Advanced Persistent Threat Security: 5 Modern Strategies
Gilad David Maayan
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What Is An Advanced Persistent Threat (APT)?
An Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) is a form of cyberattack that involves an attacker gaining unauthorized access to your network and persisting (remaining undetected) for an extended period. The objective of APT attacks is typically to steal valuable data or to disrupt the normal operation of an organization’s network.
APT attacks are commonly executed by well-funded and highly skilled hacker groups, such as nation-state actors or organized criminal organizations. These groups use a combination of tactics, techniques, and procedures to access the target network, establish a foothold, and then move laterally to other parts of the network to gather intelligence and data. APT attacks are difficult to defend against because the attackers can often adapt and evolve their tactics in response to the defenses put in place by the target organization.
How Advanced Persistent Threats Work
APT attacks are different from traditional cyber threats in a number of ways. First, APT attacks are typically highly targeted and carefully planned. The attackers will often spend a significant amount of time researching their target and gathering intelligence about the network and its defenses before launching the attack. This enables the attackers to tailor their tactics to the specific target and to remain undetected for the longest possible time.
In contrast, traditional cyber threats are often opportunistic and do not require the same level of planning and intelligence gathering. They may use generic malware that is distributed widely in the hopes of infecting as many systems as possible, rather than being tailored to a specific target.
APT attacks also typically use multiple stages and techniques to break into the network and move laterally once inside. This might involve the use of phishing emails to trick users into divulging their login credentials, or the exploitation of vulnerabilities in hardware or software components to gain entry to the network. Once the attackers have gained a foothold, they will often use malware to maintain their access and move freely within the compromised network.
APT attacks are difficult to defend against because the attackers can often adapt and evolve their tactics in response to the defenses put in place by the target organization. This means that traditional security measures, such as antivirus software and firewalls, may not be effective against APT attacks. Organizations need to implement a comprehensive security strategy that includes not only traditional defenses but also advanced threat detection and response capabilities in order to protect themselves against APT attacks.
Access control is the first line of defense against APT attacks because it helps to prevent unauthorized access to your sensitive systems and data. Access control refers to the processes and technologies used to restrict access to information and resources based on an individual’s identity, permissions, and other factors.
In the context of defending against APT attacks, access control is critical because it helps to prevent attackers from viewing or tampering with sensitive systems and data. By implementing access controls, organizations can ensure that only authorized users can access sensitive information and resources and that unauthorized users are denied access. This helps to prevent APT attackers from gaining access to the organization’s network and systems, and from stealing sensitive data.
Access control is also important because it helps to prevent the spread of APT attacks within the network. By restricting access to sensitive systems and data, organizations can prevent attackers from moving laterally within the network and gaining access to additional resources. This can help to contain the attack and to minimize the impact on the organization.
Using Endpoint Monitoring and Detection Tools
Using EDR (Endpoint Detection and Response) and XDR (Extended Detection and Response) tools is an important strategy for defending against APT attacks because it enables organizations to detect and respond to these threats in real time.
EDR and XDR tools are designed to provide critical visibility into the activities of individual devices on your network, such as computers, servers, and mobile devices. These tools can detect and alert on suspicious or malicious behavior, such as the execution of known malware or the communication with known malicious servers.
By using advanced endpoint protection tools, organizations can gain a more detailed understanding of the tactics and techniques being used by APT attackers. This can enable them to respond more quickly and effectively to these threats and to take steps to contain and mitigate the damage caused by the attack. For example, you might use an EDR or XDR tool to isolate infected systems, block communications with known malicious servers, or implement other defensive measures.
Penetration testing (i.e., pen testing) is an important strategy for defending against APT attacks because it enables organizations to detect and address vulnerabilities in their networks and systems before they can be exploited by attackers. The pen testing process simulates a cyberattack on the organization’s network and systems with the objective of identifying vulnerabilities and weaknesses that could be exploited by APT attackers.
Pentesting is a valuable tool for defending against APT attacks because it enables organizations to identify and fix vulnerabilities in their systems and networks before they can be exploited by attackers. By conducting regular pen tests, organizations can ensure that their defenses are up-to-date and effective, and can reduce the likelihood of a successful APT attack.
Traffic monitoring is an important strategy for defending against APT attacks because it allows organizations to detect anomalous activity on their networks. APT attackers often use sophisticated techniques to avoid detection and to blend in with normal network traffic. By monitoring network traffic, organizations can identify patterns and behaviors typical of APT attacks, such as known malware, communication with known malicious command-and-control servers, or the exfiltration of large amounts of data.
By regularly monitoring network traffic, you can also identify when an APT attack is underway and take steps to contain and mitigate the threat. This may involve isolating infected systems, blocking communication with known malicious servers, or implementing other defensive measures to prevent the attack’s spread.
Additionally, traffic monitoring can help organizations identify and track the movement of APT attackers within their networks. This can provide valuable intelligence about the tactics and techniques being used by the attackers, which can be used to improve the organization’s defenses and prevent future attacks.
Advanced persistent threats are a major concern for businesses of all sizes. These highly targeted and sophisticated attacks can be difficult to detect and defend against and can cause significant damage to an organization’s network and systems.
To protect against APT attacks, organizations must implement a comprehensive security strategy that includes a range of modern protection measures. This may include traffic monitoring, EDR and XDR tools, regular penetration testing, and effective access controls. By implementing these strategies, organizations can improve their ability to detect and respond to APT attacks, and can reduce the likelihood of a successful attack.
About the Writer
Gilad David Maayan is a technology writer who has worked with over 150 technology companies including SAP, Imperva, Samsung NEXT, NetApp and Check Point, producing technical and thought leadership content that elucidates technical solutions for developers and IT leadership. Today he heads Agile SEO, the leading marketing agency in the technology industry. Connect with Gilad on LinkedIn.
Disclaimer: The author is completely responsible for the content of this article. The opinions expressed are their own and do not represent IEEE’s position nor that of the Computer Society nor its Leadership.