An Advanced Persistent Threat is a sophisticated, ceaseless, coordinated attack on a computer network, with the goal of stealing intellectual property. The Air Force of United States first used the term in the year 2006. The term advanced persistent threat or APT is even used to refer to a person or a group of people using the attack tools. A hacking process targets a specific entity. It is carried out over prolonged time duration.
Most commonly, large corporation or government entity becomes the victim of an advanced persistent threat. Detection of advanced persistent threat is possible by monitoring logs and performance metrics. Combating Advanced Persistent Threat is not an easy task but it can be surely done if one can stay away from Myths.
Regardless of the approach chosen by the organization to defend themselves from advanced persistent threats, the first condition is that there should be active, motivated threat agents who are keen on attacking systems of the sort that are under assessment. A threat can be assumed to consist of three main qualities.
- Threat Agent refers to an organized individual or groups of individuals or the government.
- Threat Goal refers to the usual and typical value that the threat agent wishes to achieve through their attack. Once this predefined aim is accomplished, the attack will be terminated.
- Threat Capability leads to the typical attack methodologies employed by the threat agent.
The attack methodology is an amalgamation of all these components and it is prudent to consider that all attack methodologies are equal and there are enough resources to defend each of them.
Myths associated with advanced persistent threats:
Several myths exist regarding advanced persistent threats. Let us prod into the most common misconceptions about it and the reality.
- Detecting the threat is the most daunting task:
There was a time when the main aim of the anti-malware vendor as well as the manager of information security was to discover the cyber threat and create different signatures instantly after identifying the vulnerable spot. Meanwhile, many security vendors moved to Cloud-based evaluation for rapid threat detection. In the present times, signature-based approach is hardly in use. However, that does not mean that it has no value. Owing to the advances in malware technologies, newer security options are needed for precise recognition of threats.
Reality: Recognition of the threat is the first step. Subsequent fight is much more challenging.
Advanced malware poses a considerable risk to the system’s information if it is not discovered timely it can lead to loss of critical information and badly affect the business. Recent technologies have made recognition of the malware simpler and it is just the beginning of the fight against malware. Anti malware scan will identify malware on the website and notify the website owner.
- It is enough to have a sandbox:
Sandbox reflects a real endpoint scenario that helps to identify advanced malware; it is an offline and isolated environment. In isolated setting, a suspicious file will be analyzed without disturbing the live system. Sandbox can be used as an adjunct to recognize advanced threats. The most superior sandbox technology makes use of multi-engine behavioral analysis. By doing so, it immediately detects the threat and its intended target. Nevertheless, there are some shortcomings with using sandbox because Sandbox is a kind of security feature but not a complete form of solution. Some recent malware authors have identified techniques to avoid Sandbox defenses and can remain dormant inside the sandbox, giving a false result that the suspected file is free from viruses.
Reality: Sandbox is not sufficient for fighting against malware.
It is a necessity, but not the “only” necessity. If the malware bypasses the sandboxing technology and gives the misleading impression that, it is a secure file, the attack proceeds in the system. Because of the possibility of such a scenario, sandboxing is important but it cannot be the whole and sole. A competent advanced malware solution is the one that concludes the harmlessness after taking into consideration of several techniques. Sandbox is “one of those techniques”.
- Sandboxes are all just same
It is assumed that you can have any sandbox and it would bring out the same outcome. This is wrong to presume. There are many sandboxing options available in the recent times. Standalone and centralized deployment options are available in sandboxing technology. In Standalone process, analysis takes place offline and does not connect to the correct procedures. It allows more files than the limitation specified therefore, it is a time consuming process in the sandbox. In this technology, when suspicious file is detected, the diagnosis process will be late as the file already exploited the system. During this process, the original file remains active and fulfills the threat goal. Centralized sandboxing uses one system to manage several protocols, rather than having different systems. Because of this, cost and time are reduced largely. It works by sandboxing in a series of filters and evaluate traffic of all entry points. The filters can enforce signatures, reputation, and real-time copying to decrease the number of files to be analyzed in the sandbox and upsurge the accurateness of the assessment. Therefore, it enhances the evaluation of the file assessment.
