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How organisations can adopt deception to outsmart cyber attackers

Dealing with cyberattacks on a daily basis has become the reality for businesses today. However, few organisations take a proactive response. Instead, they are left to deal with the fallout after an attack happens and the financial and reputational damage to their business has already occurred.

TechRadar Pro spoke with Attivo Networks’ Chief Deception Officer Carolyn Crandall who suggests that businesses adopt the long established military technique of ‘deception’ to help them gain an edge over cybercriminals.

1. Deception has been long been used in the act of war: how can this now be used in the cyber security industry?

Deception has been used in war, law, sports, and gambling for millennia to create uncertainty and confusion in the adversary’s mind, which will delay and manipulate their efforts, and will influence and misdirect their perceptions and decision processes. Military deception by definition “is intended to deter hostile actions, increase the success of friendly defensive actions, or to improve the success of any potential friendly offensive action.” Cyber deception aligns with this definition and is based on planned, deliberate, and controlled actions designed to obfuscate the network. In turn, this influences the attacker to make a mistake, spend more time distinguishing real from fake, and makes the economics of the attack undesirable, thereby forcing the attacker to take actions that are beneficial to the defender’s security posture.

Cyber deception works by creating decoys that appear as production assets and are designed to be attractive to the adversary. This is paired with deception bait or lures that display as enticing credentials, applications, or data and will lead the attacker into engaging with the deception environment. The use of deception efficiently leads the attacker through the network, revealing motives, techniques, and intentions, which can be used for collecting adversary intelligence, generating actionable alerts, and accelerating incident response.

As with physical warfare, by using deceptive techniques, a cyber defender can mislead and/or confuse attackers, thus enhancing their defensive capabilities over time. The ability to deceive, direct, and guide the adversary away from critical assets, denies the attacker the ability to achieve his goals and reveals how he is able to move through the network. It also holds the benefit of increasing the attacker’s cost as they must now decipher what is real from fake and often have to restart their attacks over.

2. How does deception differ to the traditional honeypot?

One of my favourite questions, “Why isn’t this just a honeypot?”. It’s really like comparing a horse and buggy to a Tesla. Honeypots were originally designed for research, and a decoy was placed outside the network to determine who was attacking the organisation. It was not designed to scale and was highly inefficient to operate.Commercial-deception technology is designed for in-network threat detection and is able to detect threats from all vectors and across all attack surfaces.

To achieve this, deception must pass 3 major hurdles. First, to be attractive and believable; second, to scale to cover all attack surfaces; and third, to be easy to operate. To be attractive and believable, deception must appear identical to the production environment, running the same operating systems and services.


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