Advanced Persistent Threat Detection


All businesses must strengthen their cyberdefenses against the most basic threats, such as malware and social engineering schemes. However, as businesses expand, they become more lucrative targets for cybercriminals. This means that large businesses must prepare their cyberdefenses for a new class of dangerous threats: advanced persistent threats (APTs). Detecting APTs is critical if you deal with sensitive data, such as information critical to government operations. Continue reading to find out more about advanced persistent threat detection.

What is Persistent Advanced Threat Detection?

Advanced persistent threats are among the most complex, difficult, and critical elements to address in any cyberdefense system. Any effective mitigation strategy must begin with identifying and monitoring for them. As a result, this guide will summarize everything you need to know about advanced persistent threats and how to detect and prevent them, including the following:

  • What advanced persistent threats are and how they manifest themselves, with several relevant examples
  • The most effective detection techniques for sophisticated persistent (and general) threats
  • How and why should we consider preventative measures in addition to detection?

What are Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs)?

According to the Cybersecurity Model Maturity Certification (CMMC) framework, an APT is “an adversary with advanced levels of expertise and significant resources that enables it to create opportunities to accomplish its objectives through the use of multiple attack vectors.” While this equates APTs with threat actors, the security implications apply unilaterally across actors capable of conducting APTs and the specific attack vectors they employ to victimize targets.

These threats can be used against any company, but they are most frequently associated with government-sponsored espionage. As a result, they are frequently used in conjunction with government agencies and their contractors. This is why detecting them is a critical component of CMMC compliance, which is required of all Department of Defense (DoD) contractors, which account for the lion’s share of the broader Defense Industrial Base (DIB).

Examples of Advanced Persistent Threats

Due to the highly complex, multifaceted, and customized nature of APTs, there is no single template that is sufficient for a single APT. However, several of them employ similar tactics, including but not limited to:

  • Social engineering attacks, such as spear phishing and whaling, in which attackers concentrate their efforts on targets with privileged security clearances or knowledge.
  • The use of widely used, ostensibly benign or neutral programs or files, such as Microsoft Word, to introduce malicious files or programs into otherwise secure systems.
  • Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks that are layered or staggered in such a way that they cause chain reactions that temporarily expose a normally secure system.
  • Viruses, malware, and other malicious programs developed through trial and error, based on reconnaissance intelligence gleaned from a series of attacks on the same systems.

In the majority of cases, these strategies will be used concurrently, frequently alongside numerous others. The most significant obstacles to detecting APTs are the volume and severity of measures used.

APT and General Threat Detection Methods

The most effective method of detecting APTs is to implement a comprehensive threat and vulnerability management program. This must include regular monitoring of all systems, initially at a secure baseline and then whenever any irregularities are detected. Additionally, the system must include the capability to flag and analyze them in order to determine the characteristics of all threats, which enables their labeling as an APT and subsequent mitigation efforts (see below).

A second critical quality, almost as critical as identifying the characteristics of an APT, is attributing advanced persistent threats, or the actors responsible for them. This can be prohibitively difficult for the same reasons, most notably hackers’ efforts to conceal attack sources. Once a methodology for classifying the characteristics of individual attacks is developed, it can be optimized to assign a signature that is likely to indicate common authorship.

APT Attacks: Preventing and Responding

The first and most critical step toward mitigating and eliminating persistent threats is advanced persistent threat detection. However, it is far from the final. Additionally, businesses must respond to APT attacks on a real-time basis and prevent them through incident management:

  • Incidents must be reported immediately, even more so in the event of an APT attack.
  • They must then be appropriately logged and tagged to facilitate comparative analysis.
  • Following a thorough investigation of incidents, APT is diagnosed.
  • Assignment of roles and resources for resolution must occur first, and then be adjusted as necessary.
  • Resolution actions must be maintained until the APT attack has been neutralized and reported.
  • Resources for residual compliance and continuity efforts must be allocated.