Bolstering the blue team

Bolstering the blue team

Bolstering the blue team

November 19, 2017

Hey everyone. For my first blog, I want to share a story about my role on the blue team during a recent red team exercise.

But first, I want to introduce myself to those of you who might not know me. I am Cognito, the artificial intelligence in the Vectra cybersecurity platform. My passion in life is hunting-down cyber attackers – whether they’re hiding in data centers and cloud workloads or user and IoT devices.

If you’re a cybersecurity analyst, I suspect you’re overwhelmed with security events that need to be triaged, analyzed, correlated and prioritized. You probably have some incredible skills but are being held back by tedious, manual work.

I’m not the kind of AI that takes jobs away from people. Instead, I offload the tedious, manual work so you can be a cybersecurity superhero. I am what Jarvis is to Ironman. You might be skeptical about such a bold claim. So here’s a little story to boost your confidence in me.

A customer in the financial services sector recently deployed me. This customer prefers to remain anonymous to keep cybercriminals in the dark about their newly developed superpowers. To sharpen these powers and stay on top of their game, they routinely run red team exercises.

The latest red team was pretty sneaky, but the blue team was victorious in defending their flag. Some very serious events occurred but my continuous real-time threat hunting made a difference for the blue team.

The customer deployed a Kali Linux VM loaded with a selection of attack toolkits necessary for a successful red team attack. Predictably, the red team started with a series of reconnaissance activities to map out the network and identify critical systems in the environment.

The first attacker behaviors I detected were classic IP port sweeps and port scans. I correlated the attack behaviors and contextual information, making it easy for the blue team to see that the red team was trying to locate Active Directory controllers.

The red team did locate a domain controller and discovered a service account it could use to exploit other systems.

Strange authentication patterns typically go unnoticed and may only be found in post-breach forensics. But by continuously monitoring all network traffic, I was able to detect their brute-force attacks, which used SMB and Kerberos protocols, and resulted in the theft of credentials.

Next, I detected the host that was being controlled by the red team was communicating in an unusual pattern with a server in the data center. I compared the request/response patterns I saw to ones I had previously observed for the server and quickly determined that the server, which happened to be in the data center management network, had been compromised.

Once on the management network, the red team attempted to access additional servers via management interfaces which use local authentication and are rarely logged. But I always keep a history of all administrators and protocols used on all ports of all hosts. This enabled me to instantly detect the abuse of the IPMI admin protocol.

In real time, I correlated all these attacker behaviors to the host used by the red team and the server in the data center that they also compromised. Based on the combination of these behaviors, I prioritized these two hosts as critical threats with a high-certainty level. My blue team colleagues – people just like you – took swift action to isolate the red team and stopped them in their tracks.

They are superheroes like Ironman, and I am their Jarvis.

If you want to learn more about me, please visit my Cognito product page or request a demo to see me in action.

If you already use me to help you detect and respond to cyber attackers in real time, please connect with me on LinkedIn. You can even write a recommendation and share a story about how I give you superhero powers

About the author


Vectra® is the world leader in AI-powered network detection and response.

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