Understanding Adversarial Simulation: A Key Strategy in Cybersecurity


Cybersecurity is continually evolving to address ever-increasing threats and vulnerabilities as the world grows more interconnected. A key weapons in our cybersecurity arsenal is 'adversarial simulation'. In simple terms, adversarial simulation tests an organization's defenses by emulating the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) used by real-world attackers. This blog post aims to provide an in-depth understanding of adversarial simulation and its crucial role in strengthening cybersecurity defenses.

Main Body

Adversarial simulation exercises mimic real-world attack scenarios to expose potential vulnerabilities, evaluate risk levels, effectively prepare the defenses for an organization. By simulating actions of an attacker, these exercises offer valuable insights into how systems might respond under a real cyber-attack situation.

There are various types of adversarial simulations. The two prominent ones being: Red teaming and Breach attack simulations.Red teaming is a full-scale cybersecurity assessment, where a group of security experts simulate a cyber-attack on an organization's security infrastructure. On the other hand, Breach attack simulations, are automated scenarios designed to mimic the techniques of potential attackers in a controlled environment.

Adversarial simulation is underpinned by the concept of 'Assume Breach'. This concept states that despite having all preventive measures in place, one should always assume that there are vulnerabilities that can be exploited and breaches that can occur. The goal of adversarial simulation then is to identify those vulnerabilities and strengthen the defenses to contain and minimize the impact of breaches.

Why is Adversarial Simulation necessary?

Adversarial simulations provide a multitude of benefits, of which, the following hold significant importance:

  • Identify and Exploit Vulnerabilities: Adversarial simulations reveal and exploit potential vulnerabilities, exposing flaws in the technology, people, and processes.
  • Preparation and Response: These simulation exercises help in better preparation and response to a real cyber-attack by testing the Incident Response Team (IRT) in a real-time, dynamic environment.
  • Educate and Train: Simulations help educate and train the IT staff in real-world scenarios, and conduct regular security awareness campaigns.
  • Compliance: Regular adversarial simulation exercises can facilitate compliance with regulatory requirements and provide evidence of due diligence in managing the cyber risk.

The Adversarial Simulation Process

Conducting an adversarial simulation involves several stages. These are typically categorized as follows:

  1. Planning and reconnaissance: Identification of the target(s) of the adversarial simulation.
  2. Threat modelling: Analyzing potential threats and selecting suitable attack vectors.
  3. Execution: The selected attack vectors are executed to successfully breach the IT infrastructure.
  4. Expansion: Once a breach has taken place, the simulation attempts to escalate privileges and move laterally across the network.
  5. Report: This stage involves documenting all the findings, conclusions and recommendations of the simulation exercise.

Adversarial simulation is a continuous and iterative process incorporating the lessons learnt from previous simulations into future ones. It's not a one-time exercise, but should be a recurring process that regularly evaluates the defensive infrastructure of an organization.


In conclusion, adversarial simulation is a critical component of any robust cybersecurity strategy. Though its implementation may initially seem daunting and complex due to its technical aspects, it has proven its immense value in the long run. An effective adversarial simulation exercise not only helps organizations uncover and rectify vulnerabilities in their systems, but also enhances the abilities and preparedness of their teams to respond appropriately during real attack situations.

The world of cybersecurity is changeable and adversarial simulation exercises provide a proactive, practical and tangible way of staying one step ahead of potential attackers. While it must be combined with other cybersecurity measures, it indeed remains a key strategy in strengthening and enhancing cybersecurity defenses in this ever-evolving digital age.

John Price
Chief Executive Officer
October 6, 2023
7 minutes