What Is an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT)?

Understanding Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) and Their Impact on UK Businesses

As UK Cyber threats continue to evolve, and attackers are resorting to new advanced techniques to infiltrate and harm businesses’ operations.

One such technique is the Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) attack – a complex, sophisticated, and persistent approach that targets UK businesses’ sensitive information systems.

Advanced Persistent Threats can lead to data theft, system sabotage, or espionage, with devastating effects on a company’s reputation, operations, and finances. In this post, we’ll explore the ins and outs of an APT attack and how UK businesses can protect themselves from these threats.

Which UK Businesses are Prime Targets of Advanced Persistent Threats?

UK Businesses and organizations of all sizes are at risk of an APT attack.

However, prime targets of Advanced Persistent Threats in the UK include those in the finance, healthcare, energy and banking sectors, as well as government agencies and critical infrastructure.

However, this does not mean that UK small businesses are immune to these sophisticated and stealthy attacks. In fact, APT attackers may use smaller companies that are part of the supply chain or have business relationships with their ultimate targets as a way of gaining access to larger and more valuable organizations. 

Therefore, UK small businesses should not underestimate the risk of APTs and should take proactive measures to protect their networks, data and reputation from these threats. 

Who would launch an APT attack on a Small UK Business?

Small UK businesses face many challenges and opportunities in today’s dynamic and competitive market.

Whether they are start-ups, sole traders, or family-owned enterprises, they need to adapt and innovate to survive and grow.

One of the most pressing issues that small UK businesses have to deal with is the threat of cyberattacks, especially from advanced persistent threats (APTs).

The No1 threat for UK small businesses are Insider employees. 

Insider employees are a serious threat for UK businesses, as they can launch APT attacks to steal or sabotage sensitive data, systems, or processes.

Insider employees may have various motives, such as personal gain, revenge, or ideological reasons, and may act alone or in collusion with external actors.

Insider employees may use their privileged access, knowledge, or influence to bypass security controls, install malware, exfiltrate data, or cause damage.

Insider employees may also exploit their trust and reputation to evade detection or suspicion for a long time.

Why would someone launch an APT?

There may be several reasons why someone would launch an APT attack but mostly it is to carry out successful operations such as theft, spying, or disruption of UK businesses.

For cybercriminals or organized criminal groups, the target is usually to extort money through ransomware, sell sensitive data, or gain competitive advantages over a UK business.

Rogue insiders may launch APT attacks in pursuit of personal gain or to avenge perceived wrongs or threats.

Five Stages of an Evolving Advanced Persistent Attack

The stages involved in an Advanced Persistent Threat are numerous and of various degrees. Here are five stages of an evolving Advanced Persistent Threat:

Reconnaissance: Hackers carry out meticulous research and prepare to identify weaknesses or vulnerabilities they can exploit.

Weaponization: Hackers develop tools and strategies that deliver malware or exploit zero-day vulnerabilities to infiltrate the system.

Delivery: Attackers send the malware to a targeted employee or system through spear-phishing emails or social engineering tactics.

Exploitation: The malware executes actions to harm the system, establish a backdoor, or steal crucial data.

Command and Control: Attackers interact with the infiltrated network and maintain control for an extended period.

How do I prevent an APT Business Attack?

To prevent an APT business attack, businesses should develop and implement a comprehensive Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) program.

This will centralize logs and information from all sources and identify unusual or suspicious activities.

It is essential to carry out risk assessments regularly to understand weaknesses and address them.

Use of next-generation firewalls, antivirus, and incident response technologies will help in early detection and prevention of an APT business attack.

We recommend the use of WatchGuard products.

Impact and Cost of APTs for UK Businesses

The impact of an APT attack can be devastating for a business. Loss of crucial data, theft of financial or customer information, operational disruption, and reputational damage can create significant business losses and impact revenue.

In addition, there are regulatory fines and legal limitations if sensitive data is missing due to a cyber-attack.

The cost of recovery from cyber-attacks can be substantial since it may take months and millions of pounds to recoup.

Due to the severity of the damage, it may not only affect the business operations, but it may actually lead to the bankruptcy of a business.

APT attacks are cyberattacks that are carried out over a long period of time, often months or years, by highly skilled and motivated hackers.

They aim to steal or damage valuable data, systems, or processes from their targets.

APT attacks can affect any organization, including UK small businesses, especially if they are part of the supply chain or have business relationships with larger and more valuable organizations.

Here are some examples of APT attacks on UK small businesses:

  • In 2018, a UK-based engineering company that provides services to the aerospace and defence sectors was hit by an APT attack that compromised its network and stole sensitive data. The attackers used a phishing email to trick an employee into opening a malicious attachment that installed a backdoor on the victim’s computer. The backdoor allowed the attackers to access the company’s network and exfiltrate data for several months.
  • In 2019, a UK-based law firm that specializes in intellectual property rights was targeted by an APT attack that aimed to steal its clients’ confidential information. The attackers used a spear-phishing email to lure an employee into clicking on a link that redirected to a fake login page. The fake page captured the employee’s credentials and allowed the attackers to access the firm’s email system and cloud storage. The attackers then downloaded and deleted hundreds of files containing sensitive data.
  • In 2020, a UK-based online retailer that sells luxury goods was attacked by an APT group that used a ransomware variant called WastedLocker. The attackers exploited a vulnerability in the retailer’s web server to gain access to its network and encrypt its files. The attackers then demanded a ransom of £1.5 million to restore the files. The retailer refused to pay and had to restore its data from backups.

These are just some examples of APT attacks on UK small businesses.

APT attacks can have serious consequences for small businesses, such as financial losses, reputational damage, legal liabilities, and operational disruptions.

Therefore, UK small businesses should not underestimate the risk of APTs and should take proactive measures to protect their networks, data and reputation from these threats.

Best Practices and Solutions for APT Protection in UK Businesses

To protect UK businesses from Advanced Persistent Threats and their evolving techniques, businesses must take proactive action.

This includes appointing cybersecurity experts and training each employee in information security awareness.

Furthermore, routine assessment of business security, regular testing of sensitive data and using SIEM’s techniques to detect malicious activities.

Engaging with professionals for threat intelligence and developing a response plan for potential Advanced Persistent Threats ensures the business is well prepared for possible attacks.

Small UK businesses cannot afford to ignore the threat of APTs, as they can cause serious damage to their data, systems, reputation, and finances.

That is why you should contact Speedster IT, a trusted IT Security company in London that has been providing reliable and affordable IT services and solutions to UK businesses for over 19 years.

Speedster IT is a Watchguard Gold Partner, which means they are qualified and recognised to offer Watchguard products and support at a high standard.

Watchguard products are designed to provide robust and comprehensive protection against APTs and other cyber threats, using features like next-gen antivirus, EDR, DNS filtering, encryption, patch management, remote monitoring, and security intelligence.

By working with Speedster IT and Watchguard products, small UK businesses can enhance their security posture, reduce their risk exposure, and achieve their business goals.

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