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The Difference Between Cybersecurity Simulation vs Cybersecurity Emulation

May 11, 2021

In a world where threat actors continuously evolve their cyber attack methodologies, security analysts often feel like Sisyphus rolling a gigantic boulder up a hill only to find it rolling back down so that they have to start over. Red Teams constantly look for new vulnerabilities while Blue Teams struggle to keep up. In a constantly evolving threat landscape, security operations centers (SOC) need a way to reduce the impact of the cybersecurity skills gap, gain confidence in their ability to prevent a data breach, and get real-world training through experience. Understanding the difference between cybersecurity simulation and cybersecurity emulation can help you build a stronger threat detection and response program that strengthens security.

What is cyber attack simulation?

Many organizations invest in breach and attack simulation (BAS) tools that use predefined, automated attack paths, pretending to be an attacker. These tools only help defensive teams validate some controls within the confines of the known paths as part of the attack simulation exercises. They fail to give any practical experience or training. A simulation platform exercise is not a cyber range. Defenders memorize a series of steps that attackers might take if they continually followed the same set attack methodology. However, they lack the hands-on training needed to respond to a real attack.

Attackers learn and evolve, trying new ways to gain unauthorized access to systems, networks, and applications. Unfortunately, BAS tools often ignore this human element, so their attack simulation exercises follow a programmed attack methodology to the letter. Thus, this cyber attack simulation approach fails to adjust for the way threat actors creatively respond to defensive strategies so they can avoid detection. 

What are cyber threat emulations and Attack Detection and Response (ADR) tools?

Cyber threat emulation solves the problems associated with BAS tools by giving SOCs a way to create customized paths, using threat intelligence to build contextual business risk into their processes. 

Attackers may not use the same attack path, but they often use the same steps in a different order. Cyber threat emulation enables SOCs to take this into consideration when looking to secure their IT stack. 

With a cyber threat emulation solution, Red and Blue teams use modular tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) so that they can recreate the attack patterns being seen in the wild, in real-time. Similar to a cyber range, ADR cyber emulation gives defenders a way to get hands-on training with real-world attack methodologies.

Cyber threat emulation gives SOC teams a way to level up their attack detection and response processes. With the right ADR tools, Blue Teams gain confidence in their ability to respond to new attack methodologies without impact to critical systems. 

Why do organizations worry about implementing ADR?

Many organizations confuse ADR solutions and BAS tools. As they look to find new ways to reduce risk, they find that no simulation platform meets their security needs in the long run as they only test the technology aspect of the cybersecurity challenge. They worry that ADR solutions will come with the same cybersecurity training limitations. In reality, ADR solutions offer real security exercises that fill the gaps that BAS tools leave behind by testing detection and responses (people and process) in addition to security controls.

Platform cost

BAS tools are often cost-prohibitive. They provide a few pre-configured options for testing defensive operations. The enterprise customers often find them difficult to run at scale. Ultimately, the costs outweigh the benefits. 

Meanwhile, ADR solutions provide a scalable, flexible platform that gives organizations the bang they need for their buck. 

A robust ADR solution should offer:

  • Ability to test detective and preventive controls across various systems and applications
  • Behavior mapping to critical frameworks for more purposeful reporting
  • Integration with community threat research
  • Automation of adversary behaviors and TTPs
  • Centralize location for uploading and deploying files to endpoints

Cybersecurity skills gap

Another problem organizations have with traditional BAS tools is that they often require advanced coding or cybersecurity skills. Many organizations have small teams or only a single person doing both the Red and Blue Team work. 

ADR solutions, however, exist to democratize security and overcome the cybersecurity skills gap. This both helps Red Teams who can empower junior team members and Blue Teams who can create their own emulations. 

When looking for an ADR solution, organizations should look for one that provides:

  • An intuitive interface
  • Little training to get up and running
  • Collaboration capabilities

Constantly evolving attack methodology

Security tools should  help SOCs be prepared for anything new that  threat actors try. Leaving aside their high costs and skills requirements, BAS tools are rigid, offering a limited set of TTPs aligned with already-known attacks. Organizations with BAS tools need to wait for the provider to update the platform. Even if the organization has people who can build a TTP within the tool, they often can’t do it in real-time. 

