How can companies combat cyber-attacks with offensive security?

18 October 2023

The growing sophistication of cyber threats, greater regulatory requirements, and the need to maintain customer trust has increased the prevalence and importance of regular offensive security testing across systems and business operations. 

What is offensive security?

Effective cyber security is predicated on the three control areas of people, process, and technology. With these control areas in mind, businesses across all sectors need to understand their level of exposure to a cyber-attack. Offensive security testing adds significant value by providing visibility and validation of exploitability in each control area through the lens of a cyber threat actor.     

A typical cyber-attack focuses on gaining initial access to systems through methods such as phishing and escalating privileges by exploiting vulnerabilities and then acting on objectives by exfiltrating data or holding systems to ransom. 

Offensive security is a proactive and adversarial approach to protecting systems, networks, and people from attacks. 

Part of your cyber security approach

Where conventional security focuses on defensive measures, offensive security deploys methods such as phishing, vulnerability assessments and penetration testing to identify weaknesses and circumvent controls by thinking and acting like an attacker. The primary aim of offensive security is to identify key areas of exposure and exploitability in people, processes, and technology, before an actual threat actor does.   

This approach does not replace the need for defensive security but rather compliments it by enabling businesses to focus effort and investment on initiatives, controls and processes that will ultimately save them money, and reduce the likelihood and impact of a cyber-attack. 

Most organisations make sensible financial investments in cyber security through implementation of controls to prevent cyber-attacks. They have processes and technologies in place to identify system vulnerabilities, and undertake phishing exercises to test their employee’s awareness, all of which are encouraged. However, despite this, cybercrime continues to grow, and the operational and financial impact of cyber-attacks are more severe. 

Why is this? In our experience this is the result of capability and capacity challenges. This is where IT and security teams struggle to maintain controls and are overwhelmed by the volume of vulnerabilities they need to address. In a significant number of cases these teams do not have the capacity to run phishing campaigns that test employees beyond base level email templates. 

The problem they are trying to manage is out of control and knowing what to prioritise is a significant challenge. In this current state, both security value and return on investment is limited.  

How can RSM help?

Through our approach to offensive security, we help our clients’ by focusing on points of critical exposure and providing recommendations that will make a material difference to their attack surface and ultimately strengthen security control effectiveness.    

Our offensive security platform has been carefully designed to replicate the tool sets and capabilities of threat actors and our specialists are trained in. We use the same tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) as adversaries that are likely to target our clients. 

Our offensive security model is most effective when we combine the execution of:

  • phishing exercises to trick targets into clicking on links and disclosing information;
  • vulnerability assessments to identify exploitable attack paths; and
  • specialist penetration testing to form specific targets, establish attack methods and execute TTPs. 

We will tailor our approach and execution of our offensive security model to meet our clients’ needs by providing one, some or all our capabilities.

Key benefits

  • Gain visibility of risk and exposure from the lens of a threat actor.
  • Gain assurance and confidence of the effectiveness of defensive controls.
  • Achieve regulatory, compliance and customer expectations.
  • Remediation and control effort prioritisation.
  • Reduce reputational damage, financial loss and regulatory scrutiny.
  • Clarity of investment requirements to protect information, systems and ultimately business value.

In summary, organisations should consider offensive security if they are regulated, hold security certifications or are undergoing change.

If you would like more information about offensive security services, please contact Stuart Leach or Richard Curtis in our cyber team.