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Attacker Behavior

Industry Report
2018 RSA Conference Edition
I am artificial intelligence.
The driving force behind the hunt for cyberattackers.
I am Cognito.

Background and methodology.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4

Operational efficiency and ROI. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4

Scoring.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5

Overall detection trends. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7

Threats by type per 10,000 devices.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7

Threats by industry per 10,000 devices. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10

Conclusion. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14

Vectra | Attacker Behavior Industry Report | 3

The 2018 RSA Conference Edition of the Vectra® Attacker Behavior Industry Report provides a first-hand analysis of
active and persistent attacker behaviors inside cloud, data center and enterprise environments of Vectra customers from
August 2017 through January 2018.

This report takes a multidisciplinary approach that spans all strategic phases of the attack lifecycle. By using the
AI-based Cognito™ platform to detect attacker behaviors, Vectra can identify exposure and risk within organizations as
well as indicators of damaging breaches.

Key findings This analysis provides important visibility into advanced phases
of attacks. The Cognito platform from Vectra detects threats that
• Across all industries, there was an average of 1,403 attacker
bypass perimeter security controls and observes the progression
behavior detections per 10,000 devices.
of the attack after an initial compromise.
• The highest volume of attacker behaviors per industry were in
higher education (3,715 detections per 10,000 devices) followed The Attacker Behavior Industry Report also presents data
by engineering (2,918 detections per 10,000 devices). This is by specific industries and highlights relevant differences
primarily due to command-and-control (C&C) activity in higher between industries.
education and reconnaissance activity in engineering.
• C&C activity in higher education is four-times above the industry From August 2017 through January 2018, Vectra monitored
average of 460 detections per 10,000 devices with 2,205 about 4.6 million devices and workloads. On these devices and
detections per 10,000 devices. These early attack indicators workloads, Vectra detected over 12 million different attacker
usually precede other stages and are often associated with behaviors that were condensed to 652,000 detections.
opportunistic botnet behaviors in higher education.
These detections were then triaged down to 373,000 devices and
• The government and technology industries have the lowest
workloads. Across all participating organizations, in a one-month
detection rates, with 496 and 349 detections per 10,000 devices,
period, over 6,000 devices and workloads were tagged as critical
respectively. This could indicate the presence of stronger
and over 9,000 were tagged as high-risk, enabling security
policies, mature response capabilities, and better control of the
analysts to respond fast to mitigate these threats.
attack surface.
• Botnet activity occurs most often in higher education, with
Operational efficiency and ROI
151 detections per 10,000 devices, which is five-times the
industry average of 33 detections per 10,000 devices. These Cybersecurity is an ongoing exercise in operational efficiency.
opportunistic attack behaviors leverage devices for external gain, Organizations have limited resources to address unlimited risks,
such as bitcoin mining or outbound spam. threats and attackers. This means that security products must
• Vectra customers achieved a 32X workload reduction for Tier-1 always be evaluated in terms of efficiency and their impact on the
analysts in detection, triage, correlation and prioritization of operational fitness of the organization.
security incidents, enabling them to focus on compromised
Time is the most important factor in detecting network breaches.
devices that pose the highest risk.
To mitigate damage, attacks must be detected in real time before
• When normalizing detections per 10,000 devices compared
key assets are stolen or damaged. However, detecting and
to the previous year, there is a sharp increase in every industry
responding to targeted attacks is a very time-consuming process
for C&C, reconnaissance, lateral movement, and data
and requires security teams to manually sort through mountains
exfiltration detections.
of alerts.

Background and methodology Using AI, Cognito from Vectra performs nonstop automated
threat hunting to detect attacker behaviors in real time. These
The data in this report is based on anonymized metadata from
behaviors are correlated with compromised devices, which are
Vectra customers who have opted to share detection metrics.
in turn correlated with common attack vectors and larger attack
Vectra identifies behaviors that indicate attacks in progress by
campaigns. Thousands of threat indicators are reduced to
directly monitoring all traffic and relevant logs, including traffic to
hundreds of attacker behaviors on dozens of devices that can be
and from the internet, internal traffic between network devices, and
part of broader attack campaigns.
virtualized workloads in private data centers and public clouds.

Vectra | Attacker Behavior Industry Report | 4

It is important to note that attacker behaviors are indicators of To account for this variance, the data has been normalized to a
compromise. Security analysts must take final action to validate network with 10,000 devices and workloads, making it easier to
whether an attack is real. Cognito provides security analysts with compare the prevalence of threats in a network on a per capita
the most important information in context, which can be used to basis. Any device with an IP address – including IoT devices,
decide on how to respond before an attack causes damage. smartphones, tablets, and laptops – are monitored in addition to
servers and virtualized workloads.
There was a wide variance in the size of the networks analyzed,
with the smallest consisting of a few hundred devices and
workloads to the largest networks with more than 400,000.

