A person working on a computer with the words, "what is an advanced persistent threat?" By Sunny Lowe on July 22nd, 2022 in Network Security

When it comes to your business’s security, a lot of businesses focus on physical threats such as shoplifting, parking lot assaults, and break-ins. Businesses go to great lengths to lessen these threats, such as hiring parking lot security, adding in security lighting, and installing security cameras and anti-theft sensors.

Some threats, however, lurk in unseen places and may cause significant harm to businesses. These threats take place in the world of cybersecurity and one of the most significant and vicious of them is known as an advanced persistent threat.

What Is an Advanced Persistent Threat?

An advanced persistent threat (APT) is a cybersecurity attack that employs a range of sophisticated cyber hacking techniques that are designed to steal valuable information from a business. These threats don’t just leave once the initial damage is done. They stick around and cause more destruction as they seek valuable information about your business, employees, and consumers.

Who Is At Risk of an Advanced Persistent Threat?

Advanced persistent threats take a lot of effort to set up and deploy. Because of this, they are not as widely used as other techniques, such as simple spear-phishing or virus-infected emails. As a result, APTs are generally used at high-value targets, such as federal businesses and larger corporations, for example, Walmart or Amazon. The goal of these threats is to steal information over a longer period, reducing the risk of these threats being found.

Some APTs target smaller companies that make up the supply chain of larger corporations or government agencies. By using these as a stepping stone, these hackers can achieve their goal of gaining access to the bigger organizations. This is why it is extremely important for smaller businesses to secure their networks and be on the defense against possible APT threats.

How Do APT Attacks Work?

The purpose of an APTs attack is to gain continuous access to a company’s system, slowly stealing information that the hacker can then use for their gain. To achieve this, they have to do the following:

Step One: Gain Access To Your Systems

Just as a burglar or a shoplifter needs to gain access to your store first, a cybercriminal needs to get access through your network. This is often done with an infected file, spam email, or a vulnerable app that then inserts malware into the target’s network.

Step 2: Establish a Foothold

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Once the malware has been inserted into the system, the malware creates a backdoor into the victim’s network and then creates tunnels the hacker can use to move around the system without being detected. This is done through rewriting codes to cover the tracks of the hackers.

Step 3: Gaining Further Access to the System

As the hackers continue to gain access to your system, they begin using techniques to crack passwords. This is done to gain access to administrative controls, allowing them more access to the system.

Step 4: Moving Laterally

With deeper access into your business’s system, the hacker will then be able to move around as much as they want to. At this point, they can begin to try to gain access to other servers or other secure parts of the network.

Step 5: Harboring Information

Hackers don’t just move around the system; they try to understand how everything works and where it is most vulnerable. Once they have this understanding, they exploit these weaknesses to harvest the information they are looking for.

Depending on the goal of the hacker, some will keep this process running for months, or they will simply stick around indefinitely. However, whether they leave or not, if they remain undiscovered, they will leave a backdoor open to ensure they can access the system again in the future.

How to Defend Against Advanced Persistent Threats

The best defense against APTs is to prevent hackers from gaining access to your system in the first place. Firewalls and antivirus software are great preventive measures for your business. These devices should be installed on every computer or internet-connected device on your business’s networks, including smartphones and tablets.

However, it is important to note that basic cybersecurity can only defend your business to a certain point. It does not protect against more advanced threats or users who are not exercising caution.

Make sure your employees, who have access to your business’s network and systems, with basic cybersecurity protocols such as:

  • Never share account details
  • How to recognize a legitimate email from a phishing attempt
  • Use safe web browsing practices at work

Following these practices can prevent hackers from hijacking users’ accounts and creating backdoors into your business’s systems.

How to Mitigate Access If an APT Does Get Into the System

A man working on a computer with a headset.

Even with all the right tools for perimeter defenses, hackers, like burglars, are still equipped with the skills it takes to bypass these. This is why it is important to have additional defenses protecting your IT infrastructure. These defenses are set in place to mitigate damage or access that an APT can give hackers if they manage to hijack a user’s account.

These defenses, such as putting secure data behind internal firewalls, can limit the access of an uploaded piece of APT malware, effectively limiting their ability to access your company’s sensitive data. Additionally, using encryptions, such as data-at-rest and data-in-flight, prevents APTs from gathering any intelligible data, making all the work they are putting in basically useless. 

As a final internal security measure, any users or employees who leave the company should have their account access to your system revoked as soon as possible. This prevents these accounts from being targeted or used against your company later in the future, should their information get out.

Vigilance Is the Key to Catching APT Threats

When protecting your business’s network and system, vigilance is key. Monitoring your system for any unusual or suspicious activity can help catch hackers in the act and allow you more time to respond before the real damage can be done.

For example, if you notice abnormal data access requests or data moving from a secure server to a less secure one, this is a sign that something is going on with your network, such as an APT. 

Most small businesses don’t have the resources or the time to closely monitor their system and network 24/7. This leaves them more vulnerable to an advanced persistent attack than larger businesses.

Cybersecurity Services Is Your Best Defense Against APT Threats

Blue Jean Networks is proud to provide top-of-the-line cybersecurity services to a wide range of industries. From healthcare to construction and everything in between, you can be assured that your business will be protected from outside threats. Our team offers a wide range of cybersecurity services such as:

  • Virtual CISO: Designed to work around your business’s specific cybersecurity needs, using mature cybersecurity programs to analyze and eliminate threats before they become a major problem.
  • Cybersecurity Consulting Services: If your business already has an established IT department, our team can help bolster its cybersecurity defenses by ensuring that they are implementing the best strategies to protect your business against cyber threats.
  • Regular Cybersecurity Testing: Our team performs regular testing of your cybersecurity defenses to ensure that there are no gaps that can lead to potential issues. We then implement strategies to strengthen these areas, reducing the risk of threats infiltrating your system’s sensitive data. 
  • 24x7Network Security Monitoring: Our team monitors your cybersecurity system 24×7 to ensure that nothing attacks your business while your employees are away.
  • Unsafe Content Filtering: Protect your employees and network by preventing questionable and unsafe content from entering your IT infrastructure.
  • Enterprise-Level Strength Firewall: Block unauthorized access to your computers and network, protect data, and provide a strong first line of defense against viruses, malware, and APT threats with an enterprise-level strength firewall.
  • Spam Protection Services: Our comprehensive spam protection solutions are designed to aid your organization in eliminating spam before it ever hits your inbox.
  • Virtual Private Networks (VPN) Services: VPNs give you and your employees peace of mind by creating a private network, allowing for privacy while using a public internet connection.
  • Backup and Disaster Recovery Services: Blue Jean Networks’ Backup & Disaster Recovery services continuously archive sensitive data to ensure that it can be restored at a moment’s notice.

Don’t let cyber threats keep you up at night and invest in cybersecurity services from Blue Jean Networks. Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our IT consultants.