What is MITRE ATT&CK Framework? Tactics, Techniques & Matrix

Written By Sambita Panigrahy  
Anuraag Singh
Approved By Anuraag Singh 
Published On September 29th, 2023
Reading Time 8 Minutes Reading

DefinitionMITRE ATT&CK framework is a publicly available knowledge of adversary tactics and techniques based on real-world observations. It serves as a foundation for the creation of specialized threat models and approaches in the business sector, in government, and in the community of cybersecurity products and service providers.

Before moving ahead, let’s have a brief idea about who is MITRE and its relation with the ATT&CK framework.

A Brief Introduction to MITRE ATT&CK 

The American non-profit organization MITRE was founded in 1958 to help the public and enhance national security in new ways. It is in charge of federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs), which provide assistance to many U.S. government agencies engaged in aviation, homeland security, and other sectors.

With the formation of ATT&CK, MITRE is on a mission to solve problems for a safer world — by bringing communities together to develop more effective cybersecurity.

What does the MITRE ATT&CK Framework Aim to Achieve?

MITRE ATT&CK stands for MITRE Adversarial, Tactics, Techniques, and Common Knowledge. It was formed in 2013 as a result of MITRE’s Fort Meade Experiment (FMX) where researchers emulated both adversary and defender behavior. 

It was created with the intention of enhancing post-compromise threat detection using telemetry sensing and behavioral analysis.

There are three main goals of the framework and they are:

  • Give end users unbiased guidance on how to use particular commercial security solutions to identify actions of recognized adversaries.
  • To detect known adversary activities, be transparent about the genuine capabilities of security products and services.
  • Encourage the community of security vendors to improve their capacity to recognize well-known adversary actions.

Besides, there are other benefits of the MITRE ATT&CK framework. It ensures,

  • We gain an understanding of the opponent’s game plan in terms of tactic and technique combinations.
  • We can more effectively convey the precise nature of a threat and act more quickly and intelligently.
  • We can proactively create defenses to counter their attacks when we are aware of who our typical opponents are and how they approach us.

The framework provides a common behavioral model of individual adversary actions understood by both the offensive and defensive sides of cybersecurity.

MITRE ATT&CK Framework – The Behavior Model 

The model presented by ATT&CK consists of some core components. Such as:

  1. Tactics: represent the “why” of an ATT&CK technique. It’s the tactical enemy goals during an attack (the columns)
  2. Techniques: outlines how enemies accomplish tactical objectives (the individual cells)
  3. Adversarial method and other metadata use that has been verified (linked to techniques)

Now, there came a key question in front of the framework researchers, i.e. How well are they going to detect documented adversary behavior? To answer that question the researchers came up with a solution (i.e. developed ATT&CK) to categorize adversary behavior. And, it goes like this: 

  1. ATT&CK for Enterprise: It aims at adversarial behavior in Windows, Mac, Linux, and Cloud environments.
  2. ATT&CK for Mobile: It aims at adversarial behavior on iOS and Android operating systems.
  3. ATT&CK for ICS: It aims at describing the actions an adversary may take while operating within an ICS network.

MITRE ATT&CK Matrix – What are Different Tactics & Techniques?

The MITRE ATT&CK matrix contains a collection of methods that adversaries employ to achieve a particular goal. In the ATT&CK Matrix, those goals are grouped as tactics. Further, the tactics consist of different techniques. From the initial point of reconnaissance through the ultimate target of exfiltration or “impact,” the objectives are outlined in a linear fashion.

mitre attack framework

Here are the categorized adversary tactics.

