A Guide to Thwarting Modern Cyber Attacks

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Net Friends
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As the digital landscape evolves, so do the methods used by cyber adversaries. It is important to remain informed about the latest threats, so that you can make decisions to protect your business. The latest Global Threat Report by CrowdStrike indicates a notable shift in cyber threats, with 71% of incidents detected in Q4 2022 being malware-free. This technique is commonly called "Living Off the Land" (LOTL).

LOTL attacks can be difficult to detect and prevent because they do not trigger the traditional security signatures that are used to identify malware.

They can also be very damaging, as they can allow attackers to gain access to sensitive information and systems.

The prevailing expectation of cyber-attacks is that they are a clever bit of code that enters your system waiting to be detected by your anti-virus software. However, it is quite astonishing to observe the extent to which adversaries are increasingly turning to LOTL techniques to dodge detection. The evolution and design of cyber-attacks continues to challenge our conventional wisdom, forcing us to rethink defense strategies.

What is a Living Off the Land Attack?

In a Living Off the Land (LOTL) attack, cyber adversaries use everyday tools and functionalities within your system to invade. Rather than deploying conspicuous malware that might trigger security alerts, they exploit the very utilities designed for system maintenance and administration.

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Living Off the Land (LOTL) Attacks

This strategy of hiding in plain sight and leveraging built-in features makes it challenging for antivirus programs and endpoint detection and response (EDR) systems to detect any foul play.

Specifically, attackers often utilize PowerShell and Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), both integral components of the Windows operating system used for a range of management tasks. By commandeering these tools, malicious actors can blend in with normal administrative operations, thereby conducting their activities under the radar and avoiding detection.

How Do They Gain Access?

For small businesses, cybersecurity breaches often stem from an employee's compromised system. Such intrusions can occur due to several common vulnerabilities:

  • Poor Password Management: The absence of strong passwords or the lack of multifactor authentication can make it easier for hackers to decipher login credentials and masquerade as legitimate users.
  • Outdated Software: Failing to regularly update and patch software can leave systems open to exploitation.
  • Phishing Attempts: Engaging with malicious links in emails or compromised websites can inadvertently lead to the downloading of harmful code.

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Net Friends Pro-Tip

After breaching a system, attackers often conduct reconnaissance to identify native tools and features that can be manipulated, such as PowerShell, Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), or scripting languages like JavaScript.

Armed with these tools, the attacker then initiates their malicious activities, which could range from data theft and malware deployment to the disruption of business operations.

How Do I Protect My Business?

Stopping LOTL attacks requires a multifaceted approach, combining robust security practices with proactive monitoring and education. Here are some strategies businesses can use to fortify their defenses against these threats:

Security Awareness Training

The first line of defense against LOTL attacks is a well-informed staff. Employees should be educated on the dangers of LOTL attacks and trained to recognize and report suspicious activity. Regular training sessions should cover the importance of secure password practices, the dangers of phishing, and the proper use of system tools.

Multifactor Authentication

Establishing complex passwords paired with multifactor authentication (MFA) is fundamental to safeguarding access points. Organizations should promote, or even mandate, the adoption of intricate passwords along with MFA, adding layers of security that can effectively thwart unauthorized access attempts stemming from compromised credentials.

Endpoint Security

Deploying Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) platforms is the next step. These platforms surpass conventional antivirus solutions by intricately scanning for and identifying unusual behavior patterns and nuanced signs of compromise that are characteristic of LOTL strategies. This advanced detection capability is key in pre-empting and mitigating the impact of these attacks.

Server Hardening

Undertaking a server hardening project will put your server in the most secure position. This project will evaluate all aspects of your server and then correct any concerns. Some of the key areas addressed are:

1. Updating & Patching Software

This is particularly important for system management tools such as PowerShell and Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI). Regularly update and patch operating systems, applications, and firmware on all devices.

2. Limiting Use of Administration Tools

When configuring administrative tools, it is advisable to limit the functionality of scripting environments and command-line utilities strictly to what is necessary for operations. Enhanced logging and monitoring should be implemented to oversee the usage of these tools and to spot atypical usage patterns that may indicate malicious activities.

3. Application Control

Windows Defender Application Control (WDAC) is a feature built into Windows environments that helps in preventing unauthorized software from running on company systems. By specifying which users or groups can run applications and enforcing a list of allowed software, WDAC makes it significantly more difficult for attackers to execute malicious tools that mimic legitimate system processes.

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What is Server Hardering?

Server hardening fortifies the foundations of your business's cyber defenses. Each step is a deliberate effort to close vulnerabilities and shield your digital assets from unauthorized access and exploitation.


On the forefront of cybersecurity, AI-based tools like Palo Alto Networks' Strata suite offers a more dynamic approach. Strata utilizes machine learning and AI to analyze network traffic patterns and user behavior, identifying anomalies that may indicate a security threat. This includes identifying unusual access patterns that could signify a LOTL attack, such as unexpected use of administrative tools or strange login behaviors.

Strata's AI capabilities are designed to adapt over time, offering continuous improvement in threat detection. As the system encounters new types of attacks and learns from them, it becomes more effective in recognizing and responding to emerging threats. The use of AI and machine learning also helps in reducing false positives, which can drain resources and divert attention from real threats.

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Why Palo Alto Networks Strata

Don’t Go it Alone!

Combating LOTL attacks is not a solitary endeavor but a collaborative journey. Strengthening ties with your Managed Service Provider (MSP) can enhance your cybersecurity framework, bringing together their expertise and your unique business insights. Together, you can develop a robust, informed defense against these threats.

If the complexity of securing against LOTL threats seems daunting, remember that Net Friends is equipped to help you navigate the intricacies of cyber defense. We offer guidance tailored to your business's needs. Contact Net Friends today to see how we can empower your business to stay one step ahead of cyber threats.

- Server Hardening 101: Boosting Business Security
- The Three Little Pigs' Guide to SMB Cybersecurity
- How Security Assessments Help Businesses Conquer Cyber Threats

At Net Friends, we believe in the power of human expertise. While we leverage AI to enhance our content and processes, all blog posts are written and edited by our knowledgeable staff. You can trust you are getting insights directly from our team.

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