“ATT&CK with Sub-Techniques” is Now Just ATT&CK

Adam Pennington
Jul 8, 2020 · 11 min read

(Note: Much of the content in this post was consolidated and updated from previous posts written by Blake Strom with new content from Adam Pennington, Jamie Williams, and Amy L. Robertson)

We’re thrilled to announce that ATT&CK with sub-techniques is now live! This change has been a long time coming. Almost a year ago, we gave a first look at sub-techniques, and laid out our reasons for moving to them. This past March, based on feedback from that preview, we released a beta of ATT&CK with sub-techniques and now (with some small updates and fixes) it has become the current version of ATT&CK. You can find the new version of ATT&CK on our website, via the ATT&CK Navigator, as STIX, and via our TAXII server. Our “MITRE ATT&CK: Design and Philosophy” paper was also updated in March to reflect sub-techniques.

Enterprise ATT&CK matrix with sub-techniques

You can review the final change log here, which includes the changes from our last release (October 2019/v6.3) as well as some small changes since our beta (March 2020/v7.0-beta) release. If you have already been using our March beta, please take special note of the “Errata” and “New Techniques” in the “Compared to v7.0-beta” tab (nearly all of the “Technique changes” are due to the errata/new techniques and “Minor Technique changes” are generally small changes to descriptions).

ATT&CK change log

Back in March, we released JSON and CSV “crosswalks” to help people moving from the October 2019 release of ATT&CK to ATT&CK with sub-techniques. Since the beta, we have updated and refined the format of these crosswalks in order to reduce the amount of human intervention and text parsing required to use them programmatically (we explore more about how you can use these crosswalks below). We would also like to extend a special thanks to Ruben Bouman for his excellent feedback on the beta crosswalks.

Where to Find Previous Versions of ATT&CK

Before we dive into these exciting changes, we want to reassure you that previous version of ATT&CK (without sub-techniques) are still accessible. We respect and recognize that the addition of sub-techniques is a significant change and not something everyone will adopt immediately, so you’ll still have the ability to reference older content.

There are a few ways you can access previous versions of ATT&CK. The simplest is through our versions page, which links to versions of ATT&CK prior to sub-techniques (ATT&CK v6 and earlier) as well as the previous sub-techniques beta (ATT&CK v7-beta). It also contains links to the equivalent historical STIX representations of ATT&CK. You can also add “versions/v6/” to the beginning of any existing ATT&CK URL (for example, https://attack.mitre.org/techniques/T1098/ becomes https://attack.mitre.org/versions/v6/techniques/T1098/) in order to view the last version of a page prior to sub-techniques. If you have pre sub-technique layer files, the previous version of the ATT&CK Navigator can be found here.

Why Did We Make These Changes?

ATT&CK has been in constant development for seven years now. We work every day to both maintain and evolve ATT&CK to reflect the behaviors threat actors are executing in the real world largely based on input from the community. Over that time, ATT&CK has grown quite a bit (we hit 266 Enterprise techniques as of October 2019) while still maintaining our original design decisions. ATT&CK’s growth has resulted in techniques at different levels of granularity: some are very broad and cover a lot of activity, while others cover a narrow set of activity.

We heard from you at ATT&CKcon and during conversations with many teams that techniques being at different granularity levels is an issue — some have even started to develop their own concepts for sub-techniques. We wanted to address the granularity challenge while also giving the community a more robust framework to build onto over time.

This is a big change in how people view and use ATT&CK. We’re well aware that re-structuring ATT&CK to solve these issues could cause some re-design of processes and tooling around the changes. We think these changes are necessary for the long-term growth of ATT&CK and the majority of the feedback we’ve gotten has agreed.

What are Sub-Techniques?

Simply put, sub-techniques are more specific techniques. Techniques represent the broad action an adversary takes to achieve a tactical goal, whereas a sub-technique is a more specific adversary action. For example, a technique such as Process Injection has 11 sub-techniques to cover (in more detail) the variations of how adversaries have injected code into processes.

Process Injection (T1055) and its sub-techniques

The structure of techniques and sub-techniques are nearly identical as far as what fields exist and information is contained within them (description, detection, mitigation, data sources, etc.) — the fundamental difference will be the in their relationships, with each sub-technique having a parent technique.

We’re frequently asked, “why didn’t you call them procedures?” The simplest answer is that procedures already exist in ATT&CK, they describe the in-the-wild use of techniques. Sub-techniques on the other hand are simply more specific techniques. Techniques, as well as sub-techniques have their own sets of mapped procedures.

