Advanced Persistent Threat (APT): How to Protect Your Organization From Lurking APTs

Technology advancement has traditionally been seen as a way for employees to work more effectively, simplify tasks and maximize business value. With increasing connectivity across different objects, more machines generate and store data than ever before, creating a web of smart devices. However, many devices don’t have the proper protection, but are connected to vital networks.

Hackers are starting to use these objects to breach business systems and initiate Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) techniques. As the consequences of cyber attacks continue to mount, it will be important for organizations to understand the dangers associated with advanced persistent threats and how to protect themselves as well as their business computers effectively.

1. Know What an Advanced Persistent Threat Entails

An Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) is a set of stealthy and persistent computer hacking processes, which enable unauthorized access to a system or network, with the goal of business data theft. The “advanced” process signifies sophisticated techniques using malware to exploit vulnerabilities in systems. The “persistent” process suggests that an external command and control system is continuously monitoring and extracting data from a specific target. The “threat” process indicates human involvement in orchestrating the attack. They operate in multiple phases – including avoiding detection, mapping business data, hacking the network with dormant rootkits, gathering sensitive data, and possibly extract that data. An advanced persistent threat is typically sophisticated. This type of strategy aims to remain undetectable, by traditional security measures and has resulted in large, costly data breaches.

Educating your staff on an advanced persistent threat will help not only maintain security, but also ensure that any unusual behavior can be addressed immediately. Suspicious emails and abnormal traffic are two big signs that your systems have been impacted by advanced persistent threats. An attacker might also try to issue commands to your key applications or make unauthorized attempts to access sensitive data.

2. Employ Endpoint Security

Workers are becoming increasingly mobile and are using more devices than ever to complete their tasks. Businesses could end up paying the price if they don’t protect these machines effectively. GCN noted that compromised devices can fail within 10 minutes, and these machines can’t just be rebooted to mitigate the attack. This serves as a critical pathway for hackers to enter business networks, undetected, and stay within the system.

The dangers surrounding both traditional and smart devices is real – from government to manufacturing shops, infrastructure can be taken over and used to access sensitive areas within the network. IT professionals must ensure that they configure machines appropriately, which means changing the default passwords to something that’s harder to guess and applying necessary configurations to limit accessibility to authorized personnel. While it might seem strange to add a complex password to your new internet-enabled coffee maker, it’s necessary to keep this machine from risking your sensitive data. Endpoint security measures will be important to cutting off attackers from the main network and limiting the scope of a potential advanced persistent threat.

“Organizations can proactively set up strategies to respond to incidents.”

3. Plan Proactively For Recovery

An advanced persistent threat can be one of the hardest threats to detect and recover from. Once an advanced persistent threat is found, the damage likely has already been done, with an unknown amount of data compromised, driving up potential costs for responding to such situations appropriately. Infosecurity Magazine contributor Dennis Griffin noted that it’s practically impossible to create a defensive security system to mitigate an advanced persistent threat attack (or APT attack). However, organizations can proactively set up layered security strategies to segment their applications, install early warning detection systems and respond to incidents. These approaches combined with authentication walls will help keep unauthorized users from accessing sensitive servers.

For those actively trying to break into your system, they will likely keep trying until they do so. Implementing solutions to detect attack behavior on the network or near applications will help organizations prevent and contain an advanced persistent threat attack. This in turn will minimize the potential damage of the breach and enable businesses to get back on track quickly. Intimate knowledge of your systems, manageable defensive tools, attention to security and user awareness will all be essential in avoiding APT attacks and ensure fast recovery from any incidents.

4. Use Layered Security Approaches

Malware is critical to the success of an advanced persistent threat. Once the network is breached, malware has the capability to hide from certain detection systems, navigate the network from system to system, obtain data, and monitor network activity. The ability for attackers to control an advanced persistent threat mechanism remotely is also key, enabling criminals to navigate throughout the organization’s network to identify critical data, gain access to the desired information, and initiate the extrapolation of data.

An advanced persistent threat can keep any IT professional up at night, and these threats are only becoming more sophisticated as time goes on. Because these methods can slip under the detection of many modern security tools, implementing a layered security approach, might be the best option. Deploy an anti-virus to guard against known viruses, which could be used to penetrate the network. Application control or application whitelisting tools can be really effective in preventing any unauthorized executable from executing. With smart usage monitoring tools, IT teams can detect any unusual behavior, contain it and prevent it from impacting your critical systems. Finally, automated maintenance using reboot to restore software can ensure clean configurations on a regular basis, while disallowing unauthorized, dormant threats to remain or spread in the network.

Layered security solutions will be essential for limiting the risk posed by insecure endpoints. These systems, along with proactive recovery planning, endpoint security and understanding what advanced persistent threats entail will help organizations better protect themselves and their sensitive assets. Contact Faronics today to learn more about incorporating a layered security approach with Deep Freeze Cloud.

Suzannah Hastings

Suzannah is interested in all things digital, from software security to the latest technological advances. She writes about ways in which the increasingly internet-driven landscape changes our lives, and what we can expect in the future.