Why MITRE ATT&CK Matters?

Tips & Advice

MITRE ATT&CK enterprise is a “knowledge base of adversarial techniques”.   In a Security Operations Center (SOC) this resource is serving as a progressive framework for practitioners to make sense of the behaviors (techniques) leading to system intrusions on enterprise networks. This resource is centered at how SOC practitioners of all levels can craft purposeful defense strategies to assess the efficacy of their security investments against that knowledge base.

To enable practitioners in operationalizing these strategies, the knowledge base provides the “why and the what with comprehensive documentation that includes the descriptions and relational mappings of the behaviors observed by the execution of malware, or even when those weapons were used by known adversaries in their targeting of different victims as reported by security vendors. It goes a step further by introducing the “how” in the form of adversary emulation plans which streamline both the design of threat-models and the necessary technical resources to test those models – i.e., emulating the behavior of the adversary

For scenarios where SOCs may not have the capacity to do this testing themselves, the MITRE Corporation conducts annual evaluations of security vendors and their products against a carefully crafted adversary emulation plan, and it publishes the results for public consumption.  The evaluations can help SOC teams assess both strategy concerns and tactical effectiveness for their defensive needs as they explore market solutions.

This approach is transformative for cyber security, it provides an effective way to evolve from constraints of being solely dependent on IOC-centric or signature-driven defense models to now having a behavior-driven capability for SOCs to tailor their strategic objectives into realistic security outcomes measured through defensive efficacy goals. With a behavior-driven paradigm, the emphasis is on the value of visibility surrounding the events of a detection or prevention action taken by a security sensor – this effectively places context as the essential resource a defender must have available to pursue actionable outcomes.

Cool! So what is this “efficacy” thing all about?

I believe that to achieve meaningful security outcomes our products (defenses) must demonstrate how effective they are (efficacy) at enabling or preserving the security mission we are pursuing in our organizations. For example, to view efficacy in a SOC, let’s see it as a foundation of 5 dimensions:

Detection Gives SOC Analysts higher event actionability and alert handling efficiencies with a focus on most prevalent adversarial behaviors – i.e., let’s tackle the alert-fatigue constraint!
Prevention Gives SOC Leaders/Sponsors confidence to show risk reduction with minimized impact/severity from incidents with credible concerns – e.g., ransomware or destructive threats.
Response Gives SOC Responders a capacity to shorten the time between detection and activating the relevant response actions – i.e., knowing when and how to start containing, mitigating or eradicating.
Investigative Gives SOC Managers a capability to improve quality and speed of investigations by correlating low signal clues for TIER 1 staff and streamlining escalation processes to limited but advanced resources.
Hunting Enables SOC Hunters a capacity to rewind-the-clock as much as possible and expand the discovery across environments for high value indicators stemming from anomalous security events.

So how does “efficacy” relate to my SOC?

Efficacy at the Security and Technical Leadership levels confirms how the portfolio investments are expected to yield the defensive posture of our security strategy, for example, compare your investments today to any of the following:

Strategy (Investment)

Portfolio Focus

Efficacy Goals

 

Balanced Security

Ability to:

  • Focus on prevalent behaviors
  • Confidently prevent attack chains with relevant impact/severity
  • Provide alert actionability
  • Increase flexibility in response plans based on alert type and impact situation

Caveats:

  • Needs efficacy testing program with adversary emulation plans
 

Detection Focus

Ability to:

  • Focus on prevalent behaviors
  • Provide alert actionability
  • Proactively discover indicators with hunting

Caveats:

  • Requires humans
  • Minimal prevention maturity
  • Requires solid incident response expertise
  • Hard to scale to proactive phases due to prevention maturity

Prevention Focus

Ability to:

  • Confidently prevent attack chains with relevant impact/severity
  • Lean incident response plans
  • Provide alert actionability and Lean monitoring plans

Caveats:

  • Hard to implement across the business without disrupting user experience and productivity
  • Typically for regulated or low tolerance network zones like PCI systems
  • Needs high TCO for the management of prevention products

 Response Focus

Ability to:

  • Respond effectively to different scenarios identified by products or reported to the SOC

 Caveats:

  • Always reacting
  • Requires humans
  • Hard to retain work staff
  • Unable to spot prevalent behaviors
  • Underdeveloped detection
  • Underdeveloped prevention

MITRE ATT&CK matters as it introduces the practical sense-making SOC professionals need so they can discern attack chains versus security events through visibility of the most prevalent behaviors.

Consequently, it allows practitioners to overcome crucial limitations from the reliance on indicator-driven defense models that skew realistic efficacy goals, thereby maximizing the value of a security portfolio investment.

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