus on other critical aspects of business operations.

Important Considerations when Implementing MDR

MDR services, while highly beneficial, come with technical and operational considerations that are critical for a smooth transition and effective deployment. Addressing these head-on is essential for leveraging the full potential of MDR without disrupting existing system functionality or security protocols.

  • Compatibility and Integration: MDR implementations are complex by nature. Ensuring that the MDR service integrates with the organization's existing security infrastructure—such as existing antivirus software, firewalls, and other cybersecurity measures—is crucial. Additionally, compatibility issues can arise when existing IT infrastructure is outdated or uses proprietary technologies. These issues can lead to additional costs or require custom solutions, which might extend deployment times and can complicate maintenance and scalability.
  • Compliance and Industry-Specific Requirements: Organizations working in certain industries or countries operate under strict data-protection standards and regulatory frameworks, such as HIPAA in healthcare or GDPR for companies operating within the EU. For other organizations that process debit and credit card transactions, PCI compliance is critical. It is important to choose an MDR provider with reporting capabilities that help provide businesses with data often needed for audits.

Choosing the Right MDR Provider

Ultimately, an MDR solution is only as good as the provider behind it. In addition to industry-specific expertise, organizations should also consider:

  • Security Track Record: Look for a provider with proven experience addressing security threats at scale, both in terms of volume and diversity of threats.
  • Service Comprehensiveness: The MDR service should have capabilities for not only detecting and responding to incidents but also for proactive threat hunting and ongoing security assessments.
  • Scalability: Choose a provider whose service can scale to accommodate future growth or downsizing, adapting to changes in the organization’s needs without security disruption.

To learn more about how Comcast Business helps enterprise organizations defend against evolving threats through managed detection, automated response, and incident management, click here.

Learn how managed security services can help solve the challenge of lateral movement.

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