Threat Vector: Definition and Defense Strategies

Think of threat vectors as the various entry points or paths that possible attackers could take to get into your digital domain.

Your digital environment contains a variety of threat vectors, such as software vulnerabilities and network access points that attackers might use to infiltrate your data or system, much like a city has many entry points like roads, bridges, and tunnels.

Continue reading to find out more about threat vectors and how to protect your online areas from them.

What is a threat vector?

A threat vector, which is another name for an attack vector, is a means by which malevolent actors can penetrate a computer network or system.

A hacker breaching a network could be motivated by a number of things, such as resentment from a former employee, a protest organization, a hacktivist, or a professional hacking gang.

Financial motivations are often the source of attacks, which usually involve the ransoming of data or money.

Types of threat vectors

There are many different types of threat vectors. Here are some typical instances of online danger vectors that you may encounter.

1. Malware

Malicious software, commonly known as malware, serves as a means for threat actors to compromise networks, steal information, and more.

It’s important to remember that malevolent actors create malware with certain objectives in mind.

Ransomware, for example, has the ability to encrypt your files and demand payment in exchange for the decryption keys.

Anti-virus programs, firewalls, and sandboxing techniques can all aid in preventing malware from entering your system.

2. Compromised user credentials

When usernames and passwords associated with user authentication are exposed to malicious actors, it is referred to as compromised credentials.

This frequently occurs when people unintentionally give up their login credentials on phony websites. Insider access may be provided to intruders through compromised credentials.

3. Phishing 

Phishing is a tactic used by cybercriminals to communicate with targets by text, phone, or email while posing as a reliable organization.

The perpetrators of this fraud trick people into divulging private information. Phishing is still a very effective type of social engineering attack; several email scams initially seem completely harmless.

4. Weak or inadequate encryption

Data is hidden using ciphertext by encryption, limiting unwanted access. Sensitive information sent via weak or inadequate encryption runs the risk of being intercepted or subjected to brute-force assaults.

5. Obsolete data, devices, or applications

Cybercriminals can readily exploit security flaws caused by outdated endpoints, applications, and user accounts that are not properly removed, purged, or disposed of. Systems that are not regularly updated for security updates may become vulnerable.

Threat vector vs attack surface: What’s the difference?

Attack surfaces and threat vectors are intertwined. But they are not equivalent.

All of the potential avenues that an attacker could take advantage of are combined to form an attack surface.

Think about a company’s servers, workstations, laptops, network infrastructure, and apps as examples of software and firmware.

Since each of these elements has the ability to be exploited by many attack vectors, these entities taken together comprise the attack surface of the organization. Consequently, the attack surface grows larger as the number of paths (threat vectors) rises.

How bad actors utilize threat vectors to initiate attacks

A cyberattack on an enterprise can transpire in two ways: passive attack and active attack. Let’s go over each below. 

Passive attack

In a passive attack, the attacker watches a system to find weaknesses or open ports with the goal of gathering target intelligence. Since passive attacks don’t require altering infrastructure or organizational data, they can be difficult to detect.

By definition, a passive assault doesn’t immediately damage the targeted system or interfere with continuing business operations. Rather, the main goal of these attacks is for threat actors to surreptitiously obtain sensitive information.

Active attack

Active attacks are employed by cybercriminals to manipulate systems or interfere with their regular operations. An active attack is an effort to gather sensitive data, much like passive attacks.

But, malevolent actors often use active attacks, such denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, to obtain the data needed to launch more extensive cyberattacks against a company.

How to mitigate risk from threat vectors

Although difficult to eliminate, you can manage threat vectors through the following:

1. Network segmentation

To prevent lateral movement in the case of an assault on a single area, network segmentation entails drawing borders around particular sections of your network infrastructure and enforcing access controls.

By successfully limiting the attack to a specific network area, this tactic lowers the attack surface as a whole.

2. Vulnerability testing 

IT vulnerability testing should be done on a frequent basis to provide strong security. An outside IT security audit company could be hired to do yearly evaluations of IT resource vulnerabilities. Upon obtaining the data, ensure prompt modifications to existing security policies.

3. Strong encryption 

Unauthorized parties cannot listen in on data as it is being sent between the sender and the recipient thanks to encryption.

Ensuring the security of data on edge devices, including laptops and phones, can be greatly aided by strong data encryption, like the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). AES is used by the US government to secure classified information.

4. Threat intelligence 

Maintaining up-to-date threat intelligence and real-time system monitoring can help you minimize your attack surface, anticipate and plan for future attacks, and customize your defenses.

CISA’s incident response protocol for FCEB entities

In 2021, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) published an incident and vulnerability response playbook to better protect Federal Civilian Executive Branch (FCEB) information systems. The protocol described below, according to CISA, may also extend to non-FCEB entities and businesses:

  1. Declare incident: The first step involves determining the type of security incident and reporting it to CISA or law enforcement.
  2. Determine investigation scope: The second step requires you to evaluate the data and operational impact of the incident.
  3. Collect and preserve data: In this step, you catalog all evidence and note how, when, and who acquired it.
  4. Perform technical analysis: Based on the evidence, ascertain the infiltrator’s motivation and goals of the attack. Report your findings and incident status to CISA. 
  5. Consider third-party analysis support: Assess the necessity of third-party analysis support for incident investigation or response.
  6. Adjust tools: Configure tools to mimic the adversary’s operational objectives. For example, stealing a privileged user’s credentials. 
  7. Contain activity: Backup systems and formulate appropriate containment strategy. Return to step four (perform technical analysis) if additional indicators of compromise emerge.
  8. Execute eradication plan: Craft a coordinated eradication plan considering threat actors’ use of alternative attack vectors and persistence mechanisms. Maintain communication with CISA on the incident status until all eradication tasks are complete. 
  9. Recover systems and services: Revert all alterations made during the incident. Reset passwords for compromised accounts and enforce multi-factor authentication for all access methods.
  10. Post-incident activities: Document the entire incident and fortify your network to prevent similar incidents.
  11. Coordination with CISA: Share the initial incident report and post-incident updates with CISA.

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