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What is The MITRE ATT&CK Framework?

MITRE ATT&CK® represents MITRE Adversarial Tactics, Techniques, and Common Knowledge (ATT&CK), serving as a curated repository and framework for comprehending cyber adversary behavior. It delineates the diverse stages of an adversary’s attack lifecycle and their preferred targets. The model’s abstraction of tactics and techniques establishes a shared language between offensive and defensive cybersecurity realms. This taxonomy facilitates understanding and defense against adversary actions at varying levels of granularity.

ATT&CK’s behavioral model comprises:

  • Tactics: Representing the immediate, tactical goals of adversaries during an attack (organized into columns).
  • Techniques: Detailing the methods employed by adversaries to accomplish their tactical objectives (found within individual cells).
  • Documentation of adversary usage of techniques and related metadata (linked to respective techniques).

What is The MITRE ATT&CK Framework

History of ATT&CK Framework


MITRE ATT&CK originated in 2013 following MITRE’s Fort Meade Experiment (FMX), during which researchers simulated both adversary and defender actions to enhance the detection of threats after compromise using telemetry sensing and behavioral analysis. The pivotal inquiry for researchers was assessing the effectiveness of detecting documented adversary behavior. In response to this question, ATT&CK was developed as a tool to classify adversary behavior.

MITRE ATT&CK now has four iterations:


Focuses on the challenge of detecting pre-attack activities conducted by threat actors, such as reconnaissance and resource development. These activities often occur beyond an organization’s visibility before compromise, making them challenging to detect in real-time. Cyber attackers leverage publicly available information, relationships with compromised entities, or other methods to gain access. PRE-ATT&CK enables organizations to monitor and understand these external pre-attack activities that happen beyond their network perimeter.

Enterprise ATT&CK

Outlines the actions cyber attackers may take to compromise and carry out activities within an enterprise network. This comprehensive model encompasses specific tactics and techniques across various platforms, including Windows, macOS, Linux, Azure AD, Office 365, Google Workspace, SaaS, IaaS, Networks, and Containers. Originally part of ATT&CK for Enterprise, the PRE-ATT&CK matrix is aligned with efforts to compromise enterprise infrastructure. The Enterprise framework assists organizations in prioritizing network defenses based on the specific risks they face.

Mobile ATT&CK

Categorizes tactics and techniques used to compromise iOS and Android mobile devices. Building upon NIST’s Mobile Threat Catalogue, ATT&CK for Mobile catalogs numerous tactics and techniques employed to impact mobile devices and achieve malicious objectives. It also includes network-based effects that can be utilized without direct access to the device.


The newest addition to the ATT&CK family, is the MITRE ATT&CK for Industrial Control Systems (ICS) matrix. Similar to Enterprise ATT&CK but tailored specifically for industrial control systems like power grids, factories, and interconnected machinery, this matrix assists organizations reliant on industrial networks, devices, sensors, and machinery in securing against cyber threats.

What is in the MITRE ATT&CK Matrix?

The MITRE ATT&CK matrix defines a set of techniques used by adversaries to achieve specific objectives, categorized as tactics within the matrix. These objectives are arranged in a linear sequence from reconnaissance to the final stages of exfiltration or “impact”. In the comprehensive version of ATT&CK for Enterprise, which covers various platforms including Windows, macOS, Linux, PRE, Azure AD, Office 365, Google Workspace, SaaS, IaaS, Network, and Containers, adversary tactics are classified as follows:

  • Reconnaissance: Gathering information about the target organization to plan future operations.
  • Resource Development: Setting up necessary resources, such as command and control infrastructure, to support operations.
  • Initial Access: Attempting to infiltrate the network, often through methods like spear phishing.
  • Execution: Running malicious code, such as deploying a remote access tool.
  • Persistence: Maintaining access within the network by altering configurations or employing other techniques.
  • Privilege Escalation: Seeking to gain higher-level permissions by exploiting vulnerabilities.
  • Defense Evasion: Trying to avoid detection, such as using trusted processes to conceal malicious activities.
  • Credential Access: Stealing account credentials, for example, through techniques like keylogging.
  • Discovery: Investigating and understanding the target environment, including identifying controllable resources.
  • Lateral Movement: Progressing through the network environment, often using legitimate credentials to access multiple systems.
  • Collection: Gathering data of interest to the adversary’s objectives, which may involve accessing data stored in cloud services.
  • Command and Control: Communicating with compromised systems to maintain control, such as using normal web traffic to interact with a victim network.
  • Exfiltration: Stealing and transferring data out of the network, typically to a remote location or cloud account.
  • Impact: Manipulating, disrupting, or destroying systems and data to achieve the adversary’s goals, such as encrypting data with ransomware.

MITRE ATT&CK vs. the Cyber Kill Chain

The Lockheed Martin Cyber Kill Chain® offers a well-known framework for comprehending adversary behavior in cyber-attacks. This model comprises sequential stages as follows:

  • Reconnaissance – Gathering email addresses, conference details, etc.
  • Weaponization – Linking exploits with backdoors into deliverable payloads.
  • Delivery – Transmitting weaponized bundles to victims via email, web, USB, etc.
  • Exploitation – Utilizing vulnerabilities to execute code on a victim’s system.
  • Installation – Implanting malware onto the asset.
  • Command & Control (C2) – Establishing command channels for remote manipulation.
  • Actions on Objectives – Achieving initial goals through ‘Hands on Keyboards’ access.

MITRE ATT&CK differs from the Cyber Kill Chain in two main aspects.