Reality: Sandbox is still evolving and your selection determines the management of the malware.
Sandboxes have evolved greatly in the present times. The level of security is determined by the kind of sandbox installed. According to the vulnerability and the result of risk assessment, you should choose the best sandbox suitable for your company. Similar to other constantly improving programs, the selection of the sandbox would determine the security level of your data.
- Endpoint Antivirus is no longer important:
With the arrival of advanced threat defenses, threat management systems have progressed rapidly. For this reason, it is a general assumption that endpoint antivirus is not important anymore. Endpoint antivirus system should not be considered obsolete. The reasons for this are as follows.
- i) The most widespread attacks use known malware and it can be blocked with Endpoint antivirus. It becomes simpler to focus on unknown threats.
- ii) Endpoint antivirus can work in real time environment and quarantine any suspicious file instantly.
- iii) You can scan the system with the help of endpoint antivirus and clean the system from threats.
Reality: Endpoint antivirus can certainly go a long way in keeping the system protected.
Antivirus is considered the most conventional form of dealing with malware and has little overhead compare to signature base technology. Many people do not give it the necessary attention because of the same reason. Antivirus protection works according to the principles of real time detection and it can instantly remove the threat so that it does not cause any harm to the system. Therefore, its efficiency remains valuable to manage advanced persistent threats.
- Detection and freezing are equivalent to each other:
Freezing the malware refers to preventing the harmful effects of the file. It is believed that recognizing the threat is equal to its containment or freezing. However, this holds no truth. Once you have detected the malicious file, you should block the file. In that case, if this is not possible, you should isolate it and freeze it before it spreads the attack in the system.
Reality: Recognizing the threat is the first step to managing it. It is not equal to freezing.
Whenever a doubtful occurrence is detected, it does not imply that the harm would not take place. Detection and blocking have equal importance. As soon as the threat is detected, it has to be frozen after isolation. This would stop it from damaging other systems. Many antivirus products use quarantine for detected threat.
- It is easy to have threat intelligence
A consistent effort is needed to enhance the threat intelligence database. These databases hold all the necessary information regarding the malware since its inception. Because of the enormous size of this information, most of the individuals think that every security vendor is using the same threat database. This is a myth. Different security vendors have to cope up with advanced malware and stay connected with updated information regarding new and current malware/threats. In fact, security vendors should have the knowledge to use machine-readable threat intelligence other than signatures. If you have the right threat intelligence, you can fight against the malware more powerfully.
Reality: Every security vendor has different threat intelligence and it is put to use differently.
In order to increase the threat intelligence databases, several studies are undertaken by the companies involved in making anti-malware signatures. Hence, it is impractical to think that threat intelligence is easy to access. Owing to the vastness of the databases, it is wise to take help of various threat intelligence databases throughout your network.
- Security is guaranteed by having the Right Point Solution
It is obvious to think that having the right point solution would keep your system secure. There is a common belief that the strength of a system depends on the weakest part. The weak link here is the failure to recognize the malware and is to stop its distribution. Most effective defense against malware is to conflate firewall, endpoints, sandboxing, gateways and cyber resilience. It is important to have a system in which if one solution fails to detect the malware, another can recognize it. Sharing of this knowledge in other systems enhances the security significantly. An integrated approach for cyber security is inevitable for utmost protection and performance optimization.
Reality: Advanced malware would not be eluded by the best point solution.
Whenever there is an attack, it is a common perception that if the attacker fails to enter through a single gateway, he would switch to another gateway. Same thing holds true in case of advanced malware. If you have a combination of threat management solutions, you can be assured that, your system would be safer and more resistant to attacks.
Undoubtedly, malware would continue to get more and more complex with each passing day. Thus, it is best to have a thorough and holistic evaluation of your defense system. Sandbox, threat intelligence, threat signature, reputation tools and cohesive security approach would bring the desirable results and act as a scaffold to disrupt the threat goals.