Technology

How Coronavirus Can Lead to a Boom in Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs)

Image by Jhonatan_Perez from Pixabay

APTs (advanced persistent threats) is another brewing pandemic that the world must take into account as we battle the coronavirus pandemic. Quite unlike the black-hat hacker who attempts to gain unauthorized entry into your system or network in an exploitation bid for malicious reasons, APTs perpetrators are inherently more dangerous.  

None of these guys has any permission or authority to compromise your network, but they still find ways to do so. Their sole aim is to inflict damage by compromising your security systems, altering functions of websites, networks, and even to the extent of shutting down systems. 

They place so much emphasis and effort in gaining access to your passwords, financial information, and other personal data. The coronavirus pandemic, unfortunately, has given them a great opportunity to practicalize their nefarious activities.

However, while ordinary black hat hackers will go for the immediate gains and possibly let you off the hook to enjoy their spoil, the perpetrators of APTs are another ball game altogether. They are as the name portends, very persistent, canny, dangerous, and outrightly deadly.

The coronavirus pandemic has completely thrown the world off balance and nobody is sure of anything, it’s novel and everything about it revolves around the novelty. The confusion is of mammoth proportions and cybercriminals are seriously capitalizing on this.

Around the globe, people are literally clinging to the straw. A lot of people are ready to swallow any suggestion that may come their way, line, hook, and sinker.

Hackers have, unfortunately, decided to see the opportunity as a gold mine and are quick to capitalize on the situation. If they have decided to launch the black hat attacks alone, maybe it would have been easier for people to handle, but they see coronavirus pandemic as a golden opportunity to perpetrate APTs.

Hackers usually require a lot of effort to launch APTs and the coronavirus pandemic has actually given them the room to do this with comfort. APTs will go for high-value targets such as nation-states and large corporations that will pay off handsomely for the effort put in. 

The sole purpose of APTs attacks is to steal information over a long period of time, instead of a “one-time affair” that you get from many black hat hackers who carry out lower-level cyber assaults. Their mode of operation is so destructive that every business whether small, medium, or big must be very conscious of this method.

Though APT attackers focus more on large corporations, they can gain access to your company through the smaller companies that make up your supply chain. You must always have it behind your mind that these companies may not have the financial powers to embark on serious protective measures especially now that coronavirus is hitting everybody blue-black. 

A blossoming attack

The APT attackers know very well that they will stay for a long period within your network, therefore, they prepare very well and penetrate in stages that completely throw you off balance. The stages are as follows: 

Getting access

The very first thing an APT attacker sets out to do is try to gain access to your network. This they will do through an infected file, junk email, or an app vulnerability. 

Once they succeed, they proceed to insert malware into your network.

Strategizing

It’s highly important for them to establish a stronghold, hence, they embark on implanting malware that enables them to create a network of backdoors and tunnels through which they can move around in your systems without being detected. An example of the techniques that can be employed by the malware is to rewrite codes that can ensure hackers are able to cover their tracks.

Consolidating their hold

The coronavirus pandemic has given APTs attackers the room to operate at will and, inasmuch as they are able to get into your network, the whole journey becomes relatively easier. The next stage they embark on is to use techniques such as password cracking that will give them access to the administrator’s rights. 

This will give them good stead to control more of the network as well as enhancing a great room for manipulation and access.

Ability to operate laterally

The administrator’s rights they have been able to secure will enable them to penetrate deeper and then move around the system freely. They will leverage this opportunity to access all your servers and the otherwise secure parts of the network.

Ability to observe, acquire relevant knowledge, carry out attacks, and still remain

Where advanced persistent attacks completely differ from black hat hackers is that after the understanding of your mode of operation and the associated vulnerabilities, they can go ahead to launch attacks and still remain inside the network without your knowledge. And as the coronavirus is ravaging the world, they have all the time they need to do all these.

Even where they decide to leave your network, they usually ensure they leave a back door open through which they can easily access the network any time they wish.

Working from home

Coronavirus has made it necessary that businesses work remotely, the human factor comes in to play in any APT attack. Your employees have unwittingly become leveraging points of entry. 

The active involvement of an insider needed by the hackers comes on a platter of gold due to the fact that your corporate cyber defenses are easily more sophisticated than those of your remote workers. They tend to get at these unfortunate employees through the deployment of assorted social engineering techniques, such as whaling or spear phishing.

The persisting threat issue

Your major source of concern regarding these threats is that even when you have discovered the attack and assume you have a handle to the threat, their mode of operation ensures that they must have created multiple backdoors through which they can re-penetrate whenever they wish to do so. They are so proficient to the extent that they can beat a lot of the traditional cyber-defense measures such as antivirus and firewalls.

Unless your IT team is well-versed on social engineering techniques, it may be extremely difficult to arrest the persistent threat which has been made worse by the need for remote working.

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About John Ejiofor

John Ejiofor is a curious life-researcher, whose quest to finding answers to life's pertinent questions has led to founding Nature Torch. This blog aims to debate and explore many questions about our earth -- including those a lot of people are uncomfortable with asking. He has been published on some of the internet's most respected websites, which you can find online.
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