Procedure Examples of Process Injection (T1055)
Procedure Examples of Process Injection: Dynamic-link Library Injection (T1055.001)

Groups and software pages have also been updated to capture mappings to both techniques and sub-techniques.

Process Injection Procedure Examples of Duqu (S0038)

How do I Switch to ATT&CK with Sub-Techniques?

First, you’ll need to implement some changes to ATT&CK’s technique structure necessary to support sub-techniques. In order to identify sub-techniques, we’ve expanded ATT&CK technique IDs in the form T[technique].[sub-technique]. For example, Process Injection is still T1055, but the sub-technique Process Injection: Dynamic-link Library Injection is T1055.001 and other sub-techniques for Process Injection are numbered similarly. If you’re working with our STIX representation of ATT&CK we’ve added “x_mitre_is_subtechnique = true” to “attack-pattern” objects that represent a sub-technique, and “subtechnique-of” relationships between techniques and sub-techniques. Our updated STIX representation is documented here.

Next, you’ll want to remap your content from the previous version of ATT&CK, to this new release with sub-techniques. As with our beta release, we’re providing two forms of translation tables or “crosswalks” from our previous release technique IDs to the new version with sub-techniques to help with the transition. The CSV files are essentially flat files that show what happened to each technique in the previous release. We have one file for each tactic, which includes every ATT&CK technique that was in that tactic in the October 2019 ATT&CK release. We’ve also included CSV files showing what new techniques have been added in this release along with the new sub-techniques that were created. We have also created a JSON representation for greater machine readability.

Thanks to the excellent feedback from the community (thanks again to Ruben Bouman, as well as Marcus Bakker for the initial structure idea), we identified seven key types of changes:

  1. Remains Technique
  2. Became a Sub-Technique
  3. Multiple Techniques Became New Sub-Technique
  4. One or More Techniques Became New Technique
  5. Merged into Existing Technique
  6. Deprecated
  7. Became Multiple Sub-Techniques

Each of these types of changes is represented in the “Change Type” column of the CSVs or “change-type” field in the JSON. Some of these changes are simpler to implement than others. We recognize this, and in the following steps, we incorporate the seven types of changes into tips on how to move from our previous release to ATT&CK with sub-techniques.

Step 1: Start with the easy to remap techniques first and automate

For content mapped to the October 2019/v6 version of ATT&CK, start by replacing the existing technique ID from the value in the “TID” column with the value in the “New ID” column if there is one. Next, update the technique name to match “New Technique Name”. For Remains Technique, Became a Sub-Technique, Multiple Techniques Became New Sub-Technique, One or More Techniques Became New Technique, or Merged into Existing Technique change types you will mostly be done. We’ll handle the remaining two cases in Step 2. In some cases tactics have been removed, so it’s also worth checking the “Note” field in the CSV and “explanation” in the JSON.

Remains Technique

Example from Lateral Movement crosswalk showing T1091 with “Remains Technique” Change Type

The first thing that’s easy to remap — the techniques that aren’t changing and don’t need to be remapped. Anything labeled “Remains Technique” is still a technique with an unchanged technique ID like T1091 in the above example.

Became a Sub-Technique

Example from Lateral Movement crosswalk showing T1097 with “Became a Sub-Technique” Change Type

Next in the “easy to remap category” are the technique to sub-technique transitions, labeled “Became a Sub-Technique”, which account for a large percentage of the changes. These techniques were converted into the sub-technique of another technique. In this example, Pass the Ticket (T1097) became Use Alternative Authentication Material: Pass the Ticket (T1550.003).

Finally, there are a few cases where techniques merged with other techniques.

Multiple Techniques Became New Sub-Technique

Example from Persistence crosswalk showing T1150 and T1162 with “Multiple Techniques Became New Sub-Technique” Change Type

For techniques labeled “Multiple Techniques Became New Sub-Technique”, a new sub-technique was created covering the scope and content of multiple previous techniques. For example, Plist Modification (T1150) and Login Item (T1162) merged into Boot or Logon Autostart Execution: Plist Modification (T1547.011).

One or More Techniques Became New Technique

Example from Exfiltration crosswalk showing T1002 and T1022 with “One or More Techniques Became New Technique” Change Type

For techniques labeled “One or More Techniques Became New Technique” a new technique was created covering the scope and content of one or more previous techniques. For example, Data Compressed (T1002) and Data Encrypted (T1022) merged into Archive Collected Data (T1560) and its various sub-techniques.

