Advanced Persistent Threat
An advanced persistent threat (APT) is a set of stealthy and continuous computer hacking processes, often orchestrated by human(s) targeting a specific entity. APT usually targets organizations and/or nations for business or political motives. WikipediaWell funded APT adversaries do not necessarily need to breach perimeter security controls from an external perspective. They can, and often do, leverage “insider threat” and “trusted connection” vectors to access and compromise targeted systems.
Abuse and compromise of “trusted connections” is a key ingredient for many APTs. While the targeted organization may employ sophisticated technologies in order to prevent infection and compromise of their digital systems, criminal operators often tunnel in to an organization using the hijacked credentials of employees or business partners, or via less-secured remote offices. As such, almost any organization or remote site may fall victim to an APT and be utilized as a soft entry or information harvesting point.
A key requirement for APTs (as opposed to an “every day” botnet) is to remain invisible for as long as possible. As such, the criminal operators of APT technologies tend to focus on “low and slow” attacks – stealthily moving from one compromised host to the next, without generating regular or predictable network traffic – to hunt for their specific data or system objectives. Tremendous effort is invested to ensure that malicious actions cannot be observed by legitimate operators of the systems.
Malware is a key ingredient in successful APT operations. Modern “off-the-shelf” and commercial malware includes all of the features and functionality necessary to infect digital systems, hide from host-based detection systems, navigate networks, capture and extricate key data, provide video surveillance, along with silent and covert channels for remote control. If needed, APT operators can and will use custom developed malware tools to achieve specific objectives and harvest information from non-standard systems.
At the very heart of every APT lies remote control functionality. Criminal operators rely upon this capability in order to navigate to specific hosts within target organizations, exploit and manipulate local systems, and gain continuous access to critical information.
If an APT cannot connect with its criminal operators, then it cannot transmit any intelligence it may have captured. In effect, it has been neutered. This characteristic makes APTs appear as a sub-category of botnets.
While APT malware can remain stealthy at the host level, the network activity associated with remote control is more easily identified. As such, APT’s are most effectively identified, contained and disrupted at the network level.
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