GUIDE

What is breach and attack simulation (BAS)?

Breach and attack simulation, commonly referred to as BAS, is a highly automated solution that safely runs real-world attacks against production applications and infrastructure in an organization’s own IT environment.

Based on their efficacy as a continuous security validation method, BAS solutions have quickly become a key technology for security teams looking to identify potential vulnerabilities accessible to attackers, properly leverage existing security controls, reduce tool bloat, and stay vigilant through the continuous growth and evolution of attack surfaces. For organizations seeking to implement a continuous threat exposure management (CTEM) program, BAS is one of the most fundamental tools available.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

How does breach and attack simulation work?

Breach and attack simulation solutions leverage the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) used by cyber adversaries to mimic real attacks in order to proactively test the effectiveness of an organization’s security controls. To accomplish this, simulators are deployed in different areas of an organization’s network to facilitate attack execution. Users can then continuously run attack scenarios to monitor whether the organization’s security controls effectively detect, prevent, and mitigate the attacks. BAS platforms will aggregate simulation results in the form of visualizations, dashboards, and reports that provide insights on security posture and resilience.

What types of attack simulations can you run with BAS?

The types and number of attacks that BAS solutions can simulate varies from platform to platform and can be informed by threat intelligence, research, and industry-recognized frameworks such as MITRE ATT&CK. With BAS, organizations can validate specific controls across areas like: 

  • Data loss prevention (DLP)
  • Email controls
  • Endpoint controls (EDR) and extended detection and response (XDR)
  • Network controls, such as firewalls, next-generation firewalls (NGFW), segmentation, intrusion prevention (IPS) and detection systems (IDS), network behavior and traffic analysis, and more
  • Security information and event management (SIEM) controls
  • Web controls, such as web gateways, proxies, and URL filtering
  • Cloud and container controls

5 Business Benefits of the SafeBreach Breach and Attack Simulation Platform

1. Reduce overall security risk.

BAS is purpose-built to automatically and continuously test and validate security controls. It helps identify gaps against a comprehensive list of security threats, from MITRE ATT&CK® to emerging threats.

2. Convey security program efficacy to stakeholders.

In the modern enterprise, risk and revenue are intrinsically linked. With cybersecurity gaining attention at the top levels of organizations, BAS provides the analysis necessary to effectively communicate the business value of your security team’s efforts to the board and other executives.

3. Avoid costly compliance mistakes.

As the threat of attacks continues to grow, there are now stricter guidelines in place to safeguard critical businesses and infrastructure. Security organizations can use BAS to validate their security controls against frameworks like NIST and leverage reporting to illustrate adherence to requirements set forth by regulations.

4. Evaluate investments.

Mergers and acquisitions can mean inheriting critical cybersecurity risks. By leveraging BAS for due diligence, organizations can understand the type of cyber risk they may acquire and can quickly formulate a plan to mitigate that risk when the time comes.

5. Use budget more effectively.

According to the Gartner® 2023 Hype Cycle™ for Security Operations report, “Organizations that evaluate the risks across the business before investing in any security operations service and capability will be more easily able to identify what to purchase and how much to spend. This will allow them to get the best risk reduction and respond effectively to issues that may be damaging to productivity, the brand, or both.”

What are the advantages of using a BAS platform?

BAS enables continuous security validation that improves security operations efficiency, allowing security organizations to more quickly and effectively reduce critical business risk. Security teams can leverage BAS to accomplish more with fewer resources, and can evaluate and improve the effectiveness of existing security controls.

Enhance Efficiency of Your Threat Detection and Response 

By seamlessly integrating with other parts of the security ecosystem, including security information and event management (SIEM) solutions; security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR) solutions; threat intelligence; and vulnerability management (VM) solutions, BAS can also generate a holistic view of security posture across the entire enterprise attack surface that can’t be accomplished through other tools or processes.

For example, when integrated with VM data, BAS solutions correlate vulnerability patch data to breach and attack results. This integration enables automated patch prioritization based on BAS findings, helping security and IT teams manage security gaps more effectively. The consolidation of VM and BAS results helps the organization reduce business risk and define the most impactful priority of patch management to the organization.

Additionally, breach and attack simulation tools can optimize threat detection and response by ingesting indicators of compromise (IOCs) and TTPS from threat intelligence feeds to create custom attacks that focus on the threats most relevant to your organization.

Identify Gaps in Major Attack Surfaces

Unlike other testing approaches, BAS continually validates that security controls are in place, properly configured, and working as intended. This ensures that security teams always have a real-time view of their security posture. Advanced BAS solutions allow users to leverage the most current threat intelligence and enable granular customization of attacks based on industry, risk profile, and attack surface to see how an organization’s network will stand up to even the most complex attacks. 

