According to the Cloud Adoption Practices & Priorities Survey Report, advanced persistent threat prevention is viewed as one of the top security concerns confronting their business by 53% of IT professionals. According to the Ponemon Institute, just 68 percent of IT managers understand what an advanced persistent threat is. You can’t defeat an opponent if you don’t know who they are.

Advanced Persistent Threat
Advanced Persistent Threat | Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

An advanced persistent threat is an attack in which an unauthorized person gets access to a system or network and remains there without being discovered for a lengthy period. Hackers have continuing access to critical company data, making advanced persistent attacks extremely harmful for businesses. In most cases, advanced persistent attacks do not harm business networks or local devices. The most common aim of sophisticated persistent attacks is data theft.

Hacking the network, preventing detection, developing an attack strategy, mapping corporate data to identify where the desired data is most accessible, collecting sensitive company data, and exfiltrating that data are all common steps of advanced persistent threats.

Advanced persistent threats are recognized for their ability to fly under the radar, undetected by standard security measures, and have been responsible for numerous big, costly data breaches. Furthermore, as cyber thieves seek more complex methods to fulfill their objectives, advanced persistent attacks are becoming more frequent.

Examples of advanced persistent threat – APTs

Unfortunately, there are several historical examples of APTs from recent years. GhostNet, Stuxnet, APT34, and APT37 are only a few of them. The following are some of the most well-known APT attacks of the twenty-first century:

Titan Rain (2003)

In 2003, Chinese hackers launched a wide-ranging cyberattack against US government targets to obtain vital state secrets, dubbed “Titan Rain” by US investigators. APT assaults against high-end systems of organizations like NASA and the FBI were part of the hackers’ concentration on military data. “No other organization could accomplish this if they weren’t a military,” Adam Paller, SANS Institute research director, said of the assaults’ degree of complexity. The assaults produced a gap between the United States and China’s governments. Many security experts believe the strikes were carried out by the Chinese military (People’s Liberation Army).

Sykipot Attacks (2006)

Sykipot assaults take use of Adobe Reader and Acrobat vulnerabilities and are part of a long-running series of cyberattack activities predominantly targeting US and UK businesses, such as defense contractors, telecommunications firms, and government agencies. The attackers utilized targeted emails with either a link or a malicious attachment carrying zero-day vulnerabilities regularly. The most prevalent strategy in APT assaults is spear-phishing, which is a way of gaining access to business and government networks.

GhostNet (2009)

GhostNet is the moniker given by experts to a large-scale cyber espionage organization discovered in 2009. The assaults, which were carried out in China, were effective in infecting computers in over 100 nations, with a focus on network devices linked with embassies and government departments. China’s attempts to establish itself as a leader in an emerging “information war” were widely seen as a success. These assaults were notable for their terrifying ability to remotely manipulate infected machines, turning them into listening devices by turning on their cameras and audio recorders.

Stuxnet Worm (2010)

The Stuxnet worm, which was considered at the time to be one of the most sophisticated pieces of malware ever discovered, was utilized in operations against Iran in 2010. Because of its intricacy, only nation-state entities could have participated in its creation and deployment. Stuxnet differs from typical viruses in that it is designed to attack devices that are normally not linked to the internet for security reasons. Instead, it infects Windows workstations through USB keys, then spreads throughout the network, looking for Siemens Step7 software on computers that operate a PLC (programmable logic controllers). The hacking activities were intended to deliver critical information on Iranian industrial infrastructure to the hackers.

Deep Panda (2015)

The ongoing cyberwar between China and the United States has been blamed for a recently revealed APT assault hitting the US Government’s Office of Personnel Management. The most recent wave of attacks has been referred to by several various codenames, with Deep Panda being one of the most popular. The OPM assault in May 2015 was thought to have exposed approximately 4 million US personnel data, with fears that information about secret service personnel was also taken.

The harsh reality of sophisticated persistent threat defense is that there is no single method that can completely safeguard you. In addition to continual network monitoring, you’ll need many layers of protection functioning together at all times.

For APT Countermeasures you must do the following:

  • Set up a Firewall

Choosing a firewall as the first line of security against APT assaults is critical. The three most popular forms of firewalls are software firewalls, hardware firewalls, and cloud firewalls, all of which may help you against sophisticated persistent attacks.

  • Implement Intrusion Prevention Systems to detect network intrusions.

Intrusion prevention systems (IPS) are a critical IT security service that continuously monitors your network for unusual activity or malicious code and notifies you if any is detected. This is a useful tool for detecting network breaches before they are exploited.

  • Create a Sandboxing Environment to execute untrusted applications or codes without jeopardising your operating system’s integrity.

A sandbox is a safe, virtual environment that allows you to launch and execute untrustworthy applications or codes without jeopardizing your operating system’s integrity. If a file is determined to be contaminated, it is isolated, removed, and future infections are prevented.

  • Set up a VPN.

APT hackers can easily obtain initial access to your company’s network through remote access hazards such as an unsecured WiFi hotspot. A virtual private network (VPN) creates an encrypted “tunnel” via which you and your workers may connect to your network without cybercriminals spying on you or collecting your data.

  • Activate Email Security

Email is one of the most often used and efficient infiltration methods. Advanced persistent threat prevention is dependent on both good software and appropriate end-user behavior. Activate spam and virus protection in your email programs, and train your staff on how to spot potentially hazardous communications.

  • Employee Awareness and Install an antivirus program.

With awareness, your employee knows better what they do in a case of downloading a problematic file. They will know more as a perspective of cybersecurity in relation to behavior. Aware of the security tools that are running on their endpoints to scan files and the system from time to time.

  • Penetration Testing

Acting like an APT is one method to assess how vulnerable your network is to one. Penetration testing is a tried-and-true method of uncovering a company’s security flaws. The exercise may be used to shore up an organization’s cyber-defenses and keep IT security staff on their toes, whether it’s done internally with red teams (attackers) and blue teams (defenders) or with an outside penetration testing firm. As a result, form a threat-hunting team and conduct regular vulnerability testing.

5 Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) Example and Countermeasures

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