Investigating lateral movement paths with ATA

Applies to: Advanced Threat Analytics version 1.9

Even when you do your best to protect your sensitive users, and your admins have complex passwords that they change frequently, their machines are hardened, and their data is stored securely, attackers can still use lateral movement paths to access sensitive accounts. In lateral movement attacks, the attacker takes advantage of instances when sensitive users log into a machine where a non-sensitive user has local rights. Attackers can then move laterally, accessing the less sensitive user and then moving across the computer to gain credentials for the sensitive user.

What is a lateral movement path?

Lateral movement is when an attacker uses non-sensitive accounts to gain access to sensitive accounts. This can be done using the methods described in theSuspicious activity guide. To understand who the administrators are in your network and which machines the attacker can access, the attacker can take advantage of the data on your domain controllers.

ATA enables you to take preemptive action on your network to prevent attackers from succeeding at lateral movement.

Discovery your at-risk sensitive accounts

To discover which sensitive accounts in your network were vulnerable because of their connection to non-sensitive accounts or resources, in a specific timeframe, follow these steps.

  1. In the ATA console menu, click the reports icon reports icon.

  2. Under Lateral movements paths to sensitive accounts, if there are no lateral movement paths found, the report is grayed out. If there are lateral movement paths, then the dates of the report automatically select the first date when there is relevant data.


  3. Click Download.

  4. The Excel file that is created provides you with details about your sensitive accounts that are at risk. The Summary tab provides graphs that detail the number of sensitive accounts, computers, and averages for at-risk resources. The Details tab provides a list of the sensitive accounts that you should be concerned about. Note that the paths are paths that existed previously, and may not be available today.


Now that you know which sensitive accounts are at risk, you can deep dive in ATA to learn more and take preventative measures.

  1. In the ATA console, search for the Lateral movement badge that's added to the entity profile when the entity is in a lateral movement path lateral icon or path icon. This is available if there was a lateral movement path in the last two days.

  2. In the user profile page that opens, click the Lateral movement paths tab.

  3. The graph that is displayed provides a map of the possible paths to the sensitive user. The graph shows connections that have been made over the last two days.

  4. Review the graph to see what you can learn about exposure of your sensitive user's credentials. For example, in this map, you can follow the Logged into by gray arrows to see where Samira logged in with her privileged credentials. In this case, Samira's sensitive credentials were saved on the computer REDMOND-WA-DEV. Then, see which other users logged into which computers that created the most exposure and vulnerability. You can see this by looking at the Administrator on black arrows to see who has admin privileges on the resource. In this example, everyone in the group Contoso All has the ability to access user credentials from that resource.

    user profile lateral movement paths

Preventative best practices

  • The best way to prevent lateral movement is to make sure that sensitive users use their administrator credentials only when logging into hardened computers where there is no non-sensitive user who has admin rights on the same computer. In the example, make sure that if Samira needs access to REDMOND-WA-DEV, she logs in with a username and password other than her admin credentials, or remove the Contoso All group from the local administrators group on REDMOND-WA-DEV.

  • It is also recommended that you make sure that no one has unnecessary local administrative permissions. In the example, you should check to see if everyone in Contoso All really needs admin rights on REDMOND-WA-DEV.

  • Make sure people only have access to necessary resources. In the example, Oscar Posada significantly widens Samira's exposure. Is it necessary that he be included in the group Contoso All? Are there subgroups that you could create to minimize exposure?

Tip – If activity is not detected during the last two days, the graph does not appear, but the lateral movement path report will still be available to provide you with information about lateral movement paths over the last 60 days.

Tip - For instructions on how to set your servers to allow ATA to perform the SAM-R operations needed for lateral movement path detection, configure SAM-R.

See Also