Reduction in workload for Tier-1 security analysts

1,403 devices with

10,000 26,432

events flagged
devices observed

32x workload
Overall, Vectra reduced the investigation workload of security analysts by 32X, compared to manually investigating all attacker behaviors and compromised host devices.

Cognito from Vectra monitors individual devices and workloads for Certainty is based on the degree of difference between the threat
extended periods of time and attributes detections to any device behavior that caused the detection and normal behavior. As such,
or workload that behaves suspiciously. The detection scores and the certainty score of an individual detection changes over time.
when they occurred are key inputs for the host device scores.
Since detections are dynamic, changes in their scores cause
Cognito scoring is comprised of two dynamic metrics – threat and changes to attributed host device scores. Critical and high scores
certainty scores – applied to individual detections and the host help security analysts prioritize their investigation efforts because
devices against which they are reported. they represent behaviors with the highest certainty and greatest
potential to cause significant damage.
The threat score of a detection expresses the potential for harm
if the security event is true (e.g. if spamming behavior or data Other factors that influence host device scores include repetition of
exfiltration was occurring). Because a threat is a measure of the an observed detection or a combination of detections that indicate
potential for harm, it reflects worst-case scenarios. a cyberattack is progressing toward its objective.

The certainty score of a detection reflects the probability that a Every detection type has a maximum lifespan, ranging from a
given security event occurred (e.g. the probability of spamming few days to a month. When a detection has no recurring activity,
behavior occurring, or the probability of data exfiltration occurring), its effect on a host device score will slowly decline to zero. A
given all the evidence observed so far. detection past its maximum lifespan becomes inactive and has no
impact on the host device score.

Vectra | Attacker Behavior Industry Report | 5

For every 10,000 devices and workloads monitored in a Vectra benchmarked the volume of host devices and workloads
one-month period, an average of 13 were marked critical and prioritized for each severity in relation to each vertical industry and
21 were marked high. These devices and workloads present the with the overall average, as shown in the bar graph below.
greatest threat to the organization and require a security analyst’s
For example, the number of low alerts in higher education is
immediate attention.
over three-times the normal rate, which is indicative of attacker
behaviors that are opportunistic.
Inversely, the technology industry has a low volume of devices

21 Hosts 13 Hosts
prioritized as high or critical, which indicates cyberattackers do not
often progress deep into the attack lifecycle.

113 Hosts 18 Hosts


An overview of detections per 10,000 devices and workloads

400 395




200 187
167 170
128 134

100 86
55 51 55
50 43 40 43 41 46
37 34 33 37
28 31 26 32 25 31
21 24 19 20 25 22 19 22 18 22 23 20
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Critical High Medium Low

Vectra | Attacker Behavior Industry Report | 6

Overall detection trends Threats by type per 10,000 devices
• Detection rates: Organizations had an average of 818 devices To dig deeper, Vectra provides a breakdown of detection statistics
with threat detections for every 10,000 devices in a one-month by industry. The pie-charts below show threat behaviors across the
period. This represents a 32X reduction in the number of events attack lifecycle. These behaviors are strong indicators of exposure
requiring investigation and triage. and risk in an organization and enable security analysts to focus
• C&C represented the highest percentage of detections: C&C their time and effort on what matters most.
traffic is a key component of a botnet attack and is an enabler
While not every stage is necessary in an attack, they are
for later phases of a targeted attack. It is often the first sign of an
interrelated and we often see an attack progress through the
attack in targeted and opportunistic activity.
stages with the ultimate outcome of financial gain, data exfiltration
• Cognito from Vectra provides security teams with new
or data destruction.
efficiencies: While the symptoms of targeted attacks remain
common, there are encouraging signs that security teams are This data represents in-progress attacker behaviors. Activity like
finding and stopping attacks faster, before damage is done. C&C and reconnaissance occur in the earlier stages of an attack,
• Bitcoin is a growing problem: While considered opportunistic, enabling organizations to quickly mitigate the threat before it can
bitcoin mining is experiencing a surge in activity that is likely spread. These are the most common detected behaviors.
related to the spike in price of bitcoin. These behaviors are seen
predominantly in higher education, where student systems are Behaviors like lateral movement occur later in the attack lifecycle
open to exposure or students are performing the mining. as cybercriminals strengthen their foothold in an organization by
stealing administrative credentials to access servers. These types
of detections warrant high-priority action from incident response
teams to prevent irreversible damage from a data exfiltration.

