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Technology Controls Against APTs ‘Not Working’: Study

As IT security practitioners struggle to defend against APTs (Advanced Persistent Threats), a new study by the Ponemon Institute finds malware installed via zero-day exploits presents the biggest threat to corporate data.

As IT security practitioners struggle to defend against APTs (Advanced Persistent Threats), a new study by the Ponemon Institute finds malware installed via zero-day exploits presents the biggest threat to corporate data.

After surveying 755 IT security professionals who are involved in protecting organizations from targeted attacks, the Ponemon Institute found that current technology controls against APTs “are not working” and warned that the average cost to restore a company’s reputation following an APT attack is in the range of $9.4 million.

Not surprisingly, the Institute found that malware is almost always used as the source of an APT attack.  More than half of the respondents (68%) say zero-day attacks that look to bypass firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and anti-malware programs are the greatest threats to an organization.

The security pros say third-party software from Oracle (Java) and Adobe (Reader) pose the most risk because these are the most difficult applications to ensure that all security patches have been fully implemented in a timely fashion.

According to the study, the security practitioners also complained about difficulties in managing security patches from Microsoft (Windows) and Adobe (Reader and Flash).

Despite these risks, 75% of those surveyed acknowledged that their company continued to use Java and Reader in the production environment knowing that vulnerabilities exist and a viable security patch is unavailable. 

The security professionals explained that the company could not afford the cost of downtime waiting for the patch to be implemented; or they simply did not have the professional staff available to implement a security patch.

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In the case of Oracle Java, the survey found that Java vulnerabilities are very difficult to fix (patch) or resolve. Sixty-one percent of respondents say that a realistic timeframe for patching Java in their organization is once per month or quarter. Despite the risk posed by Java, 55% of respondents say it is nearly impossible to replace it with a less risky alternative.

Although the main approaches to detecting APTs are intrusion detection systems (IDS), anti-malware software and intrusion prevention systems (IPS), more than half of the respondents say they discovered an APT by accident. 

On average, it took about 225 days to detect APTs launched against an organization, according to the study.

Written By

Ryan Naraine is Editor-at-Large at SecurityWeek and host of the popular Security Conversations podcast series. He is a security community engagement expert who has built programs at major global brands, including Intel Corp., Bishop Fox and GReAT. Ryan is a founding-director of the Security Tinkerers non-profit, an advisor to early-stage entrepreneurs, and a regular speaker at security conferences around the world.

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