Advanced Persistent Threat

An advanced persistent threat (APT) is a stealthy threat actor, often a nation-state or state-sponsored group(s), that gains illegal access to computer networks and manages to remain undetected for an extended period after doing so.

Key Takeaways

  • APT (advanced persistent threat) is a stealthy threat actor who gains unauthorized access to systems while remaining undiscovered.
  • The motivations of APT threat actors are often pecuniary or political.
  • Cybercriminals prey on major commercial sectors as well as government organizations.
  • The average amount of time a person spends in APT is 78 days.
  • Theft of intellectual property and complete site takeovers are among the consequences of APT.
  • Organizations can prevent APT attacks by implementing proactive and comprehensive security policies, as well as through analyzing network logs.
  • APTs vs. Traditional Cyberattacks: What’s the difference?
  • APTs, in comparison to typical network and online application threats, are substantially more complex. There have been no hit-and-run events. The APT actors prefer to remain in a system for an extended amount of time to gather intelligence and steal data.

APTs versus Traditional Cyberattacks

APT’s primary motivations are political or economic. The groups are attempting to steal from, spy on, or otherwise disrupt operations in a variety of commercial sectors and government organizations. APT targets are meticulously selected and researched by cybercriminals before being attacked.

APT Motivations and Targets

  • Defense organizations under the control of the government
  • Services in the financial sector
  • Industrial \sTelecoms
  • Services of a legal nature
  • Goods for the general public
  • Health-care services
  • Academia
  • Transport systems, aviation and seaports, power, communications, and public administration services are all examples of critical infrastructure.

    APT Tools and Tactics

    Human intelligence and infiltration, malware, and social engineering are some of the espionage vectors used by APT organizations to obtain unwanted access to computer systems and network infrastructure. In the vast majority of cases, hackers use social engineering to trick their victims into installing harmful software on their computers.

APT Dwell-Time

The first stage of a hacking campaign is infiltration. Hackers infiltrate businesses by exploiting web assets, network resources, and human users. The APT actors use a variety of ways to obtain unauthorized access to systems, including malware uploads, SQL injections, and social engineering attacks.
Attackers expand their presence within the network once they have gained a foothold in the network during stage two (expansion). They rise through the ranks of an organization, endangering other assets and employees who have access to confidential information in the process.
Stage 3 – Extraction: Cybercriminals steal and transmit large amounts of information to a secure location while remaining undetected in the process.

APT Features

APT stealthy actors employ technologies and strategies that let offenders operate unnoticed for an extended period. According to FireEye, the global median dwell-time (the amount of time an APT assault goes undiscovered) was 78 days in 2018. Organizations are constantly working to improve their detection capabilities to reduce dwell time. Being in an environment for more than a month, on the other hand, provides a large amount of time for a cybercriminal to go through an attack cycle and achieve their goal.

Popular APT Groups

APT threat actors are distinguished by the characteristics that give them their name:

Advanced — APT threat actors have a broad range of intelligence-gathering tactics at their disposal, including commercial and open-source penetration technologies and techniques, among other things. Depending on the circumstances, APT tools may be used to compromise the state’s intelligence infrastructure.
Persistent – APT organizations have clear objectives, as opposed to individual hackers who are only interested in information for monetary gain. APT actors engage in continual surveillance and engagement with one another to achieve specified aims. To avoid discovery, the attackers choose a low and slow approach.
APTs pose a threat since they have the ability as well as the will to harm. They employ a combination of human behaviors, tools, and strategies to carry out their attacks.

APT Impacts

APT39 is an Iranian cyber-espionage organization that targets the Middle East’s telecommunications sector, travel business, and high-tech industry. APT39 makes use of the SEAWEED and CACHEMONEY backdoors, as well as a variant of the POWBAT backdoor that is unique to APT39. The group’s goal is to conduct monitoring, tracking, and surveillance activities against specific individuals and organizations to get proprietary and sensitive information about them.
APT35 is a cyber-espionage group that targets military, diplomatic, and political officials in the United States, Western Europe, and the Middle East, as well as the media, energy, engineering, telecommunications, and defense industries. The Iranian government-sponsored cyberespionage team performs long-term, resource-intensive operations to gather strategic intelligence for the country’s national security and foreign policy.
Beginning in 2012, APT41 has targeted organizations in at least 14 countries, with some of the attacks occurring as recently as this year. The Chinese-based APT41 espionage activities have historically targeted the healthcare, telecommunications, and high-tech sectors, and have included the theft of intellectual property.
APT29 is a Russian-backed cyber-threat group that targets Western European governments, foreign policy agencies, and other organizations with ties to Russia. APT29 is a highly adaptive and disciplined threat organization that conceals its activities on a victim’s network by communicating infrequently and in a manner that closely mimics normal traffic, according to researchers.
APT Attack Implications The ramifications of an APT attack are numerous. They are as follows:

Preventing APT Attacks

  • Theft of intellectual property such as trade secrets, research, and patents is an increasing problem.
  • Employee and consumer personal information, as well as other sensitive information, was compromised.
  • Attacking essential infrastructure or sabotage
  • Takeovers of the entire system and site
  • Preventing APT (Anonymous Persistent Threat) Attacks
  • As previously stated, APT threat actors are difficult to detect due to their covert nature.
  • Some of the solutions to thwart APT assaults are as follows:

Investing in aggressive and sophisticated security solutions to detect APT’s command and control network activity at the network layer level is a good idea for enterprises and government agencies looking to protect their networks. You can set up a web application firewall (WAF) on your network to filter the traffic that goes to and from web application servers.
Detailed Log Analysis — Organizations can perform in-depth log analysis and correlation from a variety of various sources.
APT Whitelisting – businesses can whitelist programs and domains that users can install on corporate networks to lower the success rate of APT attacks.
The adoption of dependable access controls can prevent malevolent insiders and compromised users from misusing their credentials to provide perpetrators access, which can help prevent data breaches.
Network software, operating systems, and application vulnerabilities should be patched as soon as new versions are made available by their respective manufacturers.
Ensure data security by encrypting data at rest and in transit. Remote connections that are encrypted prevent outsiders from listening in on data while it is being transmitted.
Email Security – filter incoming emails to prevent spam and phishing assaults that are directed at your company’s personnel.