What is the MITRE ATT&CK Framework?

Published On - March 20, 2024

MITRE ATT&CK (Adversarial Tactics, Techniques, and Common Knowledge) is a comprehensive framework that categorizes adversary behaviors, providing a detailed taxonomy of adversary actions for both attackers and defenders. Originating from MITRE's Fort Meade Experiment in 2013, ATT&CK has evolved into a knowledge base reflecting the attack lifecycle and targeted platforms. Its core components include tactics (short-term attack goals) and techniques (means of achieving goals), supplemented with usage data and metadata. ATT&CK serves as a valuable resource for understanding adversary behaviors, facilitating defense strategies, and improving post-compromise detection through its three iterations: ATT&CK for Enterprise (Windows, Mac, Linux, Cloud), ATT&CK for Mobile (iOS, Android), and ATT&ACK for ICS (ICS networks).

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Originating from a diverse range of sources, including threat intelligence, incident reports, and a lot of research, the MITRE ATT&CK framework has proven itself effective for detecting and preventing malicious activities. It supports various platforms and environments, including enterprise systems, mobile devices, and industrial control systems, ensuring comprehensive protection against known and evolving threats. 

The MITRE ATT&CK Matrix: Tactics & Techniques

The MITRE ATT&CK Matrix includes tactics and techniques used by adversaries to achieve specific objectives, categorized from reconnaissance to impact. The matrix covers areas such as reconnaissance, resource development, initial access, execution, persistence, privilege escalation, defense evasion, credential access, discovery, lateral movement, collection, command and control, exfiltration, and impact. Each tactic contains techniques that detail adversary activities, with some techniques having sub-techniques for further explanation. The full Enterprise ATT&CK Matrix supports various platforms and services and outlines the methods used by adversaries in cybersecurity attacks.

What are MITRE ATT&CK tactics?

MITRE ATT&CK Tactics represent key objectives pursued by malicious actors during cyberattacks. They categorize these objectives based on specific technical goals, as illustrated in the Enterprise Matrix with 14 currently identified Tactics:

  1. Reconnaissance: Gathering information to identify and plan targeted attacks.
  2. Resource Development: Acquiring or stealing resources for future attacks.
  3. Initial Access: Establishing a foothold in a network through various attack vectors.
  4. Execution: Running malicious code on local or remote systems.
  5. Persistence: Maintaining a presence within a network after initial access.
  6. Privilege Escalation: Gaining elevated permissions to expand access within a network.
  7. Defense Evasion: Avoiding detection while traversing a network.
  8. Credential Access: Acquiring sensitive information such as passwords.
  9. Discovery: Understanding the infrastructure and systems within a targeted organization.
  10. Lateral Movement: Navigating and controlling systems within a network.
  11. Collection: Gathering information from various sources within an organization’s systems.
  12. Command and Control (C2): Communicating with compromised systems to establish control.
  13. Exfiltration: Stealing data from a network.
  14. Impact: Disrupting data availability or integrity, resulting in business disruptions.  

What are Techniques & Procedures?

The MITRE ATT&CK framework categorizes and describes techniques and procedures employed by adversaries in cyberattacks. Techniques represent specific methods adversaries use to accomplish objectives, with numerous techniques documented under each “tactic” category. The choice of technique varies based on factors like adversary skill, target system configuration, and tool availability. Each technique includes a detailed description, applicable systems and platforms, known adversary groups using it, mitigation strategies, and real-world examples. Currently, MITRE ATT&CK identifies 188 techniques and 379 sub-techniques specifically tailored for enterprise environments. Additionally, procedures provide step-by-step instructions outlining how adversaries execute their plans to achieve their objectives. 

MITRE ATT&CK vs. the Cyber Kill Chain

Alongside MITRE ATT&CK, the Cyber Kill Chain is another widely recognized cybersecurity framework employed in threat detection and mitigation. Unlike ATT&CK, which presents a matrix of techniques, the Cyber Kill Chain outlines a sequential chain of events. Developed by Lockheed Martin, this framework draws inspiration from the military concept of a “kill chain,” depicting the structure of an attack.

The Cyber Kill Chain consists of seven stages: Reconnaissance, Weaponization, Delivery, Exploitation, Installation, Command & Control (C2), and Actions on Objectives. While both the Cyber Kill Chain and the Diamond Model continue to be used, the MITRE ATT&CK Framework has become the most popular of the three. In contrast to older frameworks, ATT&CK encompasses comprehensive information about an attack from both the attacker and defender perspectives. By providing a detailed representation of attack scenarios, ATT&CK enables red teams to simulate attacks and blue teams to conduct vulnerability tests, facilitating a more comprehensive understanding of the cybersecurity landscape.


Cyber Threat Intelligence Application

In the ever-evolving threat landscape, security teams are bombarded with threat intelligence data. MITRE ATT&CK offers a crucial solution by enabling defenders to effectively integrate and prioritize threat intelligence data. Instead of being overwhelmed by the information overload, MITRE ATT&CK allows defenders to strategically map potential attacker tactics and techniques to the risks identified in threat intelligence data.

Red Team Penetration Testing

Penetration testing, also known as pen testing, is the practice of simulating cyber-attacks to identify security weaknesses in a computer system or network. Red teaming involves a group of security professionals who act as attackers, attempting to gain unauthorized access to a system or network using the same methods that real attackers would use. MITRE ATT&CK provides a common language and framework for red teams to plan and execute their attacks, ensuring that their testing is comprehensive and realistic.

Blue Team & SOC Team Use Case

Security Operations Centers (SOCs) are responsible for monitoring an organization’s security posture and responding to security incidents. Blue teams are the security professionals who staff SOCs. MITRE ATT&CK can be used by blue teams and SOC teams to improve their ability to detect and respond to cyber attacks. By understanding the tactics and techniques used by attackers, blue teams can develop better detection rules and response procedures.

Vendor Assessment

Organizations can use MITRE ATT&CK to assess the security capabilities of security vendors. By mapping the capabilities of a security product or service to the MITRE ATT&CK framework, organizations can see which tactics and techniques the product or service can help to detect and mitigate.

Breach & Attack Simulation (BAS)

BAS is a type of security assessment that involves simulating a cyber attack in a controlled environment. MITRE ATT&CK can be used to design and execute BAS exercises. By using MITRE ATT&CK, organizations can ensure that their BAS exercises are realistic and relevant to the threats they face.

The Benefits of Using MITRE ATT&CK

The MITRE ATT&CK Matrix offers numerous benefits to organizations by providing a comprehensive framework for understanding adversary tactics and techniques. These benefits are as follows:

  • ATT&CK enables teams to emulate real-world threats to test defenses, conduct red teaming operations, and develop behavioral analytics to monitor malicious activity.
  • ATT&CK facilitates defensive gap assessments, identifying vulnerabilities and prioritizing investments in security tools.
  • ATT&CK aids in assessing SOC maturity, evaluating its effectiveness in detecting, analyzing, and responding to breaches.
  • ATT&CK enhances cyber threat intelligence by allowing defenders to assess their defenses against specific threat actors and common threat behaviors.
  • ATT&CK integrates with cybersecurity tools, such as SIEM, EDR, and CASB, enabling the aggregation and analysis of log data, threat mapping, and the execution of security actions.

By incorporating ATT&CK into their security operations, organizations can enhance their ability to defend against cyber threats and improve their overall cybersecurity posture.

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