Is your enterprise vulnerable to advanced persistent threats (APTs)?

file RiskXchange The leader in Third-Party Cyber Risk Management

RiskXchange can fully assess potential threats to ensure your business is protected against possible APT attacks.

Advanced Persistent Threats (APT) are not as well-known as malware or phishing attacks but can pose a risk to high profile companies and government organisations. To break it down, APTs are organised and highly sophisticated cyberattacks that are orchestrated by groups of skilled adversaries – these are almost always nation-states intent on monitoring systems and/or stealing data.

According to the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an APT is

an adversary that possesses sophisticated levels of expertise and significant resources which allow it to create opportunities to achieve its objectives by using multiple attack vectors (e.g. cyber, physical, and deception). These objectives typically include establishing and extending footholds within the information technology infrastructure of the targeted organisations for purposes of exfiltrating information, undermining or impeding critical aspects of a mission, program, or organisation; or positioning itself to carry out these objectives in the future.

The advanced persistent threat is defined as the following:

1. Pursues its objectives repeatedly over an extended period of time.

2. Adapts to defenders’ efforts to resist it.

3. Is determined to maintain the level of interaction needed to execute its objectives.

Breaking down the characteristics of APTs

1. The APT always has clear objectives and specific targets.

2. The attackers are always well-funded and highly organised.

3. The malicious actors often conduct long-term and repeated campaigns.

4. Adversaries adopt evasive and stealthy attack techniques.

APTs also use multi-phase attacks that take place over a long period of time, which may include weaponisation and reconnaissance, data exfiltration, and delivery:

1. Research and reconnaissance

APTs are adept at gathering information on any organisation to probe for vulnerabilities using social engineering and other tactics.

2. Entry

By deploying custom malware using exploit methods, APTs target known vulnerabilities and can infiltrate high levels of security.

3. Mapping

By avoiding detection, APTs are adept at mapping out company networks.

4. Data Capture

APTs can transfer and collect sensitive data over a long period of time.

How to reduce the risks associated with advanced persistent threats

APTs are extremely stealthy and complex. The only way to counter their attack is by creating a multi-layered defence which will protect against even the most sophisticated methods. Here are a number of in-depth strategies organisations should consider to protect themselves against APT campaigns:

1. Security Awareness Training

It’s extremely important for organisations to undertake security awareness training to understand APT campaigns and how to protect against them.

2. Traditional Defence Mechanisms

Traditional defence mechanisms, such as anti-virus software or firewalls, build a wall up against known attack vectors, making it difficult for APT hackers to gain access.

3. Advanced Malware Detection 

Being able to detect advanced malware is key in the fight against APTs because they often leverage custom-developed evasive tools or zero-day exploits that bypass traditional defences. Sandboxing execution is a proven method for analysing malware’s behaviour, which allows for the identification of unknown, advanced malware.

4. Event Anomaly Detection 

Since APT hackers are extremely covert and don’t use patterns that organisations can target, the search for anomalous activities and the study of normal behaviour is a tried and tested method. Searching for suspicious or irregular activities can typically be conducted by machine learning to bolster defences.

5. Data Loss Prevention

APT attacks are often used to steal valuable data from an organisation’s network. To combat this exfiltration threat, data loss prevention (DLP) solutions can be deployed as the last line of defence.

6. Intelligence-Driven Defence

Intelligence-driven defence is one of the best ways to reduce APT attacks. By leveraging knowledge about the way previous attacks have occurred, companies can better understand their techniques, and then implement defensive measures.

Keep on top of OPSEC

Operations security (OPSEC) is the basis of any effective risk management program. OPSEC is a military grade strategy which identifies critical information that could be exploited by attackers and develops defence mechanisms to counter the potential threat. OPSEC is key to preventing APTs from accessing and stealing data from your network. Here are the top five steps of OPSEC which apply to APTs: 1. Identify and secure data that could be used by APTs to harm your business.

2. Pinpoint who could potentially target your organisation. By identifying potential adversaries, you can anticipate the motives behind an APT attack and adapt the company’s security strategy accordingly.

3. Use security assessment tools and penetration testing to analyse security vulnerabilities.

4. Continuously assessing and monitoring your organisation’s threat level can help determine company priorities and identify possible targets.

5. By creating a security program that addresses your organisation’s needs, vulnerabilities are identified, and adequate countermeasures are put in place to prevent attacks.

How RiskXchange can help

RiskXchange is one of the firms leading the fight against cybercrime, coming up with novel solutions to everyday problems experienced at the hands of hackers. We are a respected provider of cybersecurity ratings and can fully assess potential threats to ensure your business is protected against possible APT attacks.

With full visibility over your ecosystem’s entire attack surface in near real-time, you can regularly monitor and mitigate risks to prevent unnecessary exposures. Our passive data collection methods are effective and have no impact on your network performance. Using data-driven insights to prevent breaches is the best way to reduce an attack surface and prevent cyberattacks. 

About RiskXchange

RiskXchange provides a powerful AI-assisted, yet simple, automated and centralised 360-degree cybersecurity risk rating management approach. We generate objective and quantitative reporting on a company’s cyber security risk and performance, which enables organisations with evolving business requirements to conduct business securely in today’s open and collaborative digital world. 

RiskXchange is an information security technology company, which helps companies of all sizes fight the threat of cyber threats by providing instant risk ratings for any company across the globe. RiskXchange was founded and is led by recognised experts within the security industry, who have held leading roles within companies such as IBM Security.