ADR solutions give SOCs a way to practice responding to real-world TTPs by leveraging cyber threat intelligence. Threat actors continuously evolve their threat methodologies specifically to evade detection. ADR solutions provide the flexibility necessary for real-world, near real-time exercises. 

When evaluating an ADR solution, organizations should make sure that it provides the ability to:

  • Make automated decisions based on previously executed models
  • Leverage results for the next instruction
  • Export custom threats to share with the cybersecurity community
  • Import threats shared by others in the cybersecurity community

3 Steps to Effectively Implementing ADR Using Cyber Attack Emulation

Implementing ADR effectively can give your SOC team members the experience they need to feel more prepared when responding to new threats. 

Sparking Joy: Getting What You Need with the Right Price Point

The Marie Kondo approach to tidying up might not be as popular as it was a few years ago, but finding the most effective tools to help you secure your environment never goes out of style. 

Often, organizations decide to simply buy as many cybersecurity risk mitigation tools as possible. However, more tools is not the same as better security. If your simulation tool is no longer “sparking joy,” it might be time to look for an ADR solution that can give you what you need. 

If you haven’t invested in a simulation tool because they were too expensive, an ADR solution might be a better fit for your organization. 

ADR solutions offer value to any size organization while offering the scalability and flexibility to grow with you. For example, some ways an ADR solution might spark joy include:

  • Integrations with SOAR/SIEM platforms
  • Integrations with SOC team assessment platforms
  • Threat catalogs with pre-packaged campaigns
  • Automated Blue Team assessment reports for executive leadership

Become a Vulnerability Wizard: Finding the right interface

If you want to create an agile SOC team, you need an interface that empowers everyone. Blue Team members don’t want to be Red Teamers, but they do want the training necessary to enhance your security. Junior Red Team members want to learn more and stretch their creative muscles. 

To overcome the cybersecurity skills gap, your ADR solution should provide an easy-to-use interface. Ultimately, this gives you a way to grow your less experienced team members, allocate more experienced team resources efficiently, and give defensive operations teams the experience they need. 

Further, if your security team is small, an intuitive interface with drag-and-drop capabilities gives your team a way to create attack paths efficiently and effectively. 

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: Purple Teaming

Cybersecurity is a team sport. Everyone plays an important role. Red Team members are competitive, always trying to out-think threat actors. Blue Team members are the last line of defense for your organization. However, often the adversarial relationship between the two creates tension that can lead to suboptimal outcomes. 

With ADR, you can build a more resilient Purple Team. When Red and Blue Teams work together as a single Purple Team, they understand each other’s approach better, ultimately creating a more robust approach to security. 

In the end, your Blue and Red Teams need to see each other as allies, not adversaries. The true adversaries are out in the wild. Purple Teaming with ADR build cybersecurity resiliency by giving Red Teams more insight into how Blue Teams need to react and Blue Teams the ability to practice Red Teaming without having to learn to code. 

SCYTHE: Move Beyond Cybersecurity Simulation by Adopting Cyber Attack Emulation for ADR. 

SCYTHE’s ADR solution empowers Red and Blue teams the ability to attack, evaluate, educate, collaborate, and validate. Our easy-to-use platform natively integrates with some of the most used security team tools, including Splunk, VECTR, and PlexTrac. Blue Teams can easily create new TTPs to fine-tune their tools, giving them the ability to detect and respond to attacks more rapidly. Red Teams can schedule tests on a regular basis to enhance productivity and create a robust validation process for mitigating risk. Purple Teams can define team learning objectives for a collaborative approach to security. 

Cybersecurity begins and ends with people. SCYTHE’s platform not only validates tools, but it gives all teams - Red, Blue, and Purple - the ability to be validated so that they can better protect your data.

About SCYTHE

SCYTHE provides an advanced attack emulation platform for the enterprise and cybersecurity consulting market. The SCYTHE platform enables Red, Blue, and Purple teams to build and emulate real-world adversarial campaigns in a matter of minutes. Customers are in turn enabled to validate the risk posture and exposure of their business and employees and the performance of enterprise security teams and existing security solutions. Based in Arlington, VA, the company is privately held and is funded by Gula Tech Adventures, Paladin Capital, Evolution Equity, and private industry investors. For more information email info@scythe.io, or follow on Twitter @scythe_io.

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