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Bishop Fox, Illumio Share Microsegmentation Research Findings

Project finds a 300% increase in attacker difficulty with even simple microsegmentation.

PHOENIX, AZ – June 4, 2020 – Bishop Fox, the largest private professional services firm focused on offensive security testing, today released the results of a research project with Illumio, the leader in segmentation for workload security, that examined the effectiveness of different levels of micro-segmentation in limiting lateral movement and impeding the ability for attackers to navigate a network and find targeted assets. Bishop Fox performed a succession of attack simulations on four different network environments, each with an increasingly more restrictive micro-segmentation policy. Their findings demonstrate that implementing a micro-segmentation policy can increase the difficulty for an attacker to reach their target anywhere from 300% to 950%.

Leveraging the MITRE ATT&CK framework, Illumio and Bishop Fox designed a testing environment and assessment methodology that would quantify the benefits of implementing micro-segmentation, which follows a “least privilege” or whitelisting approach to defining policy on workloads. The project also sought to create a repeatable model that could help any organization evaluate the benefits of micro-segmentation capabilities and the impact it has in defense of individual environments and variables.

“So many companies are led to believe that a perimeter breach will always result in data loss,” said MJ Keith, principal at Bishop Fox. “Customers are filled with a fatalistic view that once an attacker has a foothold, progression to a critical compromise is inevitable and only the largest organizations and budgets with an array of technologies have any chance. And most attackers count on and prey on this, targeting the ‘lowest hanging fruit’, and expending the least amount of effort necessary to achieve their goals, which also means that any friction or barriers in their way can vastly reduce the scope or impact of compromise, or may move them on to the next target. This test proves that a little effort – in this case even a simple micro-segmentation security control – can go a long way, and instead of becoming a better victim, you become a harder target.”     

Starting with a “control” scenario without any segmentation and increasingly applying a more granular micro-segmentation policy for each new round, the Bishop Fox red team was tasked with locating target assets, each time with no prior knowledge of the test environment, and with the entire environment destroyed and rebuilt for each test. The results were not only definitive, but the gains for each use case and workload also were dramatic. The three use cases tested, included:

  • Environmental Separation, or separation based on environment, such as production, testing, development.
  • Application Ringfencing, or separation based on specific applications, such as payments processing or Human Resources Management.
  • Tier Segmentation, the tightest policy based on workloads associated with a specific application tier such as Web, Database, etc.

“With increases in fast and destructive attacks like ransomware, the ability to blunt the spread of any attack could not be more urgent,” said Raghu Nandakumara, Illumio Field CTO. “The capabilities of the Bishop Fox team are top notch, and their tenacity in finding weaknesses is why we chose to partner on this project. It should be noted that impressive defensive gains were achieved without further adaptation of the micro-segmentation policies once an attack had begun and, thus, were a true measure of the effectiveness of this specific control.”

For additional details on the project, the Bishop Fox blog can be found here and you can download the full report here.

About Bishop Fox

Bishop Fox is the largest private professional services firm focused on offensive security testing. Since 2005, the firm has provided security consulting services to the world's leading organizations — working with over 25% of the Fortune 100 — to help secure their products, applications, networks, and cloud resources with penetration testing and security assessments. In February 2019, Bishop Fox closed $25 million in Series A funding from ForgePoint Capital, which will allow the company to continue to grow its research capabilities and develop next generation offensive security technologies. The company is headquartered in Phoenix, AZ and has offices in Atlanta, GA; San Francisco, CA; New York, NY; and Barcelona, Spain.

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