A Guide To Advanced Persistent Threat

Haseeb Awan
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October 11, 2022
Modified On
April 5, 2023

In This Article


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Businesses must be aware of the various threats they may confront since the threat environment changes faster than we can keep up with. Certain types of threats, such as ransomware and malware, are more common and require adequate responses. Furthermore, some threat types are not well-known or pose little danger.

Although a threat may not be commonly known, that doesn't mean it isn't dangerous.

For most businesses, advanced persistent threats are not as prevalent. However, advanced persistent threats may be considerably more harmful to your organization because of their severity and complexity. These high-profile, high-impact assaults will only worsen as more hacker hobbyists profit from the lucrative incentives of ransomware payouts.

APT is an acronym for Advanced Persistent Threat. Often, APT attacks are carried out by skilled hackers with pre-defined targets and a systematic approach to executing their crimes. In this article, you will learn how APT works, the signs that your network may be compromised, and what you can do to reduce the risk of such an attack.

What Is an Advanced Persistent Threat? 

We use the term APT (advanced persistent threat) to describe those sophisticated cyberattacks that are long-term, multi-stage, and generally masterminded by well-organized criminal organizations or even nation-state groups. The phrase was initially used to identify the perpetrators of these attacks, but it has subsequently come to apply to the tools utilized by these dangerous actors.

APT attacks mainly target well-known companies in an attempt to illegally acquire classified information, intellectual property, personal records or databases. They also try to intercept ongoing communication between high-value targets.

We employ several critical criteria in finding an Advanced Persistent Threat.


APT attacks are intricate in formulating and planning. We use the term "APT" (advanced persistent threat) to designate sophisticated cyber attacks that are long-term and multi-stage and are usually devised by well-organized criminal organizations or even nation-state groups. The phrase was utilized initially to identify the organizations which perpetrated these attacks, but it has now extended to refer to the tactics employed by these threat actors.

The advanced aspect of the threat implies a broader scope, patience, and an interest in performing false flags or waiting for a chance to advance to the next level of intrusion. APT incidents frequently last months to years. According to our data, Operation Soft Cell has been operational since 2012, although evidence suggests that the threat actor attempted to attack telecom giants much earlier.


Much of an actor's time in-network is spent observing, learning new defences and tactics to overcome them, and eventually achieving the end goal. For instance, they might exfiltrate crucial data in tiny bits over a long period at random intervals to avoid raising suspicion. The Soft Cell attack aimed to track the movements and activities of a particular group of people for over ten years through their daily cell phone use.


Actors spend most of their time in-network watching, learning new defences and methods to overcome them, and achieving the end objective over time, thus bypassing prevention and remediation techniques. An example of a plan is exfiltrating vital data in tiny amounts at irregular intervals to avoid detection. The Soft Cell attack was intended to spy on a targeted group of individuals for over a decade via daily phone use.

Five Phases Of A Developing Advanced Persistent Attack

An advanced persistent threat (APT) attack may be carried out in five distinct phases, including:

Phase 1: Gain Access

This is how hackers or hacktivists gain access to a network in three ways. They seek software flaws and distribute harmful data using web-based systems, networks, and human users. They search for application bugs and include destructive files.

Phase 2: Establish A Foothold

After gaining access to the system, hackers compromise it by constructing a backdoor trojan disguised to seem like genuine software. This enables them to control the system remotely through any connected device with Internet connectivity.

Phase 3: Deepen Access

Initially, attackers gain a small amount of control over the network. They then try to obtain more information about other system vulnerabilities, allowing them to take complete control and access sensitive data.

Phase 4: Move Laterally

After attackers break into a network, they create additional secret ways to get back in, which allows them to move around the network and access data whenever they want.

Phase 5: Take A Look, Learn, And Then Keep Progressing

Exfiltration begins when the data starts moving across the network. They will then start collecting this data and preparing it for transfer outside the system. To divert attention, they may utilize a DDoS attack while attacks siphon out the data. If an APT isn't detected, attackers will remain hidden in the network and keep looking for opportunities to strike again.

How Are APT Attacks Different?

Web application attacks differ significantly from traditional threats because they're considerably more challenging. They're not hit-and-run assaults; instead, the attacker stays to gather as much information as possible once a network has been breached. They're manually carried out (not automatically) against a specific target and sent out to many targets without discrimination. Instead of targeting one network section, they frequently aim to break into an entire network.

APT Examples

  1. The Sykipot malware has been active since 2006 and allows cyber-criminals to control infected devices fully. Once an infected device is, it will communicate with the command and control server to carry out various commands. This software has successfully targeted attacks against crucial industries, allowing criminals to steal sensitive information.
  2. Stuxnet is a computer virus developed by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the Israeli Defense Forces' Unit 8200 in the 2000s as a joint project. It was deployed in Iran as part of an Israel-Iran collaboration to damage Iran's nuclear program in 2010. Stuxnet, discovered in 2010, was a malware created to target industrial control systems by causing vibrations that would destroy equipment. The software worked well, infecting over 200,000 computers and damaging nearly 1,000 centrifuges at Iran's Natanz nuclear facility.
  3. In 2009, the COVID-19 botnet was discovered by researchers and reported to have infected computers belonging to political, economic, and media figures in over 110 countries. The intruders were tasked with gaining access to the country's network devices. By remotely turning on their cameras and audio recording capabilities, the attacks gave the intruders remote control over these compromised devices, transforming them into listening and recording equipment.