Quickly Prioritize Remediation

One of the key benefits of BAS is that in addition to identifying gaps, it also aggregates results from attack simulations and ranks them by severity or potential impact to the organization. BAS solutions group threats by category, such as network, web, endpoint, and email, and by vendor and operating system. This makes it more feasible to coordinate efforts of security, IT, network, endpoint, and risk teams in ongoing but holistic and targeted remediation efforts.

Get More Answers with Fewer Technical Solutions

While security analysts have access to a wide range of tools, they only use about 30% of those tools regularly. BAS solutions don’t just show you where your security gaps are—they also show you where they are not. For the tools you do need, BAS helps ensure they are properly configured, patched, and secure.

Translate Real-World Data Into Meaningful Results for Stakeholders

BAS solutions can provide a “before-and-after” viewpoint with metrics on security control improvement initiatives and other remediations. This allows CISOs and other security leaders to convey a clear picture of the organization’s security posture, often with dashboards, charts, and reports. Some solutions even allow for configurable views tailored to specific stakeholders.

Importantly, this type of information can support requests for changes in security control configuration, budget allocations, or resource shifts, as well as track progress over time to build accountability.

Did you know?

SafeBreach integrates with dozens of security solutions out-of-the-box. We also provide an API that allows security teams to move data into and out of the SafeBreach environment, making it easy to improve the user experience and aggregate information customized to each stakeholder’s needs.

How do different teams benefit from breach and attack simulation?

Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs)

Modern CISOs are involved in both operations and strategy, bridging the gap between technical and business needs. A BAS platform can be vital to the success of a CISO, allowing them to:

  • Make better, data-backed risk decisions based on how existing security controls stand up to real-world attacks and TTPs.
  • Demonstrate the improvement and effectiveness of their security programs to key stakeholders, such as executives and board members.
  • Make the case for any new security technologies by leveraging definitive metrics and proof points to illustrate gaps against real world threats.
  • Avoid costly compliance mistakes by accurately assessing the organization’s security posture and identifying any weaknesses that need to be addressed to maintain regulatory compliance. 
  • Manage budget constraints by ensuring that existing security controls are being utilized to their full potential.
  • Mitigate team burn-out and talent shortages by automating testing processes and using security posture metrics to determine where to focus resources.

Boards & Executive Stakeholders

As breaches continue to grow in frequency and cost, understanding cyber risk has become critical for executive boards and other key business stakeholders. As such, it’s important that CISOs can clearly communicate the efficacy of their security programs. By leveraging BAS insights, CISOs can help stakeholders:

  • Understand the business impact and risk associated with cybersecurity programs.
  • Evaluate the risk of investments in the merger and acquisition process.
  • Determine where to allocate resources and budget proportional to risk and potential business impact.
  • Gain confidence in the efficiency and effectiveness of the organization’s cybersecurity measures.

Red, Blue, Purple, & Penetration Testing Teams

  • Red teams use BAS to automate and streamline testing processes. BAS will allow them to focus on new ways to attack, while spending less time probing for flaws to exploit.
  • Blue teams use BAS to validate security control effectiveness, prioritize remediation requests to security engineers, and target rapid response exercises.
  • Purple Teams combine both the offensive and defensive mindset and techniques of  red and blue teams and leverage BAS to automate testing processes and validate their results.
  • Penetration testers have the difficult task of performing an in-depth exercise to test specific controls and vulnerabilities—the results of which can be variable, depending on the skill level and methods used. Pen testers can leverage BAS to quickly validate their results throughout the process.

Threat & Vulnerability Management Teams

  • Threat intelligence personnel integrate their tools to automatically inform BAS administrators and security engineers about what simulations to run, using which TTPs and playbooks. They can also report on the organization’s effectiveness against tracked threats.
  • Vulnerability management teams use BAS to identify the most critical vulnerabilities and security gaps and appropriately target patching where compensating controls are not effective.

Security Operations & Engineering

  • Security operations use BAS to validate, monitor, and improve SIEM and security operations center (SOC) detection capabilities.
  • Security engineers use BAS to guard against security drift and validate that security controls are properly configured and protecting as expected.

Netflix DVD moved beyond the limitations of penetration testing by implementing continuous security validation of its network and endpoint security controls with breach and attack simulation.

Watch Video Case Study

What is the difference between BAS and other security testing approaches?

There are a number of approaches and tools available when building a proactive security program. Each tool comes with its own strengths and limitations—some requiring significant time and expense, while offering limited coverage. Below, we provide a brief comparison between  several methods and BAS. 

BAS vs Penetration Testing

Penetration testing, also known as pen testing, is a process used to evaluate the security of an environment by identifying and exploiting weaknesses. This testing relies on successful infiltration to proceed to the next stages of an attack (e.g., lateral movement inside your network or attempted data exfiltration). 

The effectiveness of pen testing depends on the skills and expertise of the individuals involved, leading to variations in scope, quality, efficacy, and results. These manual tests can be costly, time-consuming, and prone to errors, limiting their frequency to typically annual or semi-annual assessments. Although they provide valuable insights, it’s important to note that pen testing offers only snapshots of security vulnerabilities.

