What You Need To Know About The Pyramid of Pain

Estimated read time 4 min read

Demystifying the Pyramid of Pain

The Pyramid of Pain is not just a flashy term; it’s a conceptual framework that security analysts and threat hunters use to understand, categorize, and act upon the different types of indicators of compromise (IoCs).

The pyramid helps us to comprehend the escalating levels of discomfort an adversary experiences when security professionals take countermeasures based on these IoCs.

Elements that Construct the Pyramid of Pain

The Pyramid of Pain in Cybersecurity and Threat Intelligence
The Pyramid of Pain in Cybersecurity and Threat Intelligence

The Pyramid of Pain is made up of a hierarchy of indicators, each differing in their level of abstraction and their impact on an adversary.

Hash Values

At the base of the pyramid lie hash values. These are cryptographic representations, often SHA1 or MD5, of suspicious or malicious files. While they offer high accuracy, they are also easy to change, making them less effective for long-term tracking.

An advanced form of hash values, known as “fuzzy hashes,” address some of these limitations by capturing similarities between files, rather than exact matches.

IP Addresses

Up a notch, we find IP addresses. These numerical labels are essential for any network-based attack. However, they are among the most volatile indicators, with adversaries often changing them to avoid detection.

Domain Names

Further up, domain names come into play. These are harder to change than IP addresses due to registration requirements. However, the availability of numerous DNS providers with lax standards still makes it fairly easy for attackers to switch domain names.

Network and Host Artifacts

These are the clues left behind by an adversary’s activities on your network or individual host machines. Examples include distinctive User-Agent strings or abnormal patterns in URI structures. Countermeasures at this level force the attacker to reconfigure their tools, creating a delay and adding complexity to their mission.


This category captures the utilities and software deployed by the adversary. Detecting and blocking these tools can significantly slow down an attacker, as they need to either find or develop new utilities, a process that is both time-consuming and resource-intensive.

Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs)

At the pinnacle of the pyramid are TTPs. These encapsulate the behavioral patterns of an adversary, from the initial reconnaissance phase to data exfiltration. Identifying and countering TTPs is the most effective but also the most challenging aspect of threat hunting.

Deciphering the Pyramid of Pain’s Functionality

The Pyramid of Pain serves as a guide to understand the level of ‘pain’ or inconvenience caused to an attacker when you act on these indicators.

The pyramid’s width and color coding signify the effort required from the attacker to modify each indicator type.

For example, hash values and IP addresses sit at the broader, green base, indicating that they are easier to change. As we move up, the pyramid narrows and turns yellow and then red, symbolizing the increasing difficulty and impact on the attacker.

Decoding the Pyramid of Pain’s Implications

The Pyramid of Pain doesn’t just categorize indicators; it gives us a roadmap for devising our cybersecurity strategies. By aiming our focus higher up the pyramid, we can force adversaries to invest more time and resources to counter our security measures, thereby increasing our own security posture.

Leveraging the Pyramid of Pain for Security Validation

Understanding the Pyramid of Pain allows for an effective validation of security measures. By simulating attacks based on higher-level indicators like TTPs, organizations can assess the robustness of their defense mechanisms. This approach provides actionable insights into how well your security operations can disrupt an attacker’s objectives.

That wraps up our comprehensive guide on the Pyramid of Pain. Armed with this knowledge, you are now better equipped to understand the intricacies involved in cybersecurity threat identification and response.

Reza Rafati https://cyberwarzone.com

Reza Rafati, based in the Netherlands, is the founder of Cyberwarzone.com. An industry professional providing insightful commentary on infosec, cybercrime, cyberwar, and threat intelligence, Reza dedicates his work to bolster digital defenses and promote cyber awareness.

You May Also Like

More From Author

+ There are no comments

Add yours