Six Alarming Signs of an APT Attack

Six Alarming Signs of an APT Attack

Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) is an attack executed by threat actors over an extended period. Hackers invest time, employ sophisticated techniques, and utilize custom malware to detect vulnerabilities and exploit the systems to gain access to an APT attack.

APT attacks are not random since hackers mindfully research and utilize non-persistent targeting methods to initiate them efficiently. Since these attacks are hard to detect, a combination of indications can alert businesses of an APT attack. Here are six alarming signs of an APT attack.

Targeted Spear-Phishing Mails and Backdoor Trojans

Spear-phishing is a social engineering attack that enables the attacker to send a targeted email to trick the recipient into accessing a malicious link or attachment. The email appears legitimate and encompasses tailored information or crucial business data, prompting the recipient to take action. Spear-phishing is a vital warning sign of an APT since it is used as bait to procure initial access to the target network.

APT attackers retain access to the network for an extended period by installing malware or building backdoors. This enables them to continue accessing the network even with a closed initial entry point. Backdoor Trojans is a malware that gives hackers unauthorized access to the network via email attachments, websites, or software downloads. Trojan allows the attacker to transfer files, execute commands, and access sensitive data once installed.

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Information Locomotion

APT attackers are motivated by the theft of sensitive data encouraging them to move the data by questionable means. Here are a few methods which attackers employ-

  • Illegitimate Network Activity

Unusual network activity, like increased traffic to or from obscure locations or devices, may indicate an APT attack. These activities involve attempts to commune with commands and control servers.

  • Amendments to File Permissions

The inconsistent amendments to file permissions that do not align with regular business operations are alarming. Moreover, the files accessible to everyone, which were earlier accessible to specified users, is a sign that the hacker has gained access to infiltrate data.

  • Unauthorized Data Transfers and Access

Hackers initiate inconsistent data migration or transfer that does not align with regular business operations, a sign of an APT attack. These initiatives include data transfers to unfamiliar devices or locations or large transfers with non-typical usage patterns.

Simultaneously, unauthorized users accessing sensitive data or systems is an APT attack sign. Sensitive information ranges from financial or personal information to proprietary data or systems not generally accessed by specified users.

Unlooked-for Information Flows and Data Clumping

Unexpected information flow is a sign of an APT attack businesses must consider. Monitoring and detecting large and unpredictable data flow from internal entry points to other internal or external systems is essential. Data flows initiated by hackers are limited but aimed mainly at the server-to-server, network-to-network, or server-to-client.

The APTs attack strategy is to clump data for export, allowing the hackers to steal vast data amounts rapidly and efficiently. Since attackers are encouraged by the theft of confidential data, data clumping makes it simple for them to exfiltrate the data from the network. Furthermore, APTs clump data by bundling data files and utilize encryption to conceal or compress data to minimize its size. Attackers use stamped data to export from the network, like cloud storage accounts or DNS.

Elevated Unscheduled Log-on

APT attackers escalate activities from compromising a single system to taking over the entire ecosystem within hours. They achieve this action by stealing credentials, reusing them, and reading an authentication database. Reading into the database will allow them to learn which user accounts have accelerated permissions and privileges, and the simple next step is to access these accounts to compromise environmental assets.

Elevated unscheduled log-ins are a vital APT sign since attackers reside externally. Therefore, if organizations notice a high volume of questionable log-on across numerous servers while the legitimate crew is not working, it is time to take necessary preventive actions.

Shrinking System Storage Capacity

Hackers often convene the gathered data before transferring it out of their system during an APT attack. This information builds undetected data bundles that will broadly impact the storage capacity.

Upon monitoring, a partition may display a specific storage capacity number; however, the calculated total file size has a significant gap between numbers. 

Alternatively, capacity reductions occur due to a complete partition that has faded suddenly. These overlooked aspects do not intrude system’s functioning but offer a storage point for APT attackers to stockpile data.

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Slow System Performances 

OS reinstallation and system reboots have become more straightforward due to OTT software delivery via the Cloud. When a system indicates slow performance for an extended time, businesses might reinstall the OS and embellish a new system environment for a user. However, persistent slow performance, even after a couple of reinstallations, is a clear sign of an APT attack. APT tactics are destructive and interfere with your system’s firmware, making it challenging and impossible to eliminate.

What Must Businesses Do Next?

The increasing attacks force companies to deploy trustworthy and tested security software. Organizations must restrict system access by employing a combination of least privilege and defense-in-depth (DiD) principles. This combination secures all the systems thoroughly and is not limited to the perimeter. Interestingly, DiD deploys internal firewalls and effectively filters traffic.  Also, intentional penetration testing (pen-testing) could identify vulnerabilities, thus allowing allow cybersecurity teams to practice their response.

Furthermore, organizations must train employees to detect and prevent credential theft attempts and educate them to create strong passwords. It is vital to explain why they should keep credential information private. In addition to all these methods, collaborating with an expert cyber security provider and using purpose-built anti-APT tools to diminish attacks is essential.

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