  • Reconnaissance: The process of learning about the target organization in order to organize future hostile activities.
  • Resource Development: Establishing resources to support operations, i.e., putting in place command and control infrastructure
  • Initial Access: Attempting to access your network, such as through spear phishing
  • Execution: Attempting to run malicious code, such as by using a remote access program
  • Persistence: Maintaining their footing by being persistent, i.e., switching things up
  • Defense Evasion: Attempting to remain undetected, e.g., hiding malware utilizing trustworthy procedures
  • Credential Access: Keylogging, also known as credential access. It’s another Mitre ATT&CK framework tactic that involves obtaining account names and passwords.
  • Discovery: Investigating what they can control means discovering your surroundings.
  • Lateral Movement: Navigating your surroundings by switching between many platforms while utilising valid credentials.
  • Collection: Accumulating information useful to the adversary’s objective, such as using cloud storage for information
  • Command and Control: Controlling compromised systems through communication, such as by simulating legitimate web traffic to reach a victim network, is known as command and control.
  • Exfiltration: It is data theft, or moving data to a cloud account.
  • Impact: Tamper with, disrupt, or destroy systems and data, such as by using ransomware to encrypt data.

MITRE ATT&CK Framework vs Cyber Kill Chain – Understand the Difference

When you look at the Lockheed Martin Cyber Kill Chain model and MITRE ATT&CK framework, they both look similar but offer different models of threat behaviors and objectives.

As discussed in the above section MITRE ATT&CK framework offers 14 different matrices whereas the kill chain model offers 7 phases, such as Reconnaissance, Weaponization, Delivery, Exploitation, Installation, Command & Control, and Actions on Objectives.

The ATT&CK framework’s various tactics and techniques give descriptions of attacker behavior more nuance and specificity for each step. It does more than just outline the phases of an attack; instead, it represents particular attacker behaviors and objectives.

On the other hand, the Kill Chain is read from reconnaissance through action on objectives. The ATT&CK structure is not chronological and makes the assumption that attackers may modify their strategies throughout an attack.

As per MITRE, it is a “mid-level adversary model,” which means that it is neither overly broad nor very specific. High-level models, like the Lockheed Martin model, show the objectives of the enemy but don’t go into detail on how they are carried out.

How the Mitre ATT&CK Can be Useful for Organization?

The ATT&CK framework can be useful for organizations in several ways. It can help them maintain security operations, threat intelligence, and security architecture.

Some of the core use cases/benefits of the framework involve:

  • Security Gap Analysis
  • Assessment of SOC maturity
  • Red team testing – With the help of the Mitre ATT&CK framework, security teams can plan and execute simulated attacks to check the organization’s security posture.
  • Cyberthreat intelligence strengthening – It gives insights to security professionals to understand what techniques & tactics malicious actors use. Such that they can better defend the same.
  • Incidence Response – It helps the security teams thoroughly prepare for responding to security incidents
  • Regulatory Compliance – Some regulatory frameworks such as NIST CSF recommend using the Mitre ATT&CK framework as a reference to improve their cybersecurity posture.

Best Practices to Improve Security Posture Through MITRE ATT&CK Framework

The following ATT&CK framework can be used by CISOs and security teams to enhance their security.

  1. Plan a cybersecurity strategy
  2. Execute adversary emulation plan
  3. Identify security gaps in defenses
  4. Incorporate Threat Intelligence

The ATT&CK performs evaluation using adversary emulation, which is a way of testing “in the style of” an adversary. As a result, it becomes helpful for the Purple team to test security controls in real-time.

Final Verdict

Implementing MITRE ATT&CK framework usually involves either manual mapping or integration with cybersecurity tools. The most common of the existing tools are Security Information and Event Management (SIEM), Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR), and Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB).


Q- Why Mitre ATT&CK framework important for organizations?

MITRE ATT&CK is important because it gives organizations a standardized way to understand, categorize, and defend cyber threats. It also helps them improve their security posture.

Q- Is MITRE ATT&CK applicable to a particular sector or industry exclusively?

No, it is applicable across various industries and sectors including Government, Healthcare, Education, finance, etc.

Q- How frequently is the MITRE ATT&CK framework updated?

MITRE updates the ATT&CK framework regularly to reflect the evolving threat landscape. It adds new tactics, techniques, and procedures and expands existing content to stay current.

Ready to secure your organization’s IT infrastructure? Contact our security experts now and use their expertise to proactively protect your business at every stage of the threat cycle.