Indicators of Compromise (IoCs) vs Indicators of Attacks (IoAs)

Unfortunately, there’s a little confusion when it comes to differentiating IoCs from indicators of attacks. This is because some people use the terms interchangeably (kind of like how people refer to TLS as SSL even though they’re two related but separate protocols that work differently at the nitty-gritty, technical level.) Simply put, IoCs are after-the-fact data, which differs from indicator of attack (IoA) data that aims to help you identify and respond to threats in real time.

  • Indicators of compromise are about getting useful information about an attack after it happens so you can put an end to an ongoing compromise and, ideally, identify future attacks or breaches when they occur via enhanced detection and response processes. (Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.)
  • Indicators of attack are all about identifying attacks as they’re happening to stop them from occurring. The idea here is that you can stop the attackers in their tracks — ideally, before they have a chance to compromise your system.

What to Do With IOS’s Within Your IT Environment

Cybersecurity pros use IoCs in cybersecurity to detect and identify malicious activities and advanced persistent threats (APTs) within your network or IT environment. Why? So they can respond to events and threats to mitigate them. Basically, these giveaways play a key role in helping the “good guys” block the “bad guys” who want to access your sensitive data and systems.

Staying up to date on the latest indicators of compromise and understanding how they work helps you:

  • Detect and identify attacks on your network or other IT assets as quickly as possible
  • Test the effectiveness of your cyber defenses
  • Identify and mitigate vulnerabilities that bad guys can exploit
  • Improve your analysis and training capabilities using real world examples
  • Strengthen your cyber defenses to make yourself a tougher target (i.e., prevent attacks from occurring in the first place)