What Are Some Of The Traits Of An Advanced Persistent Threat?

Some of the traits of an advanced persistent threat include:

-A focus on long-term goals and objectives rather than short-term gains.

-An ability to rapidly adapt to changing conditions and environments.

-A high degree of sophistication and resources.

-A willingness to invest significant time and effort into achieving their objectives.

-A focus on compromising critical infrastructure and systems rather than individual targets.

-An emphasis on stealth and obfuscation rather than overt attacks.

-A willingness to invest significant time and effort into here. 

How To Prevent APT Scams?

No organization is immune to APT attack, contrary to popular belief. Small businesses linked to the target company's/institution's supply chain are becoming increasingly vulnerable. Because SMEs do not invest in solid security architectures, their networks are easily breached.

Adopting the following strategies can help prevent issues, and knowing these warning signs can enable you to catch problems early on.

  • Take A Proactive Approach

It's time to move from a reactive to a proactive approach to security. Questions like "what if this happens?" and "What if one system is compromised?" can help you make an attacker's life more difficult and prevent further infiltration. Your security team should focus on controls that limit the impact of an attack, reduce its likelihood, and prevent threats where possible.

  • Stay Up-To-Date With The Latest Updates And Software Patches

Since APTs often exploit unpatched software and vulnerabilities, ensure you have the latest security protection by updating all your security software and resources.

  • The Principle Of Least Privilege

To best protect your company, only allow employees access to areas they need for their job and make sure this access is time-limited. Stay vigilant after someone leaves the company by closely monitoring their accounts and immediately removing any that are still active. The same goes for third-party vendors--keep a close eye on this account and delete them when necessary.

  • Authentication & Authorization

Install additional security measures such as two-factor authentication and just-in-time privileges for all internet-accessible tools and privileged access management.

  • Password management

Passwords are essential to maintaining the security of any organization. This includes storing information securely and enforcing password policies through group policies, applications, and assets in use.

  • Security tools like IDS, IPS, firewalls and endpoint protection can help you keep your network safe.

Host-based intrusion detection systems are an effective tool you can use to detect and block potential threats. Early detection is critical with APT attacks; the sooner you catch intrusions, the sooner you can stop unauthorized access to your data and return your network to a secure state. To ensure optimum security, constantly monitor anomalies and pay attention to any unusual login activity during hours when employees wouldn't typically be accessing their system.

  • Secure your data by monitoring egress traffic on the web

APTs gather data within a network and then send it to their home server once they have enough. Suppose you realize that there is an unusual amount of data or activity in a location where your company doesn't typically store anything. In that case, it's probable that an APT attack has compromised you.

  • Educate Employees On APT Scams And Threats

Help your employees understand how their online actions can affect the company as a whole by implementing Cyphere's custom-designed cyber security certifications and training. While you'll never be able to protect your business from every threat, taking measures like crafting a solid security defence plan and teaching staff about best practices is vital in deterring attacks.

How and Why to Guard Your Business against APT Malware

APT malware is a type of persistent threat that runs malicious programs on a user's computer for an extended duration. Unlike other types of malware, APT malware is designed to steal data from an organization rather than cause damage to a network or computer.

Your business is at risk if it's not protected against advanced persistent threat (APT) malware. APTs are a form of malicious software that can infiltrate and wreak havoc on your systems, often going undetected for long periods of time. In addition to having a firewall and other security measures in place, you need to take special precautions to defend against APT malware.

In The End

As organizations face increasingly sophisticated cyber threats, they need to be aware of the dangers posed by advanced persistent threats (APTs). APTs are a type of threat that is designed to gain access to a system and then remain undetected for an extended period of time. These threats can pose a serious risk to an organization, as they can allow an attacker to steal sensitive data or disrupt operations.

Organizations need to take steps to protect themselves from APTs, such as implementing robust security controls and maintaining good visibility into their network traffic. Additionally, they should consider using threat intelligence to help identify and defend against these threats. By understanding the risks posed by APTs, organizations can take steps to protect themselves and their data.


  1. What is the primary objective of an APT attack? 

The objective of the vast majority of APT attacks is to gain and keep access to the targeted network rather than get in and out as quickly as possible.

  1. What is the difference between APT and malware? 

Most malware performs a quick, harmful assault, whereas APTs employ a more strategic and stealthy technique. The attackers enter via traditional malware like Trojans or phishing attacks, but then they hide their activities by secretly moving about and installing attack software throughout the network.

  1. How do most APT get inside a network? 

Spear phishing or brute force attacks are some of the most popular ways to get inside. Get access to the Target Data: The next step is to move laterally across the network and extend access and credentials as necessary.

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Haseeb Awan
CEO, Efani Secure Mobile

I founded Efani after being Sim Swapped 4 times. I am an experienced CEO with a demonstrated history of working in the crypto and cybersecurity industry. I provide Secure Mobile Service for influential people to protect them against SIM Swaps, eavesdropping, location tracking, and other mobile security threats. I've been covered in New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Mashable, Hulu, Nasdaq, Netflix, Techcrunch, Coindesk, etc. Contact me at 855-55-EFANI or haseebawan@efani.com for a confidential assessment to see if we're the right fit!

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