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Advanced Persistent Threats - Part 3

This blog is in continuation to the the part 1 blog.


Characteristics of an Advanced Persistent Threat


APTs are in no way the same as normal internet threats because of some certain features. The more sophisticated a threat agent is, the more its features distinguish it from an average threat. The characteristics of an APT include, but are not limited to the following :

(1) Objectives: The objective could be political, strategic, or espionage-related. The objective is to repeatedly source for sensitive data over an extended time. In short, they have clear goals. The objective must be clear and specific. Since APTs are sophisticated, they're not launched for minor and less significant issues.

(2) Another clear characteristic of an APT is its actual cost to develop. It cost a whole of money to develop an APT Because they're produced or developed by highly skilled teams of cybercriminals. That's why they're mostly groups and not individuals. When we talk about Resources, we are not only talking about the money involved but also the time involved. In short, it takes time and costs a lot of money.

(3) Risk Tolerance: APT hackers have a low-risk tolerance, and as such, expect everything to be accurate. They don't leave everything to chance, and this trait widely differentiates them from the average hacker. Their attacks are carefully planned and designed with the knowledge of a target's vulnerabilities to remain undetected for a long period.

(4) Knowledge source: Advanced Persistent Threats usually have the same characteristics because they all emanate from the same cyber group. Be that as it may, they may not necessarily fit the same pattern.

(5) Multi-Phase: Advanced Persistent Threats go through several phases, which we will discuss below.

- Social Engineering: This refers to the stage where research is being done to gather information on the system to be attacked.

- Entry and Infiltration: This is the stage where the APT is launched. It is usually delivered into the system using exploit kits, phishing, or other methods deemed fit.

Tips for Defending Against Advanced Persistent Threats


Advanced Persistent Threats
Advanced Persistent Threats

We have established that Advanced Persistent Threats are threats that are quite sophisticated and not easy to detect, thereby making them very dangerous. The fact that the main aim of setting up is to steal sensitive data makes it all dangerous. Ways to defend the system against this threat must, therefore, be in place, and below are good tips for defending your system against Advanced Persistent Threats.


Implement Defense In-Depth: This is one of the best ways to prevent an Advanced Persistent Threat from getting into your system. It involves full control of your entry and exit points, utilizing an intrusion detection and prevention system, making use of next-generation firewalls, as well as a vulnerability management system. A system and security information and event management systems (SIEM), as well as strong authentication and identity management, is also needed. This goes along with putting in place endpoint protection and keeping your security patches updated at all times.


Traffic Monitoring: Monitoring the incoming and outgoing traffic on your system is a very good way of preventing APT attacks and information theft. This way you can easily spot any unusual activity and alert the appropriate parties. To this effect, a web application firewall can be put in place on your system to monitor traffic to your servers. A web application firewall will also spot attacks such as SQL and RFI injection attacks, which happen to be one of the tools used in the APT infiltration phase.


While the web application firewall is good for incoming traffic, a network firewall helps monitor internal traffic within the system. It shows you how users are interacting within the system while making sure to highlight unusual activities within the system. It also gives you the leverage to monitor file shares within the system. All of this works together to prevent APT infiltration into the system, as well as easy detection in the case they are in already.


Application and Domain Whitelisting: Whitelisting refers to the act of monitoring and controlling domains that can be accessed from your network. It also covers the applications which can be downloaded onto the system by users. While this is not 100% effective, it does a great job of keeping out unwanted domains and applications. To make it even more secure, ensure that all users are running on the latest versions of all applications whitelisted.


Access Control: The best way for an APT attack to be launched against your system is through your employees, which is why monitoring access control is very important. Certain employees fall into the categories of those that are easily targeted and this class of people is highlighted below.


- Careless Users: These are the ones who ignore security procedures and in their ignorance leave openings for threats.

- Compromised Users: These are the users whose access has been tampered with by hackers thereby giving them access to the system.

- Malicious Users: Malicious users are those who deliberately and knowingly give these hackers access to the system.

As such, it is important to keep these sets of people in mind when granting access control within the organization. Do not grant access to users who are not directly in need of it. It is safer to give access to highly placed officials who are trusted and understand the workings of the organization.


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