10 MIN READ
In the cyber world, perpetrators come in various forms and capabilities. At one end of the spectrum, we have the script kiddies or inexperienced ransomware gangs seeking quick monetary gains. On the other end, state-sponsored groups are employing highly sophisticated tactics driven by long-term strategic objectives. Advanced Persistent Threats/APT attack groups belong to the latter category.
These well-funded organizations consist of elite hackers, honing in on high-value targets such as governments, large corporations, or critical infrastructure. Employing multi-stage, multi-vector approaches with extensive obfuscation and persistence, APTs are formidable adversaries.
Yet, small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs) may wonder, “Why would an APT group care about us?”
The answer lies in their potential role as stepping stones to more prominent targets, mainly if they exist within a supply chain or serve larger entities. A staggering 93% of SMB executives believe that nation-state hackers use businesses like theirs as a backdoor into the country’s digital defenses.
An Advanced Persistent Threat/APT attack is a well-organized cyberattack orchestrated by highly skilled and sophisticated threat actors. Unlike quick and sporadic attacks, APTs involve meticulous planning, focusing on strategic targets, and unfolding over an extended period.
APTs are complex and multi-faceted assaults that encompass various stages and a wide range of attack techniques. Several commonly observed attack vectors originated from APT campaigns, including zero-day exploits, custom-made malware, credential theft tools, and lateral movement techniques. APT campaigns often deploy multiple attack patterns and exploit several access points to achieve their objectives.
The goals pursued by APT attackers and the consequences faced by targeted organizations include:
To prevent, detect, and resolve an Advanced Persistent Threat/APT attack, it’s crucial to understand its typical characteristics.
APTs generally follow a basic life cycle involving infiltrating a network, expanding access, and accomplishing their primary objective, often stealing data from the network.
During this phase, cybercriminals store stolen data in a secure location within the network until they have collected enough information. They then quietly extract, or “exfiltrate,” the data without being detected. To distract security teams, they might employ denial-of-service (DoS) attacks to tie up network personnel while stealing the data. The compromised network remains vulnerable, ready for the attackers to return anytime
APT groups send well-designed, authentic-looking emails or text messages to create a sense of urgency, fear, or curiosity among targets. It prompts them to reveal sensitive information or unknowingly activate malicious payloads or ransomware.
Rootkits are malicious software programs that provide attackers remote control over a target system, concealing their presence. Once inside an infected system, rootkits create backdoors, granting APT groups undetected access to the organization’s network. Like email phishing campaigns, common attack vectors are often used to install rootkits.
A proactive approach is crucial in the face of Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs). Detection through traffic monitoring and access controls, coupled with defense measures like whitelisting and two-factor authentication, strengthens security.
Swift response strategies, such as patching and email filtering, enhance resilience. Staying vigilant and adaptable is paramount to safeguarding assets and data and ensuring a secure digital future.