Article

What is Attack Path Mapping?

Matthew Whitcombe
5 mins read

An overview of Attack Path Mapping, an asset-centric approach that helps prioritise security spending.

Vulnerability-centric testing is pretty much baked into our industry. But it has limitations and drawbacks. For example a lot of organisations struggle to manage a list of Highs, Mediums and Lows which only ever grows, however much remediation effort gets thrown at it. And more importantly, advanced attackers can compromise corporate networks without having to rely on technical vulnerabilities.

Another subtle but important limitation is that many business managers don't really understand the language of vulnerabilities - so it's hard to get their attention about (say) increasing security budgets in terms of lists of vulnerabilities.

Part of the solution?

In contrast, Attack Path Mapping (APM) is an asset-centric approach that helps prioritise investments in controls, mitigations, and remediations.

It works by starting with the assets that matter most, or the risks that would hurt the business most. These are then used to map, and validate, all the routes an attacker could use to reach those things. This drives priorities – targeted, precision improvements in terms of what vulnerabilities to fix & what attack paths to close, how to channel potential attackers, what controls to strengthen, where detection needs improving.

A lot of good things come out of this:

  • You can make it harder for attackers to damage the business in the ways that would do most harm
  • It helps you to detect attackers when they try - and to respond effectively
  • Plus, when the business comes looking for justification of your security spend, you can immediately talk about the things that matter most to them and how you’re going to protect those things. This puts the dialogue on a whole different footing from just long lists of technical vulnerabilities you’re working to remediate.

Of course APM isn't always the right thing to do, right now:

  • APM will need your people’s time, even if an outside team is doing the bulk of the work. To be cost-effective it needs to be done as a white-box, collaborative exercise. If that looks difficult, you might want to consider postponing the work until people's time is more freely available.
  • If you aren’t yet sure what your organisation’s most important assets are, you might want to consider doing another exercise first - such as a Business Impact Assessment or a Security Maturity Review - which helps define & agree what is most important to your organisation.
  • At the other extreme, if you feel confident your primary assets are already identified, the attack paths well secured, and that you're already prepared to detect and respond to attempted attacks... then you might want to consider a Targeted Attack Simulation which will test and further enhance the organisation’s ability to prevent, detect and respond.

How to get started with APM

If you can share with us your thoughts on what the most important assets are to your business, or what attackers’ objectives are most important to prevent, then we’ll ask a few questions about your IT estate – based on which we can suggest a plan of work to share between your team and ours.

Or as a first step, please get in touch with your usual MWR contact and they'll be glad to provide more details of APM and how it works.

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