Merged into Existing Technique

Example from Persistence crosswalk showing T1168 with “Merged into Existing Technique” Change Type

For techniques labeled “Merged into Existing Technique”, the scope and content of a technique was added into an existing technique. For example, Local Job Scheduling (T1168) merged into Scheduled Task/Job (T1053).

For any of these “easy” types of changes anything represented by the previous ATT&CK technique ID should be transitioned to the new technique or sub-technique ID. The ATT&CK STIX objects represent this type of change as a revoked object which leaves behind a pointer to what they were revoked by. In the case of T1097 above, that means it was revoked by T1550.003.

In all of these cases, taking what’s listed in the “TID” column and replacing it with what’s listed in the “New ID” column, and using the “New Technique Name” should give you the correct new technique.

Step 2: Look at the deprecated techniques to see what changed

This is where some manual effort will be required. Deprecated techniques are not as straightforward.

Deprecated

Example from Lateral Movement crosswalk showing T1051 with “Deprecated” Change Type

For techniques labeled as “Deprecated”, we removed them from ATT&CK without replacing them. They were deprecated because we felt they did not fit into ATT&CK or due to a lack of observed in the wild use. For example, Shared Webroot (T1051) was removed because we hadn’t been able to find evidence of any adversary using it in the wild for lateral movement after five years.

Became Multiple Sub-Techniques

Example from Execution crosswalk showing T1175 with “Became Multiple Sub-Techniques” Change Type

Techniques labeled as “Became Multiple Sub-Techniques” were also deprecated because the ideas behind the technique fit better as multiple sub-techniques. In the above example, T1175 has been deprecated and we explain that it was split into into two sub-techniques for Component Object Model and Distributed Component Object Model. These two entries will show up in the new_subtechniques CSV with further details about where they now show up in ATT&CK.

Example from new_subtechniques crosswalk showing the new sub-techniques T1175 was split into

If you have analytics or intelligence mapped to T1175, then it will take some manual analysis to determine how to remap appropriately since some may fit in T1559.001 and some in T1021.003.

Step 3: Review the techniques that have new sub-techniques to see if the new granularity changes how you’d map

If you want to take full advantage of sub-techniques, there’s one more step. Many “Remains Technique” techniques now have new sub-techniques you can take advantage of.

Example from Credential Access crosswalk showing T1003

One great example of an existing technique that now has new sub-techniques is Credential Dumping (T1003). The name was changed slightly to OS Credential Dumping and its content was broken into a number of sub-techniques.

Example from new_subtechniques crosswalk showing the new sub-techniques of T1003

The new sub-techniques add more detail and taking advantage of them will require some manual analysis. The good news is that the additional granularity will allow you to represent different types of credential dumping that can happen at a more detailed level. These types of remaps can be done over time, because if you keep something mapped to OS Credential Dumping, then it’s still correct. You can map new stuff to the sub-techniques and come back to the old ones to make them more precise as you have time and resources.

TL;DR, if you do just Step 1 while mapping things that are deprecated to NULL, then it will still be correct. If you do Step 2, then you’ll have pretty much everything you mapped before now also mapped to the new ATT&CK. If you complete Step 3, then you’ll get the newfound power of sub-techniques!

Going Forward

Although previous versions of Enterprise ATT&CK will remain available, new content will only be added to this latest version leveraging sub-techniques. Other ATT&CK related projects, such as Navigator and the Cyber Analytic Repository (CAR), have also already made the transition. Mobile, ICS, and the other ATT&CK platforms plan to eventually implement sub-techniques as well. We look forward to exploring all of the new opportunities these improvements provide.

We would like to thank everyone that made these exciting changes possible, including the ATT&CK Team (past and present) and the amazing ATT&CK community for your continuous feedback and support.

©2020 The MITRE Corporation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Approved for public release. Distribution unlimited 20–00841–6.

MITRE ATT&CK®

This is the official blog for MITRE ATT&CK®, the…

MITRE ATT&CK®

This is the official blog for MITRE ATT&CK®, the MITRE-developed, globally-accessible knowledge base of adversary tactics and techniques based on real-world observations. The full website is located at https://attack.mitre.org.

Adam Pennington

Written by

MITRE ATT&CK Lead

MITRE ATT&CK®

This is the official blog for MITRE ATT&CK®, the MITRE-developed, globally-accessible knowledge base of adversary tactics and techniques based on real-world observations. The full website is located at https://attack.mitre.org.