Targeted APT attacks experienced by one in five security professionals

ISACA poll shows confusion about scale of threat

Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) could be more of a mainstream security problem than previously thought after a survey of high-level security professionals found that an alarming one in five worked for a firm that had experienced such an attack.

The poll of 1,500 of its members by respected global qualifications body ISACA also discovered that two out of three thought it was only a matter of time before such a highly-targeted attack occurred in their organisations.

Comfortingly, six out of ten believed their organisations would be able to cope with an APT if it happened with more than half claiming they had an incident management plan already in place.

Eighty percent of those who thought themselves likely victims said they were "very prepared."

Can surveys be believed, even ones that pick on a meaningful cross-section of the very professionals whose job it is to defend against them?

In the case of ISACA's poll, probably. APTs are a relatively new concept and the survey did uncover a believable confusion about the term and its implications.

More than half said they did not believe that APTs differed from conventional security threats - a slightly complacent attitude - although the majority did correctly identify intellectual property as most at risk from APT incursions.

Sixty percent said they defended against the possibility of an APT by monitoring logs, accepted as a critical part of a defence against the threat.

Eight out of ten mentioned antivirus as a primary defence despite plenty of anecdotal evidence that this layer is ineffective in defending against targeted attacks.

"Traditional cyberthreats often move right on if they cannot penetrate their initial target, but an APT will continually attempt to penetrate the desired target until it meets its objective, said ISACA spokesperson and Intralot Group head of information security, Christos Dimitriadis.

"Once it does, it can disguise itself and morph when needed, making it difficult to identify or stop."

A major issue remained that too many firms relied on conventional perimeter security to stop APTs, ignoring the inadequancy of this design to cope with threats entering through mobile and BYOD computing.

"Enterprises are under attack and they don't even know it. Bringing this awareness into the curriculum of education for security professionals is necessary to enable them to build the custom defense they need to combat these targeted attacks," commented Trend Micro vice president Tom Kellermann, whose company sponsored the ISACA report.

Tags: Configuration / maintenance, security, ISACA, hardware systems, Data Centre

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Incident handling is a vast topic, but here are a few tips for you to consider in your incident response. I hope you never have to use them, but the odds are at some point you will and I hope being ready saves you pain (or your job!).


  1. Have an incident response plan.

  2. Pre-define your incident response team 

  3. Define your approach: watch and learn or contain and recover.

  4. Pre-distribute call cards.

  5. Forensic and incident response data capture.

  6. Get your users on-side.

  7. Know how to report crimes and engage law enforcement. 

  8. Practice makes perfect.

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