What is Pivot in Cyber Security and How Does It Work?


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When it comes to cyber security, staying ahead of the curve is key. In today’s constantly evolving cyber landscape, it’s crucial to understand the latest tactics used by hackers and other malicious actors. One such tactic that has been gaining popularity in recent years is “Pivot”. I’ve seen firsthand the devastation that a successful pivot can cause. But don’t worry, I’m here to help you understand what pivot is, how it works, and most importantly, how you can protect yourself from this emerging threat. So, let’s dive in and explore the world of pivot in cyber security.

What is pivot in cyber security?

In cybersecurity, pivot refers to the technique used by attackers to move from one compromised system to another within the same or different organizations. This process is crucial for advanced persistent threat (APT) attacks to be effective. Attackers use this technique to gain a foothold in one system and then leverage that to move to other systems in the network until they reach their target system. As the saying goes, “The attacker only needs to be right once, while the defender needs to be right every time.”

To help understand the concept of pivoting in cybersecurity better, here are some points to keep in mind:

  • Pivoting is a technique that attackers use to move laterally across a network after gaining access to one system.
  • Attackers use pivoting to maintain access to a system even if they lose access to their original entry point.
  • SSH trust relationships can make it easier for attackers to pivot across systems since they don’t need to re-authenticate after gaining access to a trusted system.
  • Pivoting is a critical component of APT attacks since it enables attackers to remain undetected and gradually move towards their target.
  • In conclusion, pivoting is an essential technique used by attackers to move laterally across a network. As a result, it’s critical that organizations implement proper security protocols like network segmentation, and SSH key management to avoid the disastrous consequences of an APT attack.

    ???? Pro Tips:

    1. Stay updated: Keep yourself updated with the latest techniques and trends in cyber security. This will help you understand what ‘pivoting’ is, and how it can be used effectively in various cyber security strategies.

    2. Focus on reconnaissance: Gaining an understanding of the network and its vulnerabilities is the first and most important step to successful pivoting. This involves active reconnaissance, running networking or vulnerability scanning tools, and performing regular audits.

    3. Use alt methods: Remember, pivoting is about finding new and alternate ways. Explore different methods to gain access, understanding that there are multiple ways into a network, and that a weakness at one point can be exploited elsewhere.

    4. Leverage existing connections: Leveraging pre-existing access during pivoting can greatly optimize success. Try using stolen or intercepted credentials, or even compromised web servers to gain a foothold and move laterally within the network.

    5. Always have a plan: Finally, pivoting can be a very complex process. Always have a plan on how you will proceed, what methods will be used and which resources will be needed. Having a complete plan will help to minimize downtime, reduce the risk of being detected, and maximize the chances of achieving your goals.

    The Meaning of Pivot in Cyber Security

    In cyber security, the process of pivoting refers to the action of a criminal who has successfully compromised one system, then moving on to another compromised system to reach their ultimate target. In essence, criminals use a compromised system as a starting point to launch further attacks on other systems within the target organization, or even other organisations’ systems. The purpose of pivoting is to remain undetected and increase the chances of achieving the attacker’s goals.

    Pivoting is common in sophisticated cyber attacks, such as advanced persistent threats (APTs), where attackers spend a long time within a system, staying hidden and moving from system to system while collecting valuable information before carrying out their primary objective. Pivoting allows attackers to maintain persistent access to a network and conduct operations that would usually bypass security measures.

    Understanding The Pivoting Process

    Pivoting begins when an attacker gains access to a system within a target network. The attacker then searches for other vulnerable systems within the same organization, and if successful, exploits those systems too. Once the attacker reaches their ultimate goal or finds a sufficiently high-value target, they stop pivoting and carry out their mission.

    Attackers often use tools such as port scanners, network mappers, and vulnerability scanners to help them identify poorly secured systems, which are ideal targets for pivoting. They can also use stolen credentials, social engineering, and malware to increase their chances of success and move laterally within the compromised network.

    Pivoting is an essential part of the cyber attack process as it allows attackers to stay hidden and maintain access to systems for an indefinite amount of time.

    The Role of Pivoting in Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) Attack

    APTs are a type of cyber attack that targets specific organisations or groups of people to steal data or cause damage. APT attackers are incredibly patient and well-resourced, often taking months to plan and execute their attacks. Pivoting is a crucial element of the APT process as it allows attackers to spread through the network, gaining access to more data and controlling more systems.

    In an APT, once an attacker has gained access and has a foothold within the target network, the attacker pivots, moving to other vulnerable systems, searching for valuable data. As the attacker gains access to more systems and data, their capabilities increase. Eventually, the attacker can gain access to highly classified data or disrupt critical systems.

    Types of Systems Used in Pivoting Process

    Attackers use several methods to pivot and move around a target network, which include:

    • Routers: Attackers exploit vulnerabilities in routers to move from one network to another, gaining access to new systems.
    • Cloud-based systems: Attackers can use cloud-based systems as a starting point for pivoting, gaining access to the target organization’s network and systems.
    • Web servers: Attackers exploit vulnerabilities in web servers to install malware, allowing them to move laterally within the network.
    • Email systems: Attackers can use stolen credentials to gain access to email systems, allowing them to move laterally within the network.

    The Impact of SSH Trust Relationships on Pivoting

    Secure Shell (SSH) is a secure network protocol used to access remote systems over a network. SSH is common in Unix and Linux-based systems but is increasingly used in Microsoft Windows systems. SSH relies on seemingly trusted relationships called “trust relationships,” which attackers can use to pivot around a network. Trust relationships mean that if an attacker can compromise one system that is trusted, they can use that trust to move laterally through the network and attack other systems.

    SSH trust relationships could present a significant challenge for cybersecurity teams as they are challenging to detect and monitor. Attackers can also use SSH tunnels to hide their tracks, which makes the pivoting actions even harder to detect.

    Detecting and Preventing Pivoting in Cyber Attacks

    Detecting pivoting within a network can be a challenge, but several measures can detect and prevent pivoting within a network.

    • Network segmentation: By dividing a network into smaller segments and monitoring traffic between these segments, cybersecurity teams can detect if an attacker is trying to move from one segment to another.
    • Network monitoring and analysis: By monitoring and analysing network traffic, cybersecurity teams can detect unusual activity or conduct pattern analysis to detect pivoting within a network.
    • Strong access controls: By implementing multi-factor authentication and strong password policies, cybersecurity teams can prevent attackers from gaining access to sensitive systems in the first place.

    Real-life Examples of Pivoting in Cyber Security Attacks

    In 2013, Target, a US retailer, suffered a massive data breach, which compromised the credit card information of more than 40 million customers. The attackers gained access to the system through a trusted relationship with a third-party HVAC contractor. Once the attackers compromised the contractor’s system, they were able to use it as a pivot point to move into the Target network and install malware on the point of sales system.

    In 2015, Anthem, the US health insurer, suffered a massive data breach, which resulted in the theft of personal information and medical records of nearly 80 million customers. The attackers gained access to the system using stolen credentials and then used pivoting techniques to move laterally through the network and steal data.

    In conclusion, pivoting is a technique used by attackers to move laterally through a target network after compromising an initial system. Pivoting is difficult to detect and monitor, making it an essential part of sophisticated attacks such as APTs. Using network segmentation, monitoring and analysis, and strong access controls, organisations can prevent pivoting attacks and reduce their security risks.