CommunityDevOps ExchangePartners
10 minutes

Comparing Indicators of Compromise vs. Indicators of Attack

Written by
Team Copado
Table of contents

In the world of cybersecurity threat detection, there are two main approaches: reactive and proactive. Reactive threat detection focuses on identifying and mitigating breaches that have already occurred. Proactive threat detection, on the other hand, attempts to identify attacksas they’re happening to limit (or prevent) attackers from exfiltrating data or causing other damage.

Reactive threat detection often relies on indicators of compromise, or IOCs, whereas proactive threat detection focuses on indicators of attack, or IOAs. This article will define and compare indicators of compromise vs. indicators of attack before explaining how both threat detection methods contribute to a robust cybersecurity strategy.

What Are Indicators of Compromise?

Indicators of compromise are signs that a malicious actor has breached network resources. They provide evidence that a breach has occurred, so systems administrators and cybersecurity teams know to take action to mitigate the threat and repair its damage. That makes IOCs a form of reactive threat detection because they help you react to an attack that has already happened. However, IOCs also provide valuable data about the characteristics of an attack (known as threat signatures). These help security professionals and threat detection solutions better detect and prevent similar attacks in the future.

Some of the most common indicators of compromise include: 

  • Abnormal network traffic
    Abnormal outbound traffic could be a sign of data exfiltration, whereas internal requests on unusual ports could point to the use of common hacking tools like Netcat.
  • Anomalous DNS requests
    Strange DNS requests, such as misspelled domain names, might be evidence that malware on the network was trying to communicate with an external Command and Control (C&C) server.
  • DDoS attacks
    Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are often used to disguise the activities and intentions of hackers on the network.
  • Abnormal privileged account activity
    If a privileged account displays abnormal behavior, such as elevating other user accounts at random or accessing sensitive data outside their normal job function, that’s a sign that the account was compromised.
  • Spikes in database read volume
    Unusual spikes in database read volume, especially at odd times, indicate that a hacker was accessing or exfiltrating data.
  • Suspicious changes
    Suspicious changes to registry or system files often indicate that the system was infected by malware, which could have been used to create a backdoor for data exfiltration.
  • Social engineering
    A successful social engineering attempt, such as email phishing, resulting in stolen credentials.
  • Malware reinfection
    Rapid reinfection after removing a virus or other malware could be evidence of a rootkit or advanced persistent threat.

What Are Indicators of Attack?

Indicators of attack are warning signs that an attack is occurring or is currently in progress. They disclose the attackers' intentions, their techniques, and in some cases, their identity. IOAs are used in proactive threat detection, telling security teams to take immediate action to prevent an imminent breach or stop one currently happening. They also provide clues about the attackers’ next moves, such as the data and resources they’ll likely target and where data will be exfiltrated. This information is critical because it helps security professionals make smarter, faster decisions. That’s why IOAs are frequently used in the observe and orient stages of the OODA loop process.

Some of the most common indicators of attack include:

  • Multiple social engineering attempts across the company
  • Internal hosts communicating with public servers in unusual geographic locations
  • Multiple login attempts from unusual geographic locations
  • Spikes in inter-host communications, especially during odd hours (such as the middle of the night)
  • Internal hosts communicating to public servers using non-standard ports or protocol/port mismatches

Comparing Indicators of Compromise vs. Indicators of Attack

The primary difference between indicators of compromise vs. indicators of attack is, as we’ve already discussed, that IOCs are reactive while IOAs are proactive. That means IOAs help you prevent a breach or limit the damage caused by one in progress, and IOCs help clean up the mess left behind after the breach.

IOCs are also static, which means the indicators don’t change over time. The event has already happened, so evidence of the event won't change during the detection and mitigation process. That means IOC detection still works long after the attack has taken place.

IOAs, by contrast, are dynamic because they’re signs of an event unfolding and evolving. There are multiple attack techniques and stages that a cybercriminal will go through as they work to penetrate your defenses, which means IOA detection relies on real-time monitoring of suspicious activity.

Indicators of Compromise vs. Indicators of Attack: Which Should You Rely On?

IOC-based threat detection has a few major limitations. First, IOC detection compares potential threats to a database of known attack signatures. If, for example, a suspicious executable file matches the characteristics of a known strain of malware, IOC threat detection will block it. However, IOC-based tools can’t detect novel threats such as zero-day exploits, which are so new that they don’t match known attack signatures.

Second, IOC-based security solutions often use predictable scanning schedules. For example, a particular brand of antivirus software may run scans at 3 a.m. local time by default. That allows sophisticated hackers to predict when a network scan occurs and time their activities accordingly to prevent detection.

Finally, since indicators of compromise provide reactive threat detection, they often fail to prevent intrusions from occurring in the first place. However, IOCs do provide valuable forensic evidence after a known breach, which is something that indicators of attack can’t do. That’s why a robust security strategy combines IOC-based detection with IOA detection and analysis. This method gives you the benefit of proactive breach prevention and the historical data needed to learn from past mistakes and improve your security posture. 



Book a demo

About The Author

#1 DevOps Platform for Salesforce

We build unstoppable teams by equipping DevOps professionals with the platform, tools and training they need to make release days obsolete. Work smarter, not longer.

