Lateral Movement (Cybersecurity Attack)


Lateral movement in cybersecurity refers to the technique used by attackers to navigate through a network, gaining access to various systems and resources after the initial breach. This process allows the attacker to obtain sensitive information, compromise additional accounts, and potentially gain more control over the network. Lateral movement is a critical stage in advanced cyber attacks, as it enables the attacker to escalate privileges and maintain persistence within the targeted network.

Key Takeaways

  1. Lateral Movement refers to the techniques and tactics used by cyber attackers to pivot and gain access to other devices, systems, or networks within a targeted environment, further expanding their reach and increasing the potential impact of their attack.
  2. This type of cyberattack is particularly dangerous because it allows attackers to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data, deploy malware, or maintain a persistent foothold within the victim’s environment, often without the victim’s knowledge.
  3. Defending against Lateral Movement requires a combination of robust network segmentation, continuous monitoring, and proactive security measures, such as strong authentication protocols, updated security software, and user education on identifying potential threats and vulnerabilities.


The term Lateral Movement in cybersecurity attacks is important because it describes a critical phase within an advanced, multi-step intrusion where attackers navigate through a compromised network to access and exfiltrate valuable data or cause damage to systems.

During lateral movement, adversaries typically exploit a combination of legitimate credentials, vulnerabilities, and sophisticated techniques to gain unauthorized access to other devices, applications, or accounts within the organization’s infrastructure.

Understanding and detecting possible lateral movement is crucial for organizations to prevent potential data breaches, business disruptions, and financial losses while also enabling them to strengthen their security measures and safeguard sensitive information more effectively.


Lateral movement in the context of cybersecurity attacks refers to the process by which cyber attackers navigate within a targeted network after gaining initial access. The primary purpose of lateral movement is for the attackers to identify and harness valuable resources and data within the targeted organization’s infrastructure.

These resources could include sensitive information, user credentials, or key assets that could be exploited for financial gain or to further compromise the system’s integrity. In addition, lateral movement also enables the attackers to maintain a persistent presence within the network, making it challenging for security teams to detect and mitigate their malicious activities.

In order to achieve lateral movement, attackers often employ various tactics and techniques, such as using legitimate credentials to access other devices, exploiting vulnerabilities in software or hardware, or employing popular tools like remote access trojans (RATs) and PowerShell scripts. By leveraging these tactics, cybercriminals can remain stealthy while navigating through the network, effectively bypassing existing security measures.

This concealment allows the attackers to reach their end goal, which might involve stealing intellectual property, disrupting operations, or carrying out acts of espionage. A strong defense against lateral movement typically involves multiple layered security measures, continuous monitoring, and efficient incident response procedures to minimize the potential impact of such an attack.

Examples of Lateral Movement (Cybersecurity Attack)

NotPetya Ransomware Attack (2017): The NotPetya ransomware was a large-scale cyber attack that primarily targeted Ukraine but quickly spread across the globe. It used the EternalBlue exploit developed by the National Security Agency (NSA) and leaked by the Shadow Brokers, a hacking group. The NotPetya malware first gained entry into victims’ systems via a compromised software update and then used lateral movement techniques, including credential theft and remote execution, to spread across networks and infect other machines. The attack caused widespread disruption to critical infrastructure and resulted in billions of dollars in damages.

SolarWinds Attack (2020): SolarWinds is a US-based software company that fell victim to a sophisticated supply chain attack, impacting both private companies and government agencies. The attackers, believed to be nation-state-sponsored hackers, compromised SolarWinds’ Orion product, which is widely used for network management. This allowed them to gain unauthorized access to multiple organizations’ networks. The attackers then moved laterally to target additional systems and exfiltrate sensitive data. This campaign demonstrated the threat posed by lateral movement in cyber attacks, as the attackers were able to infiltrate multiple organizations undetected.

Target Data Breach (2013): Target Corporation, a large US retailer, fell victim to a high-profile data breach that resulted in the theft of around 40 million credit and debit card records. The attackers initially gained access through a third-party vendor (an HVAC contractor) that had compromised credentials. By exploiting these credentials, the attackers established a foothold in Target’s systems and then used lateral movement techniques like escalating privileges and moving across the network to access the Point of Sale (POS) systems. The attackers installed malware on these systems, enabling them to steal credit card data from millions of customers. This breach highlighted the importance of robust cybersecurity measures to prevent lateral movement within an organization’s network.

FAQ – Lateral Movement (Cybersecurity Attack)

1. What is lateral movement in cybersecurity?

Lateral movement refers to a cyber attacker’s strategy of navigating through a network to gain access to different systems, services, and resources. This is usually done after the initial compromise of a target machine. The attacker aims to escalate privileges, gather sensitive information, and eventually disrupt, compromise, or infiltrate critical systems.

2. Why should I worry about lateral movement attacks?

Lateral movement attacks can result in serious damage to an organization’s infrastructure and often lead to significant financial and reputational losses. By detecting and preventing these attacks, you can protect critical assets, safeguard sensitive information, and maintain the trust and confidence of your customers and partners.

3. How can I detect lateral movement attacks?

Detecting lateral movement attacks requires a combination of monitoring, analysis, and security tools. Some key indicators to look out for include unusual login attempts, unexpected traffic patterns between machines, and changes in network configurations. In addition, deploying intrusion detection systems (IDS) and security information and event management (SIEM) solutions can help to identify potential threats in real-time.

4. What are some common techniques used in lateral movement attacks?

Some common lateral movement techniques include pass-the-hash, pass-the-ticket, remote code execution, and credential dumping. These methods often involve the use of legitimate tools and protocols, making them challenging to detect and mitigate.

5. How can I prevent lateral movement attacks in my network?

Preventing lateral movement attacks involves implementing a combination of security best practices and layered defense strategies. These may include the following:

– Regularly updating and patching software and hardware
– Enforcing strong password policies and multifactor authentication
– Monitoring and analyzing network traffic to identify unusual behavior
– Segmenting the network to limit the reach of attackers
– Aligning with industry-standard frameworks, such as the NIST Cybersecurity Framework or the CIS Critical Security Controls
– Training employees to recognize and report potential threats and vulnerabilities

Related Technology Terms

  • Internal Reconnaissance
  • Privilege Escalation
  • Credential Dumping
  • Remote Code Execution
  • Persistence Techniques

Sources for More Information


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