Nowadays, targeted and opportunistic cyberattacks occur more often and with greater sophistication. You may encounter dangers like insider threats, supply chain attacks, ransomware, and cyber fraud. Fortunately, you can test the effectiveness of your cyber security against actual criminal actors through APT testing.

In this guide, we’ll define advanced persistent threat (APT) testing in detail and discuss how implementing it inside your company may enhance security. Read on!

What Is APT?

An advanced persistent threat (APT) is a stealthy cyberattack on a computer network in which the attacker acquires and retains illegal access to the targeted network while going unnoticed for an extended period of time. The hacker often watches, intercepts, and relays information and sensitive data throughout the interval between infection and repair.

An APT’s goal is to steal or exfiltrate data, not disrupt networks, deny service, or infect computers with malware. Large businesses or governmental networks are frequently the targets of these attacks, which are meticulously picked and analysed.

The effectiveness of APTs depends on their secrecy since they are difficult to detect. Nevertheless, a company may keep an eye out for warning indicators to aid its security staff in responding:

  • Strange network activity: If a trusted user exhibits strange network behaviour, this might be a sign of a cyber attack or threat. A case in point may be logging in repeatedly during the weekend.
  • A significant amount of data movement: An unusual rise in database activity, including the transmission of considerable amounts of data over the network or to an external server—could be a sign of an APT.
  • Unusual data files: In order to speed up the removal of data from the server, attackers frequently generate files with peculiar sizes or file formats.
  • Backdoor trojans: If you find backdoor trojans, it can be an indication that an attacker is utilising them to gain and keep access throughout the network.

So, What Is APT Testing?

An APT test involves gaining access to a company’s computer network to assess the efficacy of any defences implemented expressly for the institution or business. The detailed test findings ensure that the institution is less vulnerable to potential cyberattack development.

APT testing differs from your typical penetration test in that it simulates a full-scale attack against a company’s environment using elements of social engineering attacks, anti-virus, and network defence bypass, as well as intrusion tactics not typically used on a penetration test.

What Exactly Happens During APT Testing?

To get the most out of an APT test, you must plan ahead of time. This involves being aware of who and what will be involved. Each organisation’s systems and procedures are unique; therefore, a high-quality APT test must be specially targeted to discover vulnerabilities in your systems. As a result, it is critical to comprehend a number of aspects.

1. Understand What You Want

Understanding which systems and procedures you want to test should come first. Even though you may be aware that you need web application testing, you might not understand what it entails or which of your other systems are connected to your web apps. Before you begin this exercise, you must have a firm understanding of your systems and fix any glaring vulnerabilities.

2. Identify Your Network

The more you can measure your testing environment, the more exact and focused your APT testing will be. If you are familiar with the technical specifications of your network, post-analysis will be more valuable and effective.

3. Create a Budget

APT testing may be performed at various levels of severity, but a full-spectrum simulated assault on your network can be costly due to the need for physical access and social engineering. For this reason, it’s critical to determine how much you’re prepared to invest in your APT test and alter your scope appropriately.

4. Understand Your Degree of Risk

Some businesses accept a high level of risk as part of their routine operations. Others must have a far lower risk tolerance, especially those employed in sectors with intricate and sophisticated compliance regulations. Concentrating on hazards that might negatively affect your company while doing an APT test is crucial.

How Does APT Testing Work?

The easiest way to grasp the specifics of APT testing is to observe how a typical APT test works. APT testing is divided into multiple stages:

  1. Goal-setting: Organisations will first establish major objectives for their APT test. One purpose, for example, could be to retrieve a specific piece of sensitive data from a certain server.
  2. Target reconnaissance: After establishing their goals, the APT test will start outlining the systems they will be focusing on, including networks, online applications, employee portals, and even actual physical locations.
  3. Exploiting flaws: This is when APT testing becomes fascinating. Once the response team has settled on its attack vectors, they will use techniques such as phishing or XSS vulnerabilities to get access to your systems.
  4. Escalation and investigation: After completing their primary goal, your response teams will attempt to go through your systems to determine if there are any more flaws they can target. The response team will keep raising the stakes until the target is reached.
  5. Reporting and analysis: To decide how to proceed after the team’s simulated attack, you’ll go through a reporting and analysis procedure. You’ll observe how your blue team (defensive security) did and which critical vulnerabilities require attention.