Copado and Wipro Team Up to Transform Salesforce DevOps
DevOps Needs for Operations in China: Salesforce on Alibaba Cloud
What is Salesforce Deployment Automation? How to Use Salesforce Automation Tools
Maximizing Copado's Cooperation with Essential Salesforce Instruments
Future Trends in Salesforce DevOps: What Architects Need to Know
From Chaos to Clarity: Managing Salesforce Environment Merges and Consolidations
Enhancing Customer Service with CopadoGPT Technology
What is Efficient Low Code Deployment?
Copado Launches Test Copilot to Deliver AI-powered Rapid Test Creation
Cloud-Native Testing Automation: A Comprehensive Guide
A Guide to Effective Change Management in Salesforce for DevOps Teams
Building a Scalable Governance Framework for Sustainable Value
Copado Launches Copado Explorer to Simplify and Streamline Testing on Salesforce
Exploring Top Cloud Automation Testing Tools
Master Salesforce DevOps with Copado Robotic Testing
Exploratory Testing vs. Automated Testing: Finding the Right Balance
A Guide to Salesforce Source Control
A Guide to DevOps Branching Strategies
Family Time vs. Mobile App Release Days: Can Test Automation Help Us Have Both?
How to Resolve Salesforce Merge Conflicts: A Guide
Copado Expands Beta Access to CopadoGPT for All Customers, Revolutionizing SaaS DevOps with AI
Is Mobile Test Automation Unnecessarily Hard? A Guide to Simplify Mobile Test Automation
From Silos to Streamlined Development: Tarun’s Tale of DevOps Success
Simplified Scaling: 10 Ways to Grow Your Salesforce Development Practice
What is Salesforce Incident Management?
What Is Automated Salesforce Testing? Choosing the Right Automation Tool for Salesforce
Copado Appoints Seasoned Sales Executive Bob Grewal to Chief Revenue Officer
Business Benefits of DevOps: A Guide
Copado Brings Generative AI to Its DevOps Platform to Improve Software Development for Enterprise SaaS
Celebrating 10 Years of Copado: A Decade of DevOps Evolution and Growth
Copado Celebrates 10 Years of DevOps for Enterprise SaaS Solutions
5 Reasons Why Copado = Less Divorces for Developers
What is DevOps? Build a Successful DevOps Ecosystem with Copado’s Best Practices
Scaling App Development While Meeting Security Standards
5 Data Deploy Features You Don’t Want to Miss
Top 5 Reasons I Choose Copado for Salesforce Development
How to Elevate Customer Experiences with Automated Testing
Getting Started With Value Stream Maps
Copado and nCino Partner to Provide Proven DevOps Tools for Financial Institutions
Unlocking Success with Copado: Mission-Critical Tools for Developers
How Automated Testing Enables DevOps Efficiency
How to Keep Salesforce Sandboxes in Sync
How to Switch from Manual to Automated Testing with Robotic Testing
Best Practices to Prevent Merge Conflicts with Copado 1 Platform
Software Bugs: The Three Causes of Programming Errors
How Does Copado Solve Release Readiness Roadblocks?
Why I Choose Copado Robotic Testing for my Test Automation
How to schedule a Function and Job Template in DevOps: A Step-by-Step Guide
Delivering Quality nCino Experiences with Automated Deployments and Testing
Best Practices Matter for Accelerated Salesforce Release Management
Maximize Your Code Quality, Security and performance with Copado Salesforce Code Analyzer
Upgrade Your Test Automation Game: The Benefits of Switching from Selenium to a More Advanced Platform
Three Takeaways From Copa Community Day
Cloud Native Applications: 5 Characteristics to Look for in the Right Tools
Using Salesforce nCino Architecture for Best Testing Results
How To Develop A Salesforce Testing Strategy For Your Enterprise
What Is Multi Cloud: Key Use Cases and Benefits for Enterprise Settings
5 Steps to Building a Salesforce Center of Excellence for Government Agencies
Salesforce UI testing: Benefits to Staying on Top of Updates
Benefits of UI Test Automation and Why You Should Care
Types of Salesforce Testing and When To Use Them
Copado + DataColada: Enabling CI/CD for Developers Across APAC
What is Salesforce API Testing and It Why Should Be Automated
Machine Learning Models: Adapting Data Patterns With Copado For AI Test Automation
Automated Testing Benefits: The Case For As Little Manual Testing As Possible
Beyond Selenium: Low Code Testing To Maximize Speed and Quality
UI Testing Best Practices: From Implementation to Automation
How Agile Test Automation Helps You Develop Better and Faster
Salesforce Test Cases: Knowing When to Test
DevOps Quality Assurance: Major Pitfalls and Challenges
11 Characteristics of Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) That Set Them Apart
7 Key Compliance Regulations Relating to Data Storage
7 Ways Digital Transformation Consulting Revolutionizes Your Business
6 Top Cloud Security Trends
API Management Best Practices
Applying a Zero Trust Infrastructure in Kubernetes
Building a Data Pipeline Architecture Based on Best Practices Brings the Biggest Rewards
CI/CD Methodology vs. CI/CD Mentality: How to Meet Your Workflow Goals
DevOps to DevSecOps: How to Build Security into the Development Lifecycle
DevSecOps vs Agile: It’s Not Either/Or
How to Create a Digital Transformation Roadmap to Success
Infrastructure As Code: Overcome the Barriers to Effective Network Automation
Leveraging Compliance Automation Tools to Mitigate Risk
Moving Forward with These CI/CD Best Practices
Top 3 Data Compliance Challenges of Tomorrow and the Solutions You Need Today