In the world of cybersecurity, few things send shudders down the spines of defenders like the words Advanced Persistent Threat (APT). The idea of being breached by a sophisticated APT is something close to a worst-case scenario.
To help you understand why APTs are such a significant concern, let’s dive into what they are, how they operate and the best way to identify the most common attack vectors they exploit.
Advanced persistent threats are typically highly organized and well-funded adversaries known for a deep level of sophistication, coordination and, yes, persistence. APTs have the resources to study and analyze their targets for weeks or months, identifying the most promising cybersecurity attack vectors. These groups are sometimes state sponsored, and can pose substantial risks to even the largest and most well-defended organizations and governments.
For many years, APTs specialized in “big fish” targets: Large global enterprises. More recently, however, they are training their sights on small to medium-sized businesses. There are two reasons for this: One, smaller targets are often seen as low hanging fruit with less sophisticated defenses. Two, by gaining access to a smaller company an APT can gain access to a larger target that is linked somewhere on the supply chain.
Once inside an environment, an APT can lurk undetected for weeks or months, move laterally and exfiltrate critical assets. As we said, it can be a nightmare scenario — and one that exacts massive financial and reputational costs.
For advanced APT protection, it’s necessary to understand attack vectors, and have the right tools for smart defense.
Common APT Attack Vectors
The most important thing to understand about APTs is that they are flexible. While they are capable of launching attacks of tremendous sophistication, they also indulge in very basic attacks. Adversaries are just as concerned about efficiency and ROI as anyone else, and sometimes a simple attack works.
Some of the most common attack vectors include:
- Social engineering
- DNS modifications
- Zero-day attacks
- Vulnerability exploits
- Supply chain attacks
- Internal attacks (compromising a target’s employee)
- Pirated software
Understanding how APTs attack is one part of the prevention puzzle. The next step is being equipped with the right tools to stop even the most determined APTs in their tracks. For most organizations, cyber-attack simulation software can play a key role in managing APT risk.
How APT Simulation Helps Protect Crown Jewel Assets
One of the best options for an APT attack countermeasure is the use of modern breach and attack simulation (BAS) software, such as that offered by XM Cyber. An advanced BAS platform can simulate sophisticated APT attacks and launch them against your security defenses on an automated and continuous basis. By simulating APT activity along the most likely paths, using the most likely tactics, a BAS platform allows organizations to take an active approach to probing for their existing vulnerabilities.
In other words, a BAS platform puts you in the shoes of an APT and allows you to see your own defenses through the attacker’s eyes. This is an invaluable perspective, as it allows for continuous monitoring and continuous security posture improvement.
A commitment to continuous testing and monitoring is the best weapon defenders have against highly persistent and sophisticated attackers. By making such testing automated, BAS platforms make continuous monitoring and evaluation feasible — few organizations, after all, can afford non-stop manual testing, a process that would also be disruptive in the extreme.
Once a BAS platform identifies vulnerabilities, it closes the loop by walking defenders through prioritized remediation guidance, ensuring that all gaps are closed.
APTs are now a primary concern for security teams at organizations large and small. By incorporating BAS technology, it’s possible to mitigate this risk. XM Cyber’s award-winning technology is fully automated and works in AWS and hybrid environments, making it uniquely well-suited for the task of APT protection.
Yohanan Berros is Customer Operations Manager, XM Cyber