The Five Stages of “Hacked”

(Originally published on my blog)

While doing some work around the SolarWinds hacks, I realized that there’s just no simple triage scale that we in the industry can use to simply and succinctly characterize the severity of hacks.

This is my proposal for a simple scale to enable simple but meaningful comparisons of the severity of hacks.

Since the most important thing in hacks is the spread and severity, the cancer staging system gives a good model for measuring these kinds of things so this is adapted from that.

  • Stage 0: The attackers have found or made an entry point to systems or the network but haven’t used it or took no action.
  • Stage I: Attackers have control of a system but haven’t moved beyond the system to the broader network.
  • Stage II: Attackers have moved to the broader network and are in “read-only” mode meaning they can read and steal data but not alter it.
  • Stage III: Attackers have moved to the broader network and have “write” access to the network meaning they can alter data as well as read and steal it.
  • Stage IV: Attackers have administrative control of the broader network meaning they can create accounts and new means of entry to the network as well as alter, read and steal data.

Security and privacy professional. Making Awful News Just Bad™ Since 2001.

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