It's an age-old question: How do you know if you need more security? MITRE has been diligently working to document tactics and techniques to assess security readiness and answer this very challenging question. In late August, MITRE, a nonprofit organization, released a new knowledge matrix, called MITRE Shield, to complement the ATT&CK matrix.
The organization called it "an active defense knowledge base MITRE is developing to capture and organize what we are learning about active defense and adversary engagement." With its focus on active defense measures, MITRE designed Shield to help defenders understand their cybersecurity options and take proactive steps to defend their assets. Among the most common active defense techniques are cyber-deception and concealment technologies, which are featured heavily in the new Shield matrix.
What Is MITRE Shield, Exactly?
At its core, MITRE Shield is a freely available knowledge base containing information on common techniques and tactics that helps defenders better understand the adversaries they face to protect their networks. More specifically, it is a guide to creating an Active Defense based on adversary engagement and lessons about:
- How adversaries attack us
- What tools they use
- What they do after they establish a beachhead
- What they are ultimately seeking
Like the organization's well-known ATT&CK matrix, Shield is presented in a tabular format, featuring eight tactics and a wide range of techniques mapped onto more specific use cases. The matrix helps counter known attack patterns and help defenders learn about the adversaries targeting them to better prepare for attacks in the future. In total, Shield covers 33 techniques and 190 use cases informed by over 10 years of MITRE's work defending its network from adversaries.
Rather than simply detecting and removing attackers from the network, Shield focuses on active defense. The matrix points out that there is much to learn from attackers, and that actively engaging them within the network can create valuable learning opportunities. Since deception technology is an active defense technology known for its efficacy in engaging attackers and generating adversary intelligence for defenders, Shield spends a considerable amount of time and effort on deception tactics and principles.
Aligning Deception and Concealment Technology with Shield
Deception and concealment technologies distinguish themselves from other active defense measures in that they go beyond using decoy techniques to achieve attack prevention and detection. Deception proactively diverts attackers away from their targets using lures and other false information, guiding them toward decoys and ultimately into a deception environment that can safely isolate them and gather adversary intelligence. Concealment, on the other hand, performs the complementary task of hiding real objects so that an attacker cannot even see the data, much less delete, alter, or tamper with it.
These align well with the specific tactics outlined within the MITRE Shield matrix. Shield breaks these tactics into eight buckets: Channel, Collect, Contain, Detect, Disrupt, Facilitate, Legitimize, and Test, and within each of those categories, there are specific ways one can utilize deception technology:
- Channel: Deception can channel adversaries away from important systems and toward decoy systems, wasting the adversary's time and resources, derailing the attack and raising its cost.
- Collect: Defenders can use deceptive techniques to study the attacker in action, gathering intelligence on their behaviors and tactics.
- Contain: When engaging with a deception environment, attacker activities remain contained within the specific bounds of the environment and away from production assets.
- Detect: Unlike perimeter defenses, deception technology detects intruders inside the network, capturing adversary tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) both on the endpoint and the decoy.
- Disrupt: Feeding deceptive content to attackers will disrupt their ability to accomplish their goals, whatever they may be.
- Facilitate: Deception helps facilitate the attack along certain lines, leading the attackers to believe that they have accomplished a part of their mission by creating a "vulnerable" decoy system for the attacker to target.
- Legitimize: Deception makes attackers believe that the decoys, lures, and misdirections are real. Adding authenticity to deceptive components is an essential element of being attractive targets.
- Test: Engaging with attackers means testing them to determine their interests, capabilities, and behaviors to stop current and future attacks.
Of the 33 defense techniques covered within these eight tactics categories, deception and concealment technology can implement 27 of them, while deception alone covers around 10. This difference underscores the importance of concealment technology — of not just deceiving intruders but denying them access to the data and assets they seek. Terms like decoy networks, decoy personas, decoy systems, decoy accounts, decoy credentials, and others feature prominently throughout the MITRE Shield matrix, again highlighting the vital role that deception and concealment technologies play in identifying and stopping today's cybercriminals.
The matrix highlights several specific use cases for the technology, noting that by creating a decoy account, defenders can entice adversaries to interact with that account in a way that reveals information about their tactics, goals, and even the tools they are using. Likewise, seeding a potentially high-value target system with decoy credentials such as fake usernames, passwords, and tokens, can enable defenders essentially to lie in wait for attackers. They stand ready to receive an alert when an intruder attempts to access a specific resource or use a set of dummy credentials. By laying decoys throughout the network, defenders can actively engage with attackers in new and significant ways.
Deception and Concealment Are No Longer "Nice to Haves" — They're Essential
The prominent role that deception and concealment technologies play in the MITRE Shield matrix is the clearest indicator yet that these technologies are an essential part of today's security landscape. Defenders seeking to bolster their in-network protections and improve their ability to gather valuable adversary intelligence should examine how their current approach to security aligns or does not align with the Shield matrix. While the value of deception and concealment is well known to security professionals, MITRE's decision to highlight so many specific techniques and use cases for the technology underscores the central role it plays in today's security world and the added value it can provide to any comprehensive security stack.