Understanding Advanced Persistent Threats

Advanced persistent threats, or APTs, can pose serious risk to a company’s private online data, and are one of the leading cybersecurity concerns for major organizations. Here, the specialists at Atlantic Data Forensics explain what an APT is, how it works, and how to seek help if you have been affected.

What is an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT)?

An advanced persistent threat is a prolonged attack on a network by an unauthorized user (also known as a threat actor) to access data for illicit purposes. Attackers often target organizations with high-value information, such as major corporations or governmental agencies, although any group or organization can be the victim of an APT.

How Does an APT Work?

In many attacks, the unauthorized user attempts to get in and out of the network as rapidly as possible to prevent detection. An APT; however, requires ongoing access, and as such threat actors will create elaborate, complex plans and detection-prevention techniques to ensure they continue to have access to the system.

A threat actor will first create a means of entry into the system, usually through an email, file, network or application vulnerability. A common method of doing so is known as spear phishing, which creates a personalized attack against a select group or individual under the guise of an innocuous email from an individual within the company. Spear phishing emails appear to come from an individual the target knows and trusts, such as a network administrator or managerial figure, who then requests personal information from the recipient. By clicking on a link, replying to the email or filling out information on a fake page, the threat actor can then upload malware, which will begin to access the target information within the network.

The malware will seek out vulnerabilities in the network, allowing the threat actor access from various points, or “back doors.” Target data may then be collected and eventually exfiltrated off the network, placing it fully in the control of the threat actor. Evidence of the APT may then be erased, and the threat actor will be able to access the network again in the future if the first threat is not detected.

Are There Indicators an APT Has Occurred?

While APTs can be difficult to detect, there are a few key occurrences network users should pay attention to. Suspicious activity, such as increased numbers of after-hour logins, large and irregular flows of information internally and externally or unexpected “bundles” of data in areas on a network where they should not exist can all indicate an APT has occurred. Backdoor Trojan programs and emails that are reminiscent of spear phishing campaigns may be additional indicators of an APT. If you have detected potential indicators of an APT, contact a data forensic specialist immediately.

Atlantic Data Forensics Can Detect APTs and Mitigate Their Damage for Your Company

Advanced persistent threats can leave your organization vulnerable to hackers who wish to use the information contained on your network for nefarious purposes. As such, it is critical to have a plan in place that allows you to take quick, decisive action against such threats. The digital forensic specialists at Atlantic Data Forensics have the skills and experience necessary to ensure any threats to your network are isolated, halted and corrected. For more information about how we can help, we urge you to contact us today!

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