Ransomware and other forms of cybercrime are not going away anytime soon, so it’s crucial to recognize the hacker timeline and prepare for cyber attacks before they occur. The key is to have the ability to respond to threats in real time. For many organizations, their cybersecurity is lacking this crucial aspect. It’s no longer enough to have initial defense systems such as firewalls and antivirus software. Now, businesses need to have a coordinated and efficient incident response plan should a hacker succeed in getting through your network. But curating this plan can be difficult without insight as to how exactly cybercriminals work. Understanding the 5 stages of a hacker’s timeline can help you put effective cybersecurity measures in place to prevent and mitigate network breaches when they do occur.
Methods of Attack
Cybercriminals use a variety of techniques and tradecraft to infiltrate and exploit a network. Becoming familiar with these methods allows you to recognize the process and put mechanisms in place to stop an intrusion. Below are just a few of the common tactics that hackers use:
- URL Redirection: Users are redirected to an unsecure website to capture personal data. These websites are fraudulent and will ask to input credentials, credit cards, or other sensitive information.
- SQL Injection Attacks: Hackers will create code to get access to your website or system. Some will use this code to erase data while others may try to exfiltrate information.
- Brute Force Attacks: Repeatedly and systematically trying to guess users’ credentials to gain access.
- Phishing: Cybercriminals gain access to sensitive information by impersonating an account or person that already has access to data.
- Malware: Malicious software is installed that can be used to exfiltrate information, take down accounts, and spread to other devices within the network.
- Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Attacks: Occurs when multiple sources begin to flood a targeted system, making them inaccessible. These attacks usually come from computers of existing systems that have been compromised. In many cases, hackers may demand a ransom for you to gain back access.
The Hacker Timeline
To understand how hackers work and move through a network, it is important to know their timeline. This process involves the steps and human behaviors that a person needs to go through in order to attack an organization’s IT environment.
- Planning: Infiltration begins with planning, where cybercriminals choose their target, perform research, and select the methods of attack.
- Intrusion: There are numerous ways in which a cybercriminal may infiltrate your systems. They may send a targeted spear-phishing email to capture a user’s credentials, or they could exploit vulnerabilities within unpatched software. In some cases, someone from within your company may try to implement changes that they are not authorized to make – known as an insider threat. Quite possibly, hackers may use a combination of methods.
- Enumeration: Once inside the network, the intruder needs to establish whose account they logged into, what the account has access to, where they can go, and who they need to become in order to complete their objective undetected.
- Lateral Spread: In terms of profitability, gaining access to one account is far less lucrative than exploiting an entire network. To encrypt and bring down a network, the hacker remains persistent, continuously targeting other accounts and devices to steal sensitive data, set up their persistence to get back into the network, and distribute malware or their toolkits.
- Complete Objective: Once they have successfully gained access to the network and systems, cybercriminals will move forward with activities which could include data exfiltration, deploying ransomware, or destroying the network.
Stopping a Breach Early On
In the early stages of a breach, cybercriminals are usually using techniques to avoid triggering toolsets like endpoint detection and response (EDR), antivirus products, and perimeter defenses or firewalls. Because of this, it can be very difficult to detect when hacker activities are occurring because they are using basic processes that the company and employees use every day to do their jobs. A successful breach could take weeks or months to discover, and even longer to fix the damage done.
So, what can your company do in order to prevent and stop a breach? Cybersecurity best practices including multi-factor authentication (MFA), regular software patching, and employee training are all a good start. However (now that you’re familiar with the hacker timeline), when a breach does occur, the primary goal is to be able to spot the intrusion, enumeration, and lateral spread stages as soon as possible to prevent a hacker from completing their final objective.
To do this, many organizations are adding next-gen technology such as a Security Operations Center (SOC) and Managed Detection and Response (MDR) to stop cyber threats before they can do any harm to the network. SOC and MDR solutions decrease response times to network threats, stopping cybercriminals in the early stages of a hack. By investigating even the smallest inconsistencies and abnormalities, these tools provide the ability to catch problems when they happen and respond in real-time before they cause serious damage.
With cybercrime on the rise and becoming more sophisticated, it is more important than ever to have layered cybersecurity protocols in place. There is no single solution that will prevent a hacker from exploiting your network – but having multiple preventative measures and “trip wires” in place will decrease your chances of becoming the next victim of a cyber attack.
As a full-service managed security services provider (MSSP), Valeo Networks understands what it takes to restrict unauthorized access, protect your sensitive data, and mitigate breaches before they ever have a chance to derail you. Reach out to us today to schedule a free consultation and learn more about our cybersecurity solutions.