Study sheds light on uncertainty of SMBs defining APTs

Share this article:

For many IT workers, the term advanced persistent threat (APT) is a buzzword laden with uncertainty, a recent study highlighted.

According to the global survey released Monday by security firm Sophos and the Ponemon Institute, 33 percent of respondents at small to midsized organizations said they weren't sure how to best describe an APT attack.

The study, called “The Risk of an Uncertain Security Strategy” (PDF) polled more than 2,000 individuals who are tasked with managing IT security functions at SMBs. Individuals in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Australia, India, China and Singapore participated.

The report also found that 33 percent of respondents defined APTs as “recurrent, low-profile targeted attacks.”

Meanwhile, 16 percent of individuals said APTs were best described as attackers using advanced and zero-day technologies, while 11 percent described the attack category as hacktivism – hacking with ideological or political motivation.

The smallest number of respondents, eight percent, said that nation-state attackers best defined APTs.

On Monday, John Shier, senior security adviser at Sophos, addressed why the media and industry has sometimes been overbroad in using the term APT.

“You get a term that's new and cool, and it can be used in a blanket method,” Shier told SCMagazine.com. “Not to say it's being used maliciously or disingenuously, but sometimes there are just better descriptions.”

Shier said that APTs signify state-sponsored attacks, where perpetrators have immense backing and use exploits for the purpose of infiltration and to maintain a persistent foothold in organizations.

Security practitioners have debated the use of the term APT – with some opting not to use the word at all.

Josh Corman, director of security intelligence at security firm Akamai Technologies, toldSCMagazine.com on Monday that he calls perpetrators falling into this category an “adaptive persistent adversary” in hopes of getting across the importance of the “who and how” in these incidents.

Often, other individuals overlook key aspects of perpetrators' mindsets when mislabeling persistent attack campaigns, he explained. Sometimes, a less sophisticated attack is preferred to carry out a complex mission.

“An attacker is only as sophisticated as they need to be, and the sad news is we don't force them to be very talented,” Corman said. “People will look at an unsophisticated attack as proof that the attack isn't sophisticated, when in fact, using common techniques allows them to hide better."

Share this article:
You must be a registered member of SC Magazine to post a comment.

Sign up to our newsletters

More in News

Ground system for weather satellites contains thousands of 'high-risk' bugs

Ground system for weather satellites contains thousands of ...

An audit of the Joint Polar Satellite System ground system revealed thousands of vulnerabilities, most of which will be addressed in two years when the next version of the system ...

Threat report on Swedish firms shows 93 percent were breached

The study by KPMG and FireEye also found that 49 percent of detected malware was unknown.

Former acting HHS cyber director convicted on child porn charges

Former acting HHS cyber director convicted on child ...

Timothy DeFoggi, who was nabbed by the FBI last year in its Operation Torpedo investigation was convicted by federal jury in Nebraska.