Advanced Persistent Threat APT

Advanced Persistent Threat

APTs (Advanced Persistent Threats) are covert attacks where hackers gain unauthorized entry to a network and remain undetected for an extended period, enabling them to steal sensitive information that can be used for political, financial, and business gains.

Critical sectors, including energy, water, transportation and telecommunications, handle highly confidential information that could cause massive societal disruption if stolen. Attackers also target high tech companies in order to gain access to their intellectual property or research and development data.

Cyber espionage

Cyber espionage involves the theft of confidential and sensitive data for commercial or military use. A cyber espionage attack often aims to steal intellectual property, government secrets or trade secrets in order to gain a competitive advantage or damage an organization’s reputation; sometimes hackers may even target an entire nation or region – with significant financial costs such as revenue losses, costly repairs, consumer lawsuits or regulatory fines as a result of an attack.

Financially motivated APT groups typically target banks, insurance companies and payment processing firms for financial gain. Their objectives may include stealing client information, transaction records or credit card details as well as personal or medical data that can be used for blackmail, identity theft and money laundering. They may even utilize access to a network infiltrating another organization within the same corporate parent’s network to lateral move into other organizations – this practice is known as “lateral migration.”

APTs go beyond using malware by also creating backdoors that remain undetectable by standard security systems. Once inside a system, APTs may remain hidden for months or years by altering code, disabling firewalls and using encryption techniques to hide their activities and connection to an external command-and-control system.

APTs often employ social engineering and human intelligence techniques to gain entry to networks. They may employ phishing emails, fake URLs or other techniques that bypass security protocols; additionally they often utilize multiple accounts in multiple locations in order to evade detection by security teams.

Some APTs are state-sponsored and operate for financial gain or national security reasons, while other APTs can be criminally motivated; engaging in credit card theft and bank fraud. One of the most infamous cyber espionage attacks was Stuxnet, a malware worm which infiltrated Iran’s nuclear reactor site via Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) industrial systems.

APTs can have a devastating impact on the economy and public services, including utilities, transportation, telecommunications, energy and healthcare. APTs can disrupt essential services while creating physical damage or endangering lives – as well as expose sensitive government secrets or breach trust with the public.


Malware is one of the main tools employed in APT attacks, designed to penetrate target organizations while bypassing security controls and remaining undetected for an extended period. APT attackers employ malware for various purposes – commercial espionage, IP theft and industrial sabotage are just some examples.

As opposed to black hat hackers who typically employ only one malware strain when infiltrating an organization, APT attackers usually employ multiple families of malware for infiltration and data theft/damage purposes. The more sophisticated their target malware is, the higher its potential is for long-term data theft/damage.

Attackers use malware to gain initial entry to networks, then establish backdoor connections to command and control servers, in order to monitor compromised systems for valuable information that they can steal and transfer via backdoors using code rewriting tactics so as to escape detection by antivirus solutions and security teams.

APT actors typically operate under state sponsorship and may be motivated by goals such as political espionage, sabotage or gaining strategic advantages. Because these groups tend to be more advanced than black hat hacker groups and remain undetected for extended periods, APT actors typically remain undetected and undetectable for extended periods.

Turla, one APT group, used infected USB drives to steal information from a Ukrainian company without ever being detected for over a year. APT41 possessed close to 150 different types of malware tools and tactics such as backdoors, password stealers, keyloggers and rootkits – with several remaining undetected for months after their deployment.

Banking institutions and payment processing companies are frequent targets of APT attacks due to their ability to profit from stolen credit card numbers and sensitive financial data. APT actors have also been seen targeting healthcare organizations and chemical manufacturing firms with sensitive information that could be exploited for illicit activities ranging from blackmailing to corporate espionage.

Deterring APTs requires a combination of technologies, such as Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) and Security Information and Event Management (SIEM), that work in harmony to identify any unusual network behavior that indicates APT activity.

Denial of service (DoS) attacks

Denial of service attacks (DoS attacks) are cyber attacks designed to disrupt network or system operations. An attacker may use various techniques to disrupt these services, such as sending numerous false requests or using up too much bandwidth, in order to disrupt target operations and steal data, create reputational damage or make financial gains; such attacks can even pose physical danger to people and businesses.

General speaking, Advanced Persistent Threats are well-funded adversaries that engage in sophisticated malicious activities in order to achieve their goals, such as espionage, intellectual property theft and long-term intrusion into organizational networks or systems. APTs often bypass existing security controls and go undetected for prolonged periods.

APTs use multiple vulnerabilities across three attack surfaces – network devices, web assets and privileged human users – to infiltrate an organization. Initial infiltration techniques could include spear phishing emails or social engineering tactics as well as malware infection to gain entry. Once inside, APTs use backdoor shells or remote access trojan programs to gain control of compromised computers; once gained, captured information can then be sent back to their command and control servers for processing.

Attackers may spoof network traffic to mask their activities. By doing this, they can fool cybersecurity teams and create the impression of a DoS attack without actually impacting availability for their target. Furthermore, attackers can inject malicious code into target systems in order to cause further harm.

APT groups are typically state-sponsored, giving them access to significant resources. Their attacks can target entities that may be of interest to the attacker’s government – foreign governments, multinational corporations or critical infrastructure; with the goal of gathering intelligence that will allow the APTs to achieve their political and strategic goals more easily.

APT groups usually spend months or years gathering intelligence about defenses to avoid prevention and remediation strategies. Once inside, APT groups often make small-scale data exfiltration attempts over time to avoid detection. They do this using software with keylogging capabilities or directly copying files off victim devices onto USB drives – although these threats can be difficult to spot or defend against, layering cybersecurity measures with employee training can reduce an attacker’s attack surface significantly.

Financial theft

APT cyberattacks are targeted and subtle attacks with the potential to cripple critical infrastructure, expose sensitive data, cause massive financial losses for targeted organizations and pose significant threats to national security and public safety. A successful attack can cost companies millions in lost revenues, repairs, fines, consumer lawsuits and reputational harm; while also leading to mass disruption of services, civil unrest or even loss of life.

Many cybersecurity teams receive numerous threat notifications daily from external and internal sources alike. These notifications often consume valuable time for already understaffed security teams and contain false positives that make detection difficult; APT actors take advantage of this by choosing to focus on certain alerts while disregarding others and thus orchestrate intrusions that are hard to spot.

APT attackers use social engineering tactics to gain entry to victim networks and then gradually steal sensitive data over an extended period. Malware such as password crackers, downloaders and backdoors allow APT attackers access. Once in, stolen information can be encrypted using RAR archive utility before it’s transferred back out for processing or storage on remote servers.

APT attacks can be extremely devastating to firms in the high tech sector. APT attackers typically target these sectors because they possess valuable intellectual property such as research and development data that gives them an edge against competitors, as well as having weaker cybersecurity measures than other industries.

Governments and telecom companies can also be attractive targets for APTs. APT attacks allow these attackers to gain access to confidential documents, monitor communications and steal sensitive data – one such attack was Stuxnet, an international computer worm which attacked Iran’s nuclear facilities. APTs may also target transportation systems which contain critical infrastructure; for instance a ransomware attack against Colonial Pipeline caused a shutdown that led to gas shortages throughout the US.

Mark Funk
Mark Funk is an experienced information security specialist who works with enterprises to mature and improve their enterprise security programs. Previously, he worked as a security news reporter.