The Breach Dodecahedron


This post was written by guest blogger and broham extraordinaire Kevin "@bfist" Thompson. For more ramblings on risk management and pro wrestling, go follow him!

I spend a lot of my time reading breach reports for publicly disclosed incidents or reading reports from forensic organizations about security breaches. A while back I noticed that our industry seems to have a fascination with geometry. For example, we have the CIA triad, which later gave rise to the Parkerian hexad, and as I was going over an old Trustwave Global Security Report I saw that they decided to change their breach triangle into a breach quadrilateral so that their model would better reflect the data they were seeing. But in the security field, more is better; why have four sides or six sides when you can have 12? Why have a two-dimensional shape when you can have a three-dimensional shape? And so it is with tongue firmly in cheek that I present the Breach Dodecahedron.

A dodecahedron is a three-dimensional, 12-sided shape as seen in the picture below. Each side of the dodecahedron could be given a label to describe one phase of a security breach. One of the advantages of using a 3 dimensional shape is that it makes it easy to turn the Breach Dodecahedron into vendor swag or booth toys for next year’s RSA conference. The shape also helps to illustrate the fact that an attacker might move to any of a number of phases during an attack and may not take a serial path from one step to the next. Just like with the Kübler-Ross model of grieving, a person might move backwards or skip a step before reaching the end. The primary weakness of using the dodecahedron is that you can’t easily put it on a t-shirt or print it in a brochure.

<img src=”/assets/images/dodecahedron.png” alt=”Dodecadedron - 12-sided 3-dimensional shape”, height=”33%”, width=”33%” align=”right” /> The 12 phases of the Breach Dodecahedron are as follows:

  1. Target Selection
  2. Reconnaissance
  3. Scanning
  4. Gaining Access
  5. Maintaining Access
  6. Lateral Expansion
  7. Searching for Data
  8. Aggregation
  9. Exfiltration
  10. Monetizing
  11. Covering Tracks
  12. High Five

It’s easy to see how an attacker might move through these phases multiple times or skip some of them. Some attackers never cover their tracks, and others surely high five many times during an attack. A three-dimensional shape really illustrates these possibilities because there are more directions to turn rather than ahead and backwards.

Scanning and recon sound similar to each other and they are. The primary difference is that scanning is considered an active probe to find potential weaknesses while reconnaissance is a more passive effort to gain information without making contact. Google hacking and looking up network information in ARIN might be considered recon, while an nmap scan would constitute scanning.

You may be wondering how this is different from the The Five Phase Approach of Malicious Hackers or the Lockheed Martin Cyber Kill Chain. Haven’t I just taken some of the steps from that list and expanded them? Why is this list better than that list? If you’re wondering that, then you haven’t worked in security for very long. This model is better because 12 is bigger than 5 or 7. Seriously, I have added a few phases that were not in that article, but I also expanded some of the phases so that I could get to 12. When you’re building a model like this it isn’t just about being complete: you also have to have a cool word like “dodecahedron”, which I couldn’t get with only 9 phases.

Organizations should put preventative, detective, and corrective controls in place to disrupt an attacker at every phase of the Breach Dodecahedron. However, some of these phases are very difficult to disrupt. For example, organizations may try to reduce their visibility as a target, but successful businesses draw attention to themselves and make good targets for espionage or activism. It is also difficult to prevent an attacker from monetizing data that has been exfiltrated. And if an attacker successfully exploits a weakness, and gains access it is nearly impossible to prevent the high five from happening. However, I understand that the good people over at Threatvertica are working on high five prevention appliances that they will showcase at a tech show in the near future.