Where pen testing is manual and limited to point-in-time insights, BAS continuously validates your controls, ensuring that security teams have real-time insight into their security posture. BAS complements pen testing by providing broader coverage, allowing security teams to focus pen tests on more strategic points. Additionally, pen testers can leverage BAS to validate their own results.

BAS vs Red Teaming

Red teams simulate a team of cyber attackers aiming to identify vulnerabilities and carry out attacks. Building a new red team can be costly and challenging because the required experts are in high demand and come with hefty salaries. Due to the nature of red teaming, it can be difficult to scale out attacks or run multiple scenarios.

On the other hand, breach and attack simulation can easily scale to fit the size of an organization to automatically and continuously run both common and advanced attacks. This reduces the red team’s workload and allows them to focus on the highest security priorities.

BAS vs Attack Path Management

Attack path management is the process of validating external attack surfaces to understand how an attacker might leverage assets to gain access into your network—this generally includes solutions like attack surface management (ASM) and VM.

Unlike penetration testing, these methods focus on identifying possible attack paths and don’t involve actual attacks. They use heuristics to deduce potential attack paths without triggering any controls or evaluating their effectiveness. However, they often lack contextual information on vulnerability likelihood or associated risks. As a result, the output of these systems can create unnecessary noise and offer limited guidance for prioritization or overall business risk evaluation.
BAS and ASM can complement each other to enhance an organization’s security posture. ASM provides crucial knowledge about attack surfaces and vulnerabilities, while BAS validates security controls and identifies any gaps or weaknesses.

Did you know?
BAS can help you better leverage existing security controls.

Each new security tool requires installation, configuration, and ongoing operation that adds more complexity to your IT ecosystem, creates delays when responding to breaches, and ultimately increases your attack surface. Over time, underutilized tools also create waste and cause new purchases to be scrutinized more closely.
Learn more about leveraging BAS to get more out of the tools you already have with The Skeptic’s Guide to Buying Security Tools.

A new approach to security: How does breach and attack simulation support a continuous threat exposure management program?

Continuous threat exposure management (CTEM) is designed to enable enterprises to consistently assess the accessibility, exposure, and exploitability of their digital and physical assets, while prioritizing ways of remediating identified security gaps. This helps organizations effectively manage and mitigate potential threats to minimize their impact on the organizational security posture. 

The CTEM cycle includes five steps: scoping, discovery, prioritization, validation, and mobilization. While BAS tools can be helpful in many of these stages, the prioritization and validation stages of the CTEM cycle are where BAS platforms are most impactful. 

BAS Tools & CTEM Validation Phase

The validation phase involves assessing how potential attackers can exploit identified vulnerabilities, and how monitoring and control systems respond. Validation is crucial for organizations to understand the actual risks they face and strengthen their security measures accordingly. BAS tools are designed to continuously validate the performance of deployed organizational security controls by simulating real-world attacks and adversary behavior. In doing so, BAS tools provide security teams with unparalleled visibility into security gaps and provide contextual insights on how to remediate these gaps to help optimize organizational security posture. Additionally, by complementing other representative CTEM provider technologies (e.g., external attack surface management, vulnerability assessment, pen testing, red teaming), BAS tools can help security teams minimize threat detection and response times and improve overall incident response to today’s evolving threats. 

BAS Tools & CTEM Prioritization Phase

The prioritization phase refers to identifying and addressing vulnerabilities based on their impact to the business and their potential for being exploited. BAS tools also help security teams prioritize vulnerabilities by adding contextual visibility into security control performance and the network environment. By combining BAS simulation results with vulnerability scan data, VM teams can prioritize vulnerability remediation efforts on network locations that have the greatest risk of exploitation by a potential adversary.

Considerations for Choosing the Right Breach and Attack Simulation Solution

When considering implementing BAS as part of your proactive security or CTEM program, it’s important to discern the quality and comprehensiveness of threat information, response times, ease of reporting, and value within the partnership. A best-in-class BAS solution will offer:

  • A comprehensive attack playbook. Pay attention to the number and quality of preconfigured attack scenarios available to platform users, including how quickly new alerts, vulnerabilities, and TTPs are added.
  • Quality threat intelligence feeds. Accurate and timely threat intelligence helps inform which scenarios your team should focus on to proactively identify, prioritize, and respond to threats that are relevant to your organization. 
  • Integrations and partnerships with existing systems and technologies. The right BAS solution should communicate well with the best the industry has to offer—including tools and technologies you already utilize in your environment and in your CTEM program. 
  • Robust and accessible reporting capabilities. When it comes to sharing the trends and efficacy of your security programs, getting in the weeds won’t do. The right BAS tool will be able to showcase security posture data and trends in a way that both technical and non-technical users will find informative and actionable.