Skilled response teams carry out each of these processes using a broad range of approaches. Reviewing the attack should focus on how modest flaws in individual systems may compound into disastrous failures when linked together. Hackers in the real world are usually hungry and try to gain access to more systems and data than they came for.

What Are the Benefits of APT Testing?

The benefit of APT testing, in its broadest sense, is that it gives you a complete view of cybersecurity within your company. A response team needs to have the same ingenuity and resourcefulness as malicious individuals in the real world, who will unavoidably explore and test every crevice of the possible attack surface.

However, the examination is not done after the first vulnerabilities are identified and disclosed. Each aspect of your cybersecurity plan will be put to the test as the exercise progresses through the re-testing, lateral movement, and remediation phases. You will be able to evaluate your capacity to recognise, address, and avoid targeted assaults.

In reality, the actual work usually starts after an APT test infiltration, when you conduct a forensic examination of the assault and develop countermeasures. When used with other threat analysis methodologies, APT testing also has the following advantages:

  • Detection of the risk and vulnerability of attacks against important company information assets and technological systems.
  • Modelling of techniques, tactics, and procedures (TTPs) utilised by actual threat actors in a risk-managed and controlled environment.
  • Evaluation of your organisation’s capacity to identify, respond to, and prevent complex and targeted attacks from occurring.
  • Close collaboration with internal incident response teams is encouraged in order to provide relevant mitigation and detailed post-assessment debrief courses.
  • Compliance support; improve your cyber defensive posture to meet applicable standards.
  • Training and cybersecurity education for your company, from executives to front-line employees.
  • Gathering performance metrics for cyber security without the risk of a real-world assault. You will collect data that is relevant to real-world performance.
  • Prioritisation of cybersecurity actions and costs depends on the findings of the exercise. Become more cost-effective and prioritise essential demands.

APT Testing vs Penetration Testing

Although crucial, network penetration testing is merely one aspect of what an APT test accomplishes. APT test operations have more ambitious goals than pen testers, whose main mission is frequently to get access to a network.

APT testing analyses defensive tactics and produces in-depth risk analyses in order to simulate a more realistic advanced persistent threat (APT) scenario. APT testing trains exfiltration, privilege escalation, evasion, and persistence, whereas penetration testing merely practices the first step in the cyber death chain. Below are some differences between the two:

1. Time Frame

The time period during which each activity is carried out is as follows. The time window for pen testing is quite small—typically less than one day. The time frame for APT testing might be stretched across several days, weeks, or even months.

2. Tooling

APT testing and pen testing use other tools and technologies as well. Typically, employees will use commercially accessible software to execute a pen test. APT tests are encouraged to utilise whatever method, trick, or technique at their disposal and exercise originality as they try to compromise systems.

3. Awareness

One of the most obvious distinctions between APT and pen testing is most of your staff is aware of what is happening when you do pen tests. APT testing activities, however, necessitate total secrecy from your corporation in order to obtain an accurate picture of your cyber defences.

Closing Remarks

Underestimating hackers’ motives or interests in breaking into your company is a terrible blunder. They could want your data or even connect you to a botnet network to launch separate assaults on you. APT testing offers a thorough examination of just about every method, weakness, or port of entry that hackers may use to infiltrate your systems for a variety of reasons.

Successful APT testing takes time to complete. You must accurately identify your present weaknesses and whether you will require outside assistance when performing drills. Get ready by automating your data security procedures to ensure you have the fundamentals covered. Finally, you’ll identify potential vulnerabilities that you would not have otherwise seen and be able to fix before suffering the effects of a genuine assault.

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