A well-planned cyberattack against a government or a large company is a terrifying prospect. Particularly when the attack is designed to infiltrate a network for an extended time to steal sensitive data.
This type of campaign is known as an advanced persistent threat (APT) and has become a common occurrence in today’s complex networks.
Once the dominance of state-sponsored cyber terrorist groups focused on infiltrating governments and large businesses and political organizations, APTs have evolved to become a more common form of cyber attack.
In this post, you will find everything you need to know about advanced persistent threats APTs, what it is, how it works, and security measures to protect yourself.
What Is An Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) Attack?
An advanced persistent threat (APT) is a broad term used to describe an attack campaign in which an intruder, or a team of intruders, establishes a long-term illicit presence on a network to extract highly sensitive data.
The targets of these attacks, which are carefully chosen and investigated, often include large business or government networks.
How Do APT Attacks Usually Begin? (Main Goal & Characteristics)
A successful APT attack can be divided into three stages: infiltration of the network, expansion of the attacker’s presence, and extraction of accumulated data, all without being detected.
1# – Infiltration
Companies typically infiltrate by compromising one of three attack surfaces: web assets, network resources, or authorized human users.
Additionally, infiltrators can simultaneously execute a DDoS attack against their target. This serves as both a smokescreen to distract network personnel and a means of weakening a security perimeter, making it easier to breach.
#2 – Expansion
Once a foothold is established, attackers move to expand their presence within the network.
This involves moving up the hierarchy of an organization and committing staff members to access the most sensitive data.
In doing so, they can collect critical business information, including product line information, employee data, and financial records.
Depending on the ultimate goal of the attack, the accumulated data can be sold to a competing company, modified to sabotage a company’s product line, or used to take down an entire organization.
If the motive is sabotage, this phase is used to subtly gain control of multiple critical functions and manipulate them in a specific sequence for maximum damage.
For example, attackers could delete entire databases within a company and then disrupt network communications to prolong the recovery process.
#3 – Extraction
While an APT event is taking place, the stolen information is usually stored in a secure location within the network being attacked.
Once enough data has been collected, the crooks must extract it undetected.
Typically, white noise tactics are used to distract your security team so information can move.
This could take the form of a DDoS attack, again tying up network personnel and/or weakening the site’s defenses to make extraction easier.
Examples of an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT)
- Sykipot – APT malware family exploited flaws in Adobe Reader and Acrobat in 2006 and reportedly continued attacks with the malware until 2013. Threat actors used the Sykipot malware family as part of a series of long-running cyberattacks. duration, mainly aimed at organizations in the United States and the United Kingdom.
- GhostNet – Cyber espionage operation was discovered in 2009. Executed from China, the attacks were launched via spear phishing emails containing malicious attachments, compromising computers in more than 100 countries.
- Stuxnet worm – Attacked Iran’s nuclear program was detected by cybersecurity researchers in 2010. It is still considered one of the most sophisticated pieces of malware ever detected.
- APT28 – Russian Advanced Persistent Threat group also known as Fancy Bear, Pawn Storm, Sofacy Group, and Sednit, was identified by Trend Micro researchers in 2014.
- APT37 – Also known as Reaper, StarCruft, and Group 123, this is an advanced persistent threat linked to North Korea that is believed to have originated around 2012. APT37 has been connected to spear phishing attacks that exploit an Adobe zero-day vulnerability Flash.
How to Countermeasure an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) Attack
Proper APT detection and protection require a multifaceted approach by network administrators, security vendors, and individual users.
If your organization’s IT team has found evidence of an APT attack, here’s what to do:
- Identify the scope of the problem
- Alert executives
- Decide on a recovery strategy
- Establish a plan to eliminate the threat
- Enhance efforts to protect the network
To prevent APTs from gaining access to your data, you must be as sophisticated and proactive as your adversaries in protecting your organization’s network and be on the lookout for any suspicious activity that might indicate an attack is in progress.