Perfecting the defense in depth strategy with automation


Thanks to their meticulous design, medieval castles stood as impregnable fortresses for centuries. Fast forward to the digital age, and this medieval wisdom still resonates in cybersecurity. Like castles strategically laid out to withstand attacks, the Defense-in-Depth strategy is its modern counterpart: a multi-layered approach with strategic redundancy and a mix of passive and active security controls.

However, the evolving cyber threat landscape can test even the most fortified defenses. Despite the widespread adoption of the Defense-in-Depth strategy, cyber threats persist. Fortunately, the Defense-in-Depth strategy can be extended with Breach and Attack Simulation (BAS), an automated tool that assesses and improves every security control at every layer.

Defense in depth: false sense of security with layers

The defense-in-depth strategy, also known as multi-layered defense, has been widely adopted by organizations since the early 2000s. It is based on the premise that opponents must penetrate multiple layers of defense to compromise valuable assets. Because no single security control can provide foolproof protection against the wide range of cyber threats, defense in depth has become the norm for organizations around the world. But if every organization is using this strategy today, why are security breaches still so common?

Ultimately, the main reason is a false sense of security based on the assumption that layered solutions will always function as intended. However, organizations should not put all their trust in a multi-layered defense; they must also stay abreast of new attack vectors, potential configuration anomalies, and the complex nature of managing security controls. In light of evolving cyber threats, unfounded reliance on defensive layers is a security breach waiting to happen.

Perfecting the defense-in-depth strategy

The defense in depth strategy promotes the use of multiple security controls at different layers to prevent and detect cyber threats. Many organizations model these layers around four fundamental layers: Network, host, application and data layers. Security controls are configured for one or more layers to maintain a robust security posture. Organizations typically use IPS and NGFW solutions at the network layer, EDR and AV solutions at the host layer, WAF solutions at the application layer, DLP solutions at the data layer, and SIEM solutions at multiple layers.

While this general approach applies to virtually all deep deployments, security teams can’t just deploy security solutions and forget about them. In fact, according to the Blue Report 2023 from Picus41% of cyber attacks bypass network security controls. Today, an effective security strategy requires a deep understanding of the threat landscape and regular testing of security measures against real cyber threats.

Harnessing the Power of Automation: Introducing BAS to the Defense-in-Depth Strategy

Understanding an organization’s threat landscape can be challenging due to the sheer number of cyber threats. Security teams must sift through hundreds of threat intelligence reports every day and decide whether each threat could target their organization. Additionally, they must test their security controls against these threats to assess the performance of their defense-in-depth strategy. Even if organizations could manually analyze each intelligence report and conduct a traditional assessment (such as penetration testing and red teaming), this would take far too much time and too many resources. Long story short: the current cyber threat landscape is impossible to navigate without automation.

When it comes to testing and automating security controls, one specific tool stands out from the rest: Breach and Attack Simulation (BAS). Since its initial appearance in Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Threat-Facing Technologies in 2017, BAS has become a valuable part of security operations for many organizations. A mature BAS solution provides automated threat intelligence and threat simulation so security teams can assess their security controls. When BAS solutions are integrated with the defense-in-depth strategy, security teams can proactively identify and mitigate potential vulnerabilities before malicious actors can exploit them. BAS works with multiple security controls across the network, host, application and data layers, allowing organizations to holistically assess their security posture.

LLM-powered cyber threat intelligence

When introducing automation to the defense-in-depth strategy, the first step is to automate the Cyber ​​Threat Intelligence (CTI) process. Operationalizing hundreds of threat intelligence reports can be automated using deep learning models such as ChatGPT, Bard, and LLaMA. Modern BAS tools can even provide their own LLM-powered CTI and integrate with third-party CTI providers to analyze and track the organization’s threat landscape.

Simulating attacks at the network layer

As a fundamental line of defense, the network layer is often challenged by adversaries with infiltration attempts. The security of this layer is measured by its ability to identify and block malicious traffic. BAS solutions simulate malicious infiltration attempts observed ‘in the wild’ and validate the network layer’s security posture against real cyber-attacks.

Host layer security posture assessment

Individual devices such as servers, workstations, desktops, laptops, and other endpoints make up a significant portion of the host tier devices. These devices are often targeted by malware, vulnerability exploitation, and lateral movement attacks. BAS tools can assess the security posture of each device and test the effectiveness of host layer security controls.

Exposure assessment in the application layer

Public applications, such as websites and email services, are often the most critical yet most vulnerable parts of an organization’s infrastructure. There are countless examples of cyber attacks initiated by bypassing a WAF or a benign-looking phishing email. Advanced BAS platforms can mimic adversary actions to ensure that security controls in the application work as intended.

Protect data against ransomware and exfiltration

The rise of ransomware and data exfiltration attacks is a stark reminder that organizations must protect their proprietary and customer data. Security controls such as DLPs and data layer access controls protect sensitive information. BAS solutions can replicate adversarial techniques to rigorously test these defense mechanisms.

Continuous validation of the Defense-in-Depth strategy with BAS

As the threat landscape evolves, so must an organization’s security strategy. BAS provides organizations with a continuous and proactive approach to assessing each layer of their defense-in-depth approach. With proven resilience against real cyber threats, security teams can be confident that their security controls can withstand any cyber attack.

Picus Security pioneered Breach and Attack Simulation (BAS) technology in 2013 and has since helped organizations improve their cyber resilience. With the Picus Security Validation Platform, your organization can strengthen its existing security measures against even the most advanced cyber attacks. Visit to book a demo or explore our resources such as “How breach and attack simulation fits into a multi-layered defense strategywhite paper.

To deepen your understanding of evolving cyber threats, explore the Top 10 MITER ATT&CK techniques and refine your defense-in-depth strategy. Download the Picus Rood report Today.

Remark: This article was written by Huseyin Can Yuceel, Security Research Lead at Picus Security, where simulating cyber threats and strengthening defenses are our passions.

#Perfecting #defense #depth #strategy #automation

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