Exfiltration 69 (6%) Botnet 33 (3%)

Lateral Movement 293 (24%)

Command & Control 460 (37%)

Reconaissance 390 (31%)

Vectra | Attacker Behavior Industry Report | 7

Botnets are opportunistic attack behaviors where a device makes money for its bot herder. The ways in which an infected device can be used
to produce value can range from mining bitcoins to sending spam emails to producing fake ad clicks. To turn a profit, the bot herder utilizes
devices, their network connections and, most of all, the unsullied reputation of their assigned IP addresses.

Outbound Spam 2 (6%) Abnormal Web Activity 5 (16%)

Abnormal Ad Activity 12 (37%) Bitcoin 8 (23%)

Outbound DOS 1 (2%)

Outbound Port Sweep 3 (10%)

Brute Force i2o 2 (6%)

Command and control

C&C traffic occurs when a device appears to be under control of an external malicious entity. Most often, the control is automated because
the device is part of a botnet or has adware or spyware installed.

Rarely, but most importantly, a device can be manually controlled by a nefarious outsider. This is the most threatening case and it often
means the attack is targeted at a specific organization.

TOR 11 (2%)

Stealth HTTP Post 19 (4%) Connection Relay 8 (2%)

Suspect Domain 122 (27%)

External Remote Access 73 (16%)

Pulling Instructions 10 (2%)

Peer-to-Peer 11 (2%) C&C Hidden DNS Tunnel 0 (0%)

C&C Hidden HTTPS Tunnel 11 (2%)

Suspicious HTTP 188 (41%)

Vectra | Attacker Behavior Industry Report | 8

Reconnaissance attacker behaviors occur when a device is used to map-out the enterprise infrastructure. This activity is often part of a
targeted attack, although it might indicate that botnets are attempting to spread internally to other devices. Detection types cover fast
scans and slow scans of systems, network ports, and user accounts.

SMB Account Scan 84 (21%)

Internal Darknet Scan 124 (31%)

File Share Enumeration 28 (7%)

RDP Recon 10 (2%) Kerberos Account Anomaly 3 (1%)

Suspicious LDAP Query 30 (7%)

Port Sweep 86 (21%)

Port Scan 40 (10%)

Lateral movement
Lateral movement covers scenarios of lateral action meant to further a targeted attack. This can involve attempts to steal account
credentials or to steal data from another device.

It can also involve compromising another device to make the attacker’s foothold more durable or to get closer to target data. This stage of
the attack lifecycle is the precursor to moving into private data centers and public clouds.

Ransomware 1 (0%)
Suspicious Admin 15 (5%)
SQL Injection 27 (9%)
Brute Force i2i 12 (4%)
Suspicious Remote Execution 5 (2%)

Automated Replication 64 (22%)

SMB Brute Force 71 (24%)

Kerbos Brute Force 4 (1%)

Shell Knocker Server 3 (1%)
Shell Knocker Client 4 (1%)
Suspicious Remote Desktop 17 (6%)
Kerbos Client Anomaly 67 (23%)
Kerberos Server Access 5 (2%)
Suspicious Kerberos Account 1 (0%)
Vectra | Attacker Behavior Industry Report | 9
Data exfiltration
Data exfiltration behaviors occur when data is sent to the outside in a way that is meant to hide the transfer. Normally, legitimate data transfers do not
involve the use of techniques meant to hide the transfer. The device transmitting the data, where it is transmitting the data, the amount of data, and the
technique used to send it are indicators of exfiltration.

Hidden HTTP Tunnel Exfiltration 2 (2%)

Hidden HTTPS Tunnel Exfiltration 2 (3%)

Data Smuggler 31 (40%)

Smash and Grab 42 (55%)

Threats by industry per 10,000 devices

The bar-chart below shows the volume of threat detections that were triggered in each industry. This view shows how each industry fared
per capita as well as which industries generated the most detections by volume.

Higher education and engineering represent the highest percentage of detections across all industries, primarily due to a high volume of
C&C (higher education) and reconnaissance (engineering).



310 751


1620 366
536 1051
2205 665
908 556 602 256 502
670 303 438
505 777 330
500 354
864 942 311 320
265 535
368 361 489 210 403
286 282
226 151
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Botnet Command & Control Reconaissance Lateral Movement Exfiltration

Vectra | Attacker Behavior Industry Report | 10

Botnets by industry
Cognito from Vectra observed a startling trend in bitcoin mining and abnormal web activity in higher education. Bitcoin mining has
experienced a surge in popularity with cybercriminals, particularly among large student populations. This is likely due to a lack of security
controls, which makes them lucrative targets for botnet herders.


