Why the FUD around APT does more harm than good

OPINION: ISACA, which used to be known as the Information Systems Audit and Control Association, published a report last week that sheds some interesting light on another acronym which annoys the hell out of me. And that is APT, which stands for either Advanced Persistent Threat or Absurdly Pointless Terminology depending on whether you are selling something or not.

The term APT is often flagged by vendors as some kind of bogeyman problem to scare you into buying the solution. It reminds me, more often than not, of a salesmen shouting 'FIRE! FIRE!' through your letterbox before embarking on a sales pitch for fire extinguishers.

ISACA isn't selling anything in particular, so I read the report. What I discovered was that 1 in 5 enterprises had experienced an APT attack and two thirds are scared enough to think it's only a matter of time before they are attacked this way.

It reminds me, more often than not, of a salesmen shouting 'FIRE! FIRE!' through your letterbox before embarking on a sales pitch for fire extinguishers.

Unsurprisingly, only 15 per cent thought they were prepared to defend themselves against one.

I am not surprised by this lack of preparation, simply because the hype surrounding APT is so rife that confusion rules the roost.

That confusion results in 40 per cent of the enterprises questioned in that survey not using security training and controls to defend themselves against this kind of stealthy and ongoing threat, and 70 per cent not using mobile controls despite this being a preferred route to kick-start such attacks.

I'm not arguing that vendors, or anyone else for that matter, should stop spreading the word about any type of threat to enterprise data but I am dead set against FUD being used to sell stuff rather than a focus on education. So here's a thought, and one that will probably get me kicked off a few more vendor lunch invite lists (like I care.)

It's time to focus more on education and less on the hard sell. Concentrate on ensuring your customers understand the basics of data security, really understand I mean, and the FUD surrounding APTs will start to melt away.

So if users know how to spot and deal with phishing (even persistent phishing) via email, social media or text message, then many APT attacks will go nowhere, slowly.

Davey Winder

Davey is a three-decade veteran technology journalist specialising in cybersecurity and privacy matters and has been a Contributing Editor at PC Pro magazine since the first issue was published in 1994. He's also a Senior Contributor at Forbes, and co-founder of the Forbes Straight Talking Cyber video project that won the ‘Most Educational Content’ category at the 2021 European Cybersecurity Blogger Awards.

Davey has also picked up many other awards over the years, including the Security Serious ‘Cyber Writer of the Year’ title in 2020. As well as being the only three-time winner of the BT Security Journalist of the Year award (2006, 2008, 2010) Davey was also named BT Technology Journalist of the Year in 1996 for a forward-looking feature in PC Pro Magazine called ‘Threats to the Internet.’ In 2011 he was honoured with the Enigma Award for a lifetime contribution to IT security journalism which, thankfully, didn’t end his ongoing contributions - or his life for that matter.

You can follow Davey on Twitter @happygeek, or email him at davey@happygeek.com.