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Attack attribution analysis: Benefits of linking separate attacks

Expert Nick Lewis reveals how attribution and comparing technical details can help link separate attacks and explores the value in doing so.

Is there any way organizations can determine if seemingly separate attacks are related (e.g., sent from the same attacker or criminal organization)? And if so, are there any benefits to actually linking attacks in such a way, or is it ultimately insignificant as long as the attacks are stopped?

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An organization can determine if seemingly separate attacks are related by using attack attribution analysis techniques and comparing the technical details of the attacks.

Many times these tools and techniques leave telltale network or system signatures that can be used to identify an attacker. For example, a system sending IP traffic to another system using an unidentified and encrypted protocol on a specific port signature could be used to check other parts of the network for systems communicating over similar ports. The systems in question could be checked for hashes or fuzzy hashes to identify if similar files are identified as part of the same attack.

Stopping attacks that are underway is important, but it is not sufficient. Organizations must aim to stop attackers and prevent future attacks that rely on complex geo-political issues to evade prosecution and use secure or trusted systems. However, even if all current political issues or technical issues are resolved, there would still be attacks and still be the need for sufficient law enforcement resources for investigations. In the same token, even where one might expect the most secure of systems, the human element will always find a way to compromise it.

While some may say there is limited value in attack attribution, identifying common features or methods between different attacks can help identify other areas under attack and be extremely useful when shared with others in the information security community, as attackers will often reuse familiar attack methods.

This was last published in November 2013

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