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Lateral Movement In Cyber Security 🔒

Cybersecurity is a vast subject to get familiar with. One should be aware of numerous terminologies and concepts to be known as a cybersecurity expert or simply comprehend the aftermath of an attack. Lateral movement is one such concept. Often reliable for stubborn cybersecurity threats, this hot topic surely needs your consideration.

Lateral Movement In Cyber Security 🔒

Lateral Movement Definition

If defined in the simplest term, Lateral Movement is the process of deeper penetration of an attack. Cyberpunks first manipulate only one access point or database to gain entry to other parts of the network/system/database. Once that’s attained, they move further and resume manipulating more endpoints, databases, networks, or servers.

This skilled practice permits threat actors to stay disguised for a longer time and exploit more resources. With lateral movement, hackers manage to continually access the network/resource without authority, even if the first entry point is concealed.

This happens because the hacker must have reached deeper into a network after early access and managed to disguise themself as legitimate users over a network. Hence, detection becomes difficult.

Causes Of Lateral Movement

This methodology often involves transferring access rights from one hacker to another to make deeper penetration possible. Now, many factors drive it.

  • Preferred when a hacker wants to gain admin-like access to a developer’s device so that the source code of a program or software can be obtained.
  • Considered when a bad actor wants to access the email of a C-Suite professional so that crucial details can be obtained or some vital financial decisions are made.
  • It is also caused when a hacker wants to steal user credentials or privileges at a large scale.
  • Hackers also take its help when they want to steal PCI data or access crucial payloads.

However, these are not the only reasons behind the occurrence of lateral movements. Hackers can have their own reasons for accelerating it. Mostly, they adopt this method to obtain what they aim for.

Stages of Lateral Movement

The process goes through three stages before acquiring the expected entry to the aimed network. Here is a detailed description of each of these stages.


This first stage concerns knowing the infrastructure of the targeted network well. Hackers have to study and map the mark network well before planning a cyberattack in order to ensure that movement remains smooth. At this stage, hackers:

  • Try to apprehend the network hierarchies and host names. network payload, OS used, and other critical networking components.
  • Often use various tools/aids/methods to learn about the network’s loopholes useful for unofficial access, network security arrangements’ detection, firewall detection, port scanning, and proxy or VPN detection. 

Performing Credential Dumping & Privilege Escalation

Once hackers manage to pass the first stage, they need ascertained user credentials to earn access to a network. For this, they try numerous social engineerings approaches such as phishing or typosquatting. Stealing credentials for high-profile professionals and executives is difficult as strong security measures are in place, so hackers have to integrate two or more social engineering techniques. This stage is known as Credential Dumping.  

The second part of this stage is Privilege Escalation, which refers to augmenting default user privileges to obtain deeper access to the network. Hackers often take advantage of system flaws to heighten the privilege of the user whose credentials they will use to access the network.

Accessing the Maximum Possible Computing Points

The last stage is gaining access to more and more computing endpoints. For this, hackers perform a series of internal reconnaissance so that they can bypass the security controls easily, and a maximum number of linked devices/systems are compromised.

Once all these stages are completed, lateral movement is successful.

Stages of Lateral Movement
Stages of Lateral Movement

Attacks Using Lateral Movement

  • Data exfiltration: Lateral movement attack is also a part of data exfiltration. In data exfiltration, hackers move or copy the data stored in a steady ecosystem while bypassing the authorization. This attack often aims to steal a huge database, so prolonged access and deeper penetration are required. Lateral movement makes this doable.
  • Ransomware attacks: In this variety, hackers aim to compromise the security of as many devices as possible so that they have the upper hand over the targets and force them to pay the asked ransom amount. Mostly, the prime target of ransomware attacks is the internal servers storing mission-critical information. As these servers are backed by heavy security, hackers depend on lateral movement techniques to have longer access and continue data exploitation.
  • Espionage: Many times, hackers and even the government keep an eye on one’s online activities without stealing data or corrupting any device. This is an espionage attack that utilizes lateral movement to supervise the target for months and even years to come without being noticed.
  • Botnet infection: When hackers are planning a botnet attack, they deploy lateral movement so that as many devices as are infected. The technique helps hackers make a botnet undetectable and infect more devices.

How To Detect Lateral Movement?

If an organization has the right kind of cybersecurity tools and an attentive team, spotting lateral movement won’t be an issue. Even if a hacker plans it skillfully, a lateral movement attack becomes obvious in the early stage. Its discovery becomes problematic when it has deeper penetration. So, early intervention is the key to success here.

The most preferred and workable lateral movement detection techniques are enlisted below:

  • Learn about the breakout time, i.e., the average duration taken by a hacker to start the literal movement after an attack. Generally, it’s 1 hour and 58 minutes. So, organizations have two hours to track down and counter the lateral movement.  
  • Follow the 1-10-60 rule. It refers to figuring out about the intrusion in the first 1 minute, starting the investigation in the next 10 minutes, and commencing the remediation in the next 60 minutes. The longer a lateral movement attack continues, the more difficult the detection becomes.
  • Organizations must have adequate security measures in place to identify it in the infancy stage.

How To Prevent Lateral Movement?

Here are some of the expert-preferred tips in this regard.

  • Always keep your endpoint security solutions fully updated. Hackers can take advantage of pre-existing vulnerabilities and exploit the security measures adopted.
  • Try penetration testing to keep an eye on vulnerable parts of a network that acts like a foundation for lateral movements. Hire a skilled hacker and check the viability of deployed security measures on a regular basis.
  • Extended Detection and Response (XDR) should be a part of your strategy.
  • Make sure you’re updating the cybersecurity strategy and incorporating new security measures. There is no point in using obsolete solutions. So, review your security measures and change them according to recent security trends.
  • Apply Zero Trust Security and ensure everyone accessing your network goes through authentication before session login. With this approach, organizations can authenticate users and devices regularly and trim down the attack’s probability. It’s also useful to control the Privilege Escalation, which is a key part of this attack.
  • Use the latest and inventive endpoint security solutions like anti-malware tools, WAF, API endpoint security tools, and so on. All these tools will automate network monitoring and acceleration the detection process.
  • IAM is important for lateral movement prevention as it manages user privileges by applying 2FA or MFA.

How Can Wallarm Help With This Problem?

Lateral movement is lethal for your network’s safety and necessitates early intervention if you want to control the damage. Wallarm provides various advanced security solutions for APIs networks, and Cloud (WAAP), which is helpful in enhancing lateral movement security for businesses. Its advanced Cloud WAF can protect the exposed microservices and APIs of any sort so that they are not used as lateral movement. Wallarm’s all solutions are PCI, SOC2, and DSS compliant, so you’re bound to experience the best possible assistance.


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How can I prevent lateral movement attacks?
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February 26, 2024
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