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Brute Force i2o Abnormal Ad Activity Outbound Spam

C&C by industry
Due to the association between botnet and C&C traffic, Cognito from Vectra found that higher education has the largest volume of C&C
behaviors, primarily related to suspicious HTTP.

Student systems often lack security controls that would normally detect and stop C&C behavior. Consequently, C&C attacks are much
easier to execute in student environments.






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Malware Update Suspect Domain C&C Hidden DNS Tunnel C&C Hidden HTTP Tunnel

C&C Hidden HTTPS Tunnel Suspicious HTTP Peer-to-Peer Pulling Instructions

External Remote Access Stealth HTTP Post TOR Connection Relay

Vectra | Attacker Behavior Industry Report | 11
Reconnaissance by industry
Across the board, Cognito from Vectra detected a large volume of darknet scans, which are scans of nonexistent IP addresses on
the network. This is quite common for attackers as the first form of reconnaissance behavior. It occurs after C&C communications are
established as the attacker looks for targets deeper in the network.

Cognito also detected large volumes of suspicious LDAP queries across the engineering industry. A scan of information in an Active
Directory server is an effective way for an attacker to determine what accounts are privileged inside an organization’s network and the
names of servers and infrastructure components.

Attackers prefer to use this form of reconnaissance because the risk of detection is relatively low and less noticeable than a port sweep or
a port scan.


1600 109

1400 90



800 1104


400 111 89
304 239 579 69
99 139 112
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112 159 136 111
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Internal Darknet Scan Kerberos Account Anomaly Kerberos Account Scan Suspicious LDAP Query Port Scan

Port Sweep RDP Recon File Share Enumeration SMB Account Scan

Vectra | Attacker Behavior Industry Report | 12

Lateral movement by industry
In education, Cognito observed a large spike in Kerberos client anomalous behaviors. This indicates a Kerberos account is being used
differently than its learned baseline in one or more ways – connecting to unusual domain controllers, using unusual devices or accessing
unusual services or generating unusual volumes of Kerberos requests using normal domain controllers, usual devices and usual services.

In the services industry, Cognito detected a large volume of SMB brute-force behaviors, which indicates that a device is making multiple
login attempts, using the same accounts, to access a file server.




600 61
567 104

400 241
115 42
218 64 159
58 44 115 57
200 89
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224 194
157 119 152
159 88 131 42 71 107 138
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Ransomware Suspicious Admin Brute Force i2i Automated Replication Kerberos Brute Force

Kerberos Client Anomaly Suspicious Kerberos Account Kerberos Server Access Suspicious Remote Desktop

Shell Knocker Client Shell Knocker Server SMB Brute Force Suspicious Remote Execution SQL Injection

Vectra | Attacker Behavior Industry Report | 13

Exfiltration by industry
Smash-and-grab is the most common exfiltration behavior across all industries. It is triggered when a device transmits unusually large
volumes of data to destinations that are not considered normal for the environment.

The second most-common exfiltration behavior is data smuggling, which was observed primarily in the entertainment and leisure industry.
It is detected when an internal host acquires a large amount of data from one or more servers and sends significant volumes of data to an
external system.





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Hidden HTTP Tunnel Exit Hidden HTTPS Tunnel Exit Smash and Grab Data Smuggler

This edition of the Attacker Behavior Industry Report expands the As sophisticated cyberattackers automate and increase the efficiencies
scope of analysis by increasing the number and average size of of their own technology, there is an urgent need to automate
participating organizations. They consisted of more than 4.6 million information security detection and response tools to stop threats faster.
devices, more than twice the number of devices in the previous report.
At the same time, there remains a global shortage of highly-skilled
Vectra would like to thank the organizations who opted-in to share cybersecurity professionals to handle detection and response at a
metadata that was analyzed for this report. Overall, the trends reasonable speed. As a result, the use of AI is essential to augment
represent an increase in detections and attacker behaviors, which existing cybersecurity teams so they can detect and respond to
are cause for concern. threats faster and stay well ahead of attackers.

Vectra | Attacker Behavior Industry Report | 14

I am artificial intelligence.
The driving force behind the hunt for cyberattackers.
I am Cognito.
Emailinfo@vectra.ai Phone +1 408-326-2020
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Vectra, the Vectra Networks logo and Security that thinks are registered trademarks, and Cognito, the Vectra Threat Labs and the Threat Certainty Index are trademarks of Vectra Networks. Other
brand, product and service names are trademarks, registered trademarks or service marks of their respective holders.