Cyber Threats

Lateral movement

What is Lateral Movement?

Lateral movement refers to the technique used by cybercriminals to progress through a compromised network after initial infiltration. Once attackers gain a foothold in a system, their primary objective is to navigate through various network segments, escalating privileges and accessing critical assets. By moving laterally, attackers aim to remain undetected, broaden their reach, and gain control over valuable resources within the network.

Techniques Employed in Lateral Movement

  1. Pass-the-Hash (PtH): This technique involves the use of stolen password hashes to authenticate and impersonate users on other systems, granting unauthorized access.
  2. Pass-the-Ticket (PtT): Attackers exploit the Kerberos ticket-granting ticket (TGT) to move laterally within a network, leveraging the victim's authentication credentials.
  3. Overpass-the-Hash (OtH): Similar to PtH, OtH involves manipulating password hashes, but instead of using them directly, attackers overwrite existing hashes to elevate their privileges.
  4. Golden Ticket: By compromising the Active Directory database, attackers can forge ticket-granting service (TGS) tickets, allowing them unrestricted access across the network.
  5. Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) Hijacking: This technique involves hijacking active RDP sessions to gain control over remote systems, enabling lateral movement across the network.

Detecting and Preventing Lateral Movement

Preventing and mitigating lateral movement requires a multi-layered security approach. Here are some essential measures to consider:

  1. Network Segmentation: Dividing the network into smaller, isolated segments limits the potential impact of lateral movement, minimizing an attacker's ability to traverse the network undetected.
  2. Endpoint Protection: Implementing robust endpoint security solutions, including firewalls, antivirus software, and intrusion detection systems, helps detect and block lateral movement attempts.
  3. Privilege Escalation Mitigation: Enforcing the principle of least privilege (PoLP) and regularly updating and patching systems reduce the chances of attackers successfully escalating their privileges.
  4. User and Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA): Utilizing UEBA solutions helps identify anomalous behavior patterns, such as unusual account access or unusual data transfers, enabling early detection of lateral movement.

Notorious Lateral Movement Attacks

  1. Operation Aurora: In 2009, a series of sophisticated cyberattacks targeted major technology companies. Attackers employed a combination of spear-phishing, watering hole attacks, and lateral movement techniques to infiltrate and steal intellectual property.
  2. WannaCry Ransomware: WannaCry, unleashed in 2017, exploited a vulnerability in the Windows operating system to infect hundreds of thousands of systems globally. Once inside a network, it rapidly spread laterally, encrypting files and demanding ransom payments.
  3. NotPetya: NotPetya, a destructive malware strain, wreaked havoc in 2017. It leveraged lateral movement techniques to propagate through networks, causing extensive damage to numerous organizations worldwide.

Lateral Movement: Emerging Threats and Mitigation Strategies

  1. Zero Trust Architecture: The adoption of a zero trust approach, where no user or system is inherently trusted, offers a promising defense against lateral movement by continuously verifying and authenticating all network activities.
    > Read more about Zero Trust
  2. Threat Hunting: Proactive threat hunting involves actively searching for indicators of compromise and signs of lateral movement within a network, enabling timely detection and mitigation.
    > Read more about Threat Hunting
  3. Deception Technologies: Employing decoy systems, honeypots, and other deception techniques can lure attackers into revealing their presence and intentions, thereby impeding lateral movement.

Detect and prevent lateral movement with Vectra AI

Vectra offers advanced threat detection and response capabilities, leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to identify and thwart lateral movement attempts in real-time. With its comprehensive visibility across your network, Vectra provides actionable insights and prioritized alerts, allowing security teams to quickly investigate and respond to potential threats.

By leveraging Vectra's advanced analytics and detection capabilities, you can enhance your security posture and significantly reduce the risk of successful lateral movement attacks. Protect your organization's critical assets and stay one step ahead of cyber adversaries with the powerful Vectra Threat Detection Platform.

Interested in learning more about the Vectra Threat Detection and Response Platform?


How can I detect lateral movement within my network?

Implementing network monitoring tools, anomaly detection systems, and user behavior analytics such as the Vectra AI platform can help identify signs of lateral movement, such as unusual access patterns or data transfers.

Are there any specific industries more prone to lateral movement attacks?

While lateral movement attacks can target any industry, sectors dealing with sensitive information, such as finance, healthcare, and government, are often primary targets due to the potential value of the compromised data.

Can endpoint protection alone prevent lateral movement?

Endpoint protection is a crucial component in preventing lateral movement, but it should be supplemented with network segmentation, user training, and other defense mechanisms for comprehensive security.

What are some best practices for mitigating lateral movement risks?

Regularly patching and updating systems, implementing strong access controls, conducting security awareness training, and performing thorough network audits are effective practices to mitigate lateral movement risks.