Firstly, MITRE ATT&CK offers more comprehensive insights into the execution of each stage via ATT&CK techniques and sub-techniques. It remains regularly updated with industry input to align with evolving techniques, enabling defenders to adjust their practices and attack modeling accordingly.

Secondly, the Cyber Kill Chain framework does not address the varied tactics and techniques of cloud-native attacks, as outlined earlier. It assumes that adversaries will deliver payloads like malware to target environments, a method less pertinent in cloud environments.

What are the Benefits of MITRE ATT&CK Framework?

The primary advantage of the ATT&CK framework lies in its ability to provide organizations with insights into adversary tactics, enabling them to comprehend the steps adversaries might take to gain initial access, explore, move laterally, and exfiltrate data. This perspective allows teams to gain a deeper understanding of adversaries’ motivations and strategies. Ultimately, organizations can utilize this understanding to pinpoint weaknesses in their security defenses and enhance threat detection and response capabilities, enabling them to anticipate attackers’ next moves and respond swiftly. Much like the adage in sports that a strong offense is the best defense, understanding adversaries’ strategies can significantly bolster defense efforts across networks, devices, and users in cybersecurity.

Moreover, given the prevalent skills shortage in the cybersecurity landscape, these frameworks serve as invaluable resources for junior or newly hired security personnel. They provide essential knowledge and research tools, allowing them to quickly familiarize themselves with various threats by tapping into the collective wisdom of security professionals who have contributed to the MITRE ATT&CK framework matrices before them.

What are the Challenges of Using MITRE ATT&CK Framework?

As the ATT&CK matrices continue to expand in both quantity and complexity, they have become increasingly intricate. The multitude of combinations and permutations of tactics and techniques within the framework, while comprehensive, can be overwhelming due to the sheer volume of data that needs to be understood and processed.

For instance, there are currently over 400 distinct techniques or attack patterns outlined across the fourteen tactics in ATT&CK for Enterprise. Many of these techniques also encompass sub-techniques, further multiplying the potential permutations. Integrating all this data into existing security infrastructure is a daunting task that many organizations have not yet automated.

A recent study conducted by UC Berkeley revealed that while almost all organizations use the framework to tag network events with various security products, fewer than half of the respondents have automated the necessary security policy changes indicated by the framework.

Other challenges include the difficulty of correlating cloud-based and on-premises events or the inability to connect events originating from mobile devices and endpoints.

How Do You Use The MITRE ATT&CK Framework?

The MITRE ATT&CK framework offers several advantages to organizations. Generally, the following benefits apply to adopting MITRE ATT&CK:

  • Adversary Emulation: Evaluates security by simulating threats based on intelligence about adversaries and their tactics. ATT&CK facilitates the creation of adversary emulation scenarios to validate defenses.
  • Red Teaming: Simulates adversary actions to showcase the impact of a breach. ATT&CK assists in devising red team plans and coordinating operations.
  • Behavioral Analytics Development: Links suspicious activities to monitor adversary behavior. ATT&CK simplifies the organization of patterns of suspicious activity considered malicious.
  • Defensive Gap Assessment: Identifies areas of the enterprise lacking defenses or visibility. ATT&CK aids in assessing existing tools or testing new ones to determine security coverage and prioritize investments.
  • SOC Maturity Assessment: Evaluates the effectiveness of a Security Operations Center (SOC) in detecting, analyzing, and responding to breaches, similar to Defensive Gap Assessment.
  • Cyber Threat Intelligence Enrichment: Augments information on threats and threat actors. ATT&CK enables defenders to assess their capability to defend against specific Advanced Persistent Threats (APT) and common behaviors across various threat actors.

Implementing MITRE ATT&CK typically involves manual mapping or integration with cybersecurity tools, notably Security Information and Event Management (SIEM), Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR), and Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB).

Using MITRE ATT&CK with a SIEM entails aggregating log data from endpoints, networks, and cloud services, identifying threats, and aligning them with MITRE ATT&CK. Security posture adjustments are then made in the respective security tools providing the log data, such as EDR or CASB.

Using MITRE ATT&CK with EDR involves mapping events observed by the endpoint agent, enabling defenders to ascertain threat event phases, assess associated risks, and prioritize responses.


What is the MITRE ATT&CK Framework and its benefits?

The MITRE ATT&CK Framework helps understand cyber adversary behavior. It aids in adversary emulation, red teaming, behavioral analytics, defensive gap assessment, SOC maturity assessment, and threat intelligence enrichment.

What challenges come with using the MITRE ATT&CK Framework?

As the framework grows, it becomes complex. Integrating data and automating security changes are challenging. Correlating events from different environments is also difficult.

How can organizations use the MITRE ATT&CK Framework in security operations?

Organizations can utilize the framework for adversary emulation, red teaming, behavioral analytics, gap assessment, SOC maturity evaluation, and threat intelligence enrichment. It can be integrated with security tools like SIEM, EDR, and CASB.

How does MITRE ATT&CK differ from the Cyber Kill Chain?

MITRE ATT&CK offers more comprehensive insights, covering various stages of an attack and addressing cloud-native threats. It’s regularly updated, while the Cyber Kill Chain focuses on specific attack stages.


The MITRE ATT&CK Framework stands as a crucial tool for bolstering cybersecurity defenses. Despite its complexity and integration challenges, its versatility in assessing adversary behavior and identifying security gaps provides invaluable advantages. By effectively leveraging its capabilities, organizations can stay ahead of evolving cyber threats and ensure robust protection against adversaries.


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