Advanced Persistent Cyber Threats (APT) Identification and Mitigation

“Advanced Persistent Threat or APT is a “targeted cyber-attack where a device is accessed by a hacker and remains for a long time undetected. The high likeliness of malicious actors using a variety of infiltration methods to compromise targets can be deduced from this concept alone, many of which will be mapped out within the MITRE ATT&CK System. It can be understood that with the development of modern-day detection techniques, the complexity and sophistication of code produced to remain undetected for these attacks must be large. As the APT is well supported, coordinated organizations, these groups do not have a problem producing flawless code for delivering payloads. APTs are more of a targeted attack than conventional cyber-attacks, however, companies in every sector are a potential victim. Existing literature and academic studies confirm the effectiveness and effect of APTs are due to the incapability of traditional cyber defense systems to track, mitigate, and prevent APT attack vectors.

Stages of APT attacks

Recognition

This is where target-related research takes place. Used to identify vulnerabilities and personal details that can be exploited through social engineering about the company and its employees. Search engines and social networking platforms may also help provide attackers with the details they need.

Compromise/Breach

This is where malware, SQL injections, zero-day vulnerabilities, and other tactics are used to gain a foothold in the network and breach protection mechanisms.

Data Infiltration

we see the intruder looking for business records and sensitive data. The attacker sends the infected host a C&C attack or another remote order, allowing the attack to propagate horizontally through the intranet.

Exfiltration of data

Exfiltration consists of methods that can be used by adversaries to extract data from your network. When they have gathered data, it is also bundled by adversaries to prevent detection when deleting it. Compression and encryption will provide this. Usually, strategies to get data out of a target network involve transmitting it over the command and control channel or an alternative channel and may also include setting transmission size restrictions.

Protection Evasion

This Evasion consists of tactics that adversaries use in their compromise to escape detection. Uninstalling/disabling protection software or obfuscating/encrypting data and scripts provide methods used for defense evasion. In order to conceal and disguise their malware, adversaries often leverage and manipulate trusted processes. The strategies of other methods are cross-listed here as the additional advantage of subverting defenses is included in those techniques.

APT Attack Vectors

Physical

To penetrate air-gap target networks, physical access to computers is required.

Spear-phishing Attacks

A recipient gets an email with a document or connection that is weaponized.

Hardware Supply-chain Attacks

Compromising hardware devices used before shipment by the target. The equipment will arrive already backdoored in this way and be used for further threats.

Water-hole attacks

The organization would infiltrate a website commonly used by the aim, replacing malicious versions of software and resources, thereby making their victim unknowingly run the malware they place

Social Engineering

Through the impersonation of an individual who normally contacts the target, along with the capability to lull the victim to open a received file or provide confidential details, or lure the target to open a connection or document that appears to be important to their job.

APT attack detection

Currently, identification based on traffic analysis, security incident association, and threat-intelligence mining are the key methods for APT attack detection.

 Traffic Analysis

It typically conducts massive network traffic data mining, identifies unknown behaviors of APT attacks based on explicit features or information, and predicts APT attacks. For eg, traffic transmission, malicious DNS detection, fractal dimension correlation-based machine learning algorithm by extracting TCP/IP session features.

 Detection Based on Event Correlation

In general, APT attacks consist of multiple attack stages, and there are also significant studies that take into account the different steps of APT attacks for correlation analysis and detection. For instance, detect specific attacks and build the APT attack chain through data flow analysis, use log records as clues to track system events, machine learning-based APT detection system, called MLAPT, which consists of three modules: threat detection, alert correlation, and attack prediction.

Threat Intelligence Mining-based identification

Threat intelligence provides info on current or future threats and may be used for the detection and prevention of APT attacks. Cyber-threat intelligence, threat analysis framework based on Web ontology language, for example.

Mitigation against Persistent Advanced Threat

A multilayered approach is essential to prevent Advanced Persistent Threats.

  • No single approach is going to protect against APTs. An effective defense includes the use of up-to-date solutions to secure any aspect of your network, including Next Generation anti-malware software, endpoint protection, authentication and identity management, SIEMs, and patching of the firmware. Another barrier to APTs, which are continually evolving to remain secret as long as possible, is given by each layer of protection. Apart from the fact that it is so much easier to avoid attacks rather than respond to them, it keeps your systems cleaner while designing your multi-layered strategy, and gives your SIEM resources a fighting chance against the APTs that get through.
  • Intensive monitoring. Logins and access requests, in particular, should be periodically checked so that abnormalities can be identified and resolved quickly.
  • Applications for Whitelisting. Although it can sound annoying to some end-users, whitelisting apps ensure that any forced installs are brought to your attention immediately.
  • Threat intelligence services. Threat intelligence tools use raw data on emerging threats to provide businesses with actionable information. This process allows companies to discover threats faster and mitigate disruption sooner when combined with next-generation software and endpoint protection.
  • Employee education and knowledge. Via spear-phishing e-mails and social engineering, APT groups also gain a foothold. That means training in cybersecurity is important for all members of an organization. This also affects executives at C-level; no one is immune. Spear-phishing email attempts today are not confined to badly phrased emails from dubious sources. They also interpret legitimate messages. Employees need to be informed (and retrained) about what to look for and what steps to take if a link or an attachment is unknown.
  • An incident response strategy. Attacks on cybersecurity can happen. Having a strategy in place for how an organization will respond to APT and other attacks, including machine forensics, is important. Organizations should identify who is accountable for the measures to be taken to mitigate risk and avoid recurrences.

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