Organizations search for tougher cybersecurity measures as APTs run rampant

Advanced persistent threats (APTs) have become aggressive in their attempts to breach organizations’ networks. These malicious actors look to gain unauthorized access to infrastructures for prolonged periods of time so that they can perform various acts including mining and stealing sensitive data. Their ability to evade conventional security measures have allowed them to cause costly data breaches against many businesses.

Hackers have even found ways to intensify their malicious activities. According to an Accenture report, threat actors and groups have now teamed up to conduct targeted intrusions and spread malware. Among them are financially motivated groups such as the Cobalt Group and Contract Crew. These increasing cyberattack threats have prompted companies to toughen up their security. Gartner estimates that security spending will grow to $170.4 billion in 2022.

Businesses must not only adopt capable security solutions but they must also regularly check if they can combat advanced attacks. Fortunately, breach and attack simulation (BAS) has now emerged to help businesses test the effectiveness of their security measures. BAS platforms can perform comprehensive cyber risk assessments to determine the strength of their security posture, accurately identify the vulnerabilities in their infrastructures, and help them perform corrective measures.

Defending Against Multiple Attack Vectors

Experts predict that attacks will continue to grow in sophistication and will become more targeted. APT groups now have access to trojans, botnets, login information dumps, and malware.

They are even combining attack methods to easily breach networks through multiple vectors. For instance, they can use botnets to perform distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks as a diversion and cover while they sneak in malware or exfiltrate mined data. Malware used by savvier APTs feature polymorphic code which allow them to circumvent conventional security tools. APTs are even using artificial intelligence to personalize phishing emails that trick users to open malicious attachments.

To combat these attacks, most organizations have adopted a multitude of security solutions. Firewalls and network security solutions are put in place to block malicious traffic. Antiviruses are used to detect and remove malware from computers. Some companies even use sandboxes to test suspicious files and emails before they are allowed into the network.

However, these security measures can be rendered useless if even just one link in the security chain is left vulnerable.

Finding the Weak Points

Businesses must regularly check if their defenses can combat these evolving threats. Previously, this was done through manual penetration tests and security audits. However, because of the pace of the evolution of threats and the variety of methods APTs can use to breach networks, it can be difficult for IT teams to catch up.

BAS is now becoming an essential solution in IT teams’ arsenal. BAS platforms can run simulated attacks across vectors to assess the implemented security solutions. They can check web applications and gateways if their firewalls can screen typical breach attempts. Dummy payloads simulating malware attacks can be deployed to check if endpoint security can detect and remove them. They can even simulate data exfiltration to check if the defenses can prevent extraction of sensitive data.

Select solutions can also test for social engineering attack vulnerabilities. Phishing campaign simulations can be launched to check if staff members can spot malicious emails. Messages can be customized in order to imitate various types of phishing emails such as messages from the HR department and Google Sign-in emails complete with attachments that have simulated phishing links and dummy malware payloads.

BAS platforms allow these tests to run at intervals or on a schedule. This way, IT teams will be habitually made aware of the status of their security. Considering that APTs are stealthy and lurk within networks for extended periods of time and are wont to disable certain security measures to avoid detection, constantly checking the effectiveness of security measures across potential attack vectors can even alert organizations of potential APT presence.

Avoiding the Impact of Data Breaches

Falling victim to cyberattacks can cause dire consequences for businesses regardless of size. For instance, attacks can shut down networks and make it inaccessible to their users. Downtime caused by this disruption to operations can result in lost business. Attacks can also gravely damage a company’s reputation and lose customers in the process.

Breaches have also become quite expensive to deal with. In the US, a data breach costs a company an average of $8.19 million which typically includes the cost of lost records and the efforts to recover from the attack. Some APTs look to cause maximum damage to organizations.

Considering the emergence of data protection regulations like the GDPR, companies now also have to be wary of fines from governments and regulatory bodies. A business can face lawsuits and penalties for each compromised personal record. In 2018, insurance company Anthem paid $16 million after a data breach in 2015 compromised about 78.8 million customer records.

Establishing a Strong Security Posture

The emergence of BAS platforms come as a welcome development for businesses amidst the growing sophistication of various threats especially APTs. Organizations can assess their security perimeter and immediately address vulnerabilities. They can quickly replace security tools that perform poorly in simulations tests and help employees improve their reaction to social engineering attacks and develop the right mindset towards security. All of this can help establish a strong security posture which is crucial if an organization is to thrive in today’s business landscape.

Peter Davidson works as a senior business associate helping brands and start ups to make efficient business decisions and plan proper business strategies. He is a big gadget freak who loves to share his views on latest technologies and applications.

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