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The Difference Between Pivoting vs. Lateral Movement

The Difference Between Pivoting vs. Lateral Movement

The distinction between pivoting vs lateral movement can be central to applicable protection 

Understanding the nuances of different attack methodologies is crucial for effective defense. Two such concepts often discussed are ‘pivoting’ and ‘lateral movement’. Though sometimes used interchangeably, they represent distinct strategies used by cyber attackers.  

Understanding Pivoting in Cybersecurity  

Pivoting refers to the technique used by attackers to move deeper into a network after gaining initial access. It typically involves the use of a compromised system as a launchpad to access other parts of the network that are not directly reachable from the attacker’s position. Pivoting is often used in an attempt to circumvent network security segmentation or internal firewalls 

Types of Pivoting:  

  • Network Pivoting: Utilizing the compromised system to pass network traffic to and from the target network, often using tools like SSH tunnels or VPNs.  
  • Application-Layer Pivoting: Exploiting specific applications or services to gain further access to the network.  

Purpose and Techniques:  

  • Access Expansion: A key goal is to expand access beyond the initial foothold.  
  • Use of Tools: Tools like reverse shells and port forwarding are common in pivoting. 
  • Circumvention of Security Measures: Pivoting allows attackers to bypass firewalls and other perimeter defenses.  

Lateral Movement in Cybersecurity 

Lateral movement, on the other hand, is the process of moving from one compromised host to another within the same network. This strategy is used by attackers after they have gained a foothold in a network to explore and gain control over additional systems.  

According to CrowdStrike ‘s ‘Global Security Attitude Survey,’ it was found that, on average, it took 95 days for organizations to detect an intruder on their network, and this lengthy detection time is often due to the sophisticated nature of lateral movement tactics used by attackers. 

To further expand on the definition of lateral movement, this is sometimes divided further into east-west and north-south.  

  • East-west lateral movement is about the internal, horizontal traffic within a network, posing challenges for internal network security and monitoring.  
  • North-south lateral movement is concerned with traffic entering and leaving the network, emphasizing perimeter defense and control of data flow to and from external sources.  

Understanding and securing both types of movements are essential for network security engineers to create a comprehensive strategy, in effectively detecting lateral movement, but here we are considering east-west lateral movement vs. pivoting. 

Characteristics of Lateral Movement:  

  • Exploitation of Trust Relationships: Utilizing existing trust relationships between machines within the network.  
  • Use of Legitimate Credentials: Often involves stealing and using legitimate user credentials.  
  • Targeting Sensitive Data: Aimed at finding and exfiltrating valuable data or achieving specific malicious objectives.  

Common Techniques:  

  • Pass-the-Hash/Pass-the-Ticket: Using stolen credential hashes to access other machines. 
  • Living off the Land: Utilizing native network tools for movement to avoid detection.  

Comparing Pivoting vs. Lateral Movement 

While both pivoting and lateral movement involve the movement within a network, they also differ significantly. 

Initial Access vs. Post-Access Movement:  

  • Pivoting is about extending reach from an initial breach point, often to penetrate deeper into network segments.  
  • Lateral movement focuses on moving across the network post-access, often within the same trust zone.  

Techniques and Tools:  

  • Pivoting often involves network manipulation and tunneling techniques.  
  • Lateral movement leverages credentials and internal network tools.  


  • Pivoting aims at gaining deeper network access.  
  • Lateral movement targets data discovery and control over additional assets.  

Cybersecurity Implications 

Understanding the difference between pivoting and lateral movement is essential for implementing effective cybersecurity measures.  

Detection and Prevention Strategies:  

  • For Pivoting: Focus on granular workloads to capitalize on the advantages of network segmentation, monitoring ingress and egress points, and deploying Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS).  
  • For Lateral Movement: Emphasize on monitoring internal traffic, analyzing user behavior, and securing user credentials.  

Incident Response Considerations:  

  • Pivoting: Quick isolation of initial access points and scanning for network tunnels or unauthorized access points.  
  • Lateral Movement: Identifying and neutralizing compromised user accounts and application accounts—investigating the extent of internal network compromise.  

Protection From Pivoting and Lateral Movement 

Pivoting and lateral movement are critical concepts in cybersecurity, each with unique characteristics and implications. Understanding these differences enables cybersecurity professionals to tailor their defense strategies more effectively, enhancing overall network security and resilience against sophisticated cyber threats.

If you’d like to find out how the TrueFort Platform stops attackers moving laterally throughout your organization’s network, please contact us to arrange a no-obligation demonstration with one of our specialist security engineers.

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