A popular saying in sports claims, “The best defense is a good offense” — a phrase that holds truth in the field of cybersecurity as well. Defensive tactics alone are not enough to truly protect your organization from cyber threats. An experienced managed detection and response (MDR) provider understands this issue and offers a comprehensive range of security services, including both offensive and defensive security measures.

Whether self-managing your security or partnering with an outside vendor for MDR, you should pursue a blended defense/offense approach for safeguarding your assets. Let’s explore the limitations of defensive security measures, the opportunities for an offensive strategy, and the advantages of combining the two for maximum protection.

The Limitations of Defensive Security Measures Alone

Traditional cybersecurity measures focus largely on defense and prevention. Organizations implement defensive security measures like firewalls, access controls, and data encryption to stop malicious actors from breaching their networks and systems.

These preventive measures are important, but there are several challenges and concerns for organizations that rely on a purely defensive security strategy:

  • Reactive vs. Proactive: Defensive security measures are focused on responding to known threats and access points, which means undiscovered vulnerabilities are left unprotected.
  •  Inability to Adapt: Many defensive security measures are static, rigidly defined, and challenging to update in response to a new type of threat.
  • False Sense of Security: If you assume your defensive tactics are sufficient, you’re more likely to be caught by surprise when an attacker infiltrates your systems.

Understanding Offensive Security and its Role in MDR

Offensive security measures are dynamic, proactive tactics that pair with defensive measures to enhance your security posture. Offensive measures typically involve actively simulating cyberattacks to expose vulnerabilities and weaknesses in a system or network. These measures are commonly referred to as penetration testing, ethical hacking, or threat hunting.

By adopting the mindset of a potential adversary, you can find areas of vulnerability and implement additional defenses before real attackers have a chance to strike.

Selecting an MDR Provider with Offensive Security Skills

As you consider partnering with an MDR provider to improve your security posture, pick one with proven offensive security expertise. Here are some services and skills to look for as you evaluate MDR providers:

  • Penetration Testing & Red Teams: Involves using various techniques to break into applications and networks and evaluate the effectiveness of the organization’s security controls. The goal of penetration testing is to fortify security protocols and prevent a real breach from occurring.
  • Purple Teams: A collaborative approach that brings together offensive (Red Team) and defensive (Blue Team) experts to detect flaws in an organization’s security controls and work together to provide actionable advice for strengthening security.
  • Threat Hunting: Proactively scanning for potential intrusions that have evaded existing defensive safeguards. Threat hunting often combines both automated and human-guided exercises for maximum effectiveness.
  • Digital Forensics and Incident Response (DFIR): Investigating data in the aftermath of a cyber incident to fill in gaps of information and using the findings to strengthen defenses.

The Synergy of Defensive and Offensive Security Measures

A strategic blend of defensive and offensive security measures is the key to optimizing your MDR efforts and protecting your systems from future threats.

Human-guided threat hunting is a great example of what it looks like to apply a more proactive approach to a traditionally defensive strategy. Instead of relying on automated security tools, human-guided threat hunting leverages human intuition and manual processes to find issues tools might miss. Penetration testing is another offensive security activity that allows your team to practice incident response and mitigation and prepare to take action against potential threats.

Most importantly, teams can use the insights discovered during threat hunting and penetration testing to implement new, more effective detection tools and defensive strategies.

Overcoming Challenges in Implementing Offensive Security Measures

Hiring someone to breach your systems can be intimidating, but offensive security measures are essential to protecting your organization from cyber threats. Your defenses will be tested no matter what, but cybersecurity vendors do it in a controlled environment where they can mitigate risk, avoid operational disruptions, and ensure compliance with relevant regulations.

Ultimately, it’s far riskier to neglect offensive security than to use it to evaluate and optimize your defensive controls.

Finding the Perfect Blend of Offensive and Defensive Security Measures in Your MDR Efforts

Defense is important, but it’s not enough. With new threats constantly emerging and evolving, offensive security measures are an essential piece of any MDR strategy. Combining offensive and defensive security measures is the best way to detect and address vulnerabilities before attackers can exploit them.