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What is an Advanced Persistent Threat?

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If you’ve ever seen a movie where the bad guys are using ongoing, invasive hacking to spy on their “enemy,” you have some familiarity with an advanced persistent threat (APT).

This term usually refers to an attack carried out by a group that targets a specific entity using malware and other sophisticated techniques to exploit vulnerabilities in the target’s systems. It is often done for intelligence gathering with political, financial or business motives.

For example, an APT aimed at a corporation could take the form of Internet-based malware that is used to access company systems, or a physical infection, such as malicious code uploaded to the system via a USB drive. These kinds of attacks often leverage trusted connections, such as employee or business partners to gain access and can happen when hackers use spear phishing techniques to target specific users at a company.

Remaining undetected for as long as possible is a main objective with these attacks. It is their goal to surreptitiously collect as much sensitive data as they can. The “persistent” element implies that there is a central command monitoring the information coming in and the scope of the cyberattack.

Even though APTs are not usually aimed at individuals, you could be affected if your bank or another provider you use is the target of an attack. For example, if attackers secretly gather intelligence from your bank, they could get access to your personal and financial information.

Since you could potentially be affected by an APT attack on an entity or company that you do business with, it’s important that you employ strong security measures.

  • Use a firewall to limit access to your network.
  • Install comprehensive security on all your devices, like McAfee LiveSafe™ service, since malware is a key component in successful APT attacks.
  • Don’t click on attachments or links you receive from people you don’t know.
  • Keep your personal information private. Be suspicious of anyone who asks for your home address, phone number, Social Security number, or other personal identifying information. And, remember that once you share personal information online it’s out of your control.
  • Check to see if the websites you share sensitive information with use two-factor authentication. This is a security technique that uses something that you know, such as your password, and something you possess, such as your phone, to verify your identity. For example, your bank may ask for your password online, as well as a code that it has sent via text message to your phone. This is a 2nd layer of protection and should be enabled for sensitive information.

Robert Siciliano is an Online Security Expert to McAfee. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Mobile was Hacked! Disclosures.

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