What Happens When Most Attackers Operate As An APT?

I’ve been concerned for some time about the rate at which offensive tactics are developing, spurred by the dual incentives of financial gain by criminals and information gathering by government military, intelligence and law enforcement agencies and their contractors.

I find it hard to imagine, in this day of threat intelligence, information sharing, detailed security vendor reports on APT campaigns and other criminal activities, that criminals are not rapidly learning best practices for intrusion and exfiltration.

And indeed Mandiant’s recently released 2015 M-Trends report identifies trend 4 as: “BLURRED LINES—CRIMINAL AND APT ACTORS TAKE A PAGE FROM EACH OTHERS’ PLAYBOOK”, which describes the ways Mandiant observed criminal and governmental attackers leveraging each other’s tools, tactics and procedures (TTPs) in incidents they investigated.

I see this as bad news for the defense.  Adversaries are evolving their TTPs much more rapidly than our defensive capabilities are maturing.

Something has to change.

“Cyber security” is still largely viewed as an add-on to an IT environment: adding in firewalls, anti-virus, intrusion prevention advanced malware protection, log monitoring, and so on.  All of which has dubious effectiveness, particularly in the face of more sophisticated attacks.  We need a new approach.  An approach that recognizes the limitations of information technology components, and designs IT environments, from the ground up, to be more intrinsically secure and defensible.

A way to get there I believe, is for IT architects, not just security architects, to maintain awareness of offensive tactics and trends over time.  This way, those architects have a healthy understanding of the limitations of the technology they are deploying, rather than making implicit assumptions about the “robustness” of a piece of technology.

As defenders, we often have our hands full with “commodity” attacks using very basic TTPs.  We need to dramatically improve our game to face what is coming.