When you are on the hunt for business cyber security solutions, you are almost certain to come across products in a category called advanced threat protection. These security tools are available both as software or managed services and differ in approaches to security; some might work solely on endpoints, while others might offer network protection, email security and more. Almost all of them boast attractive features for businesses, like continuous network and endpoint monitoring and customized threat responses. Undoubtedly, advanced threat protection is a critical element of any enterprise security strategy. 

Still, you might have one lingering question- What is an advanced threat?

Advanced Threat Basics

Ransomware is a well-known variety of malware that infects a device, hides or encrypts any data and demands some type of payment for the device’s safe return. Though there are many varieties of ransomware, such as CryptoLocker, Bad Rabbit and WannaCry, and though ransomware has become slightly more sophisticated over the years, all ransomware operate in this relatively simple and straightforward format.

The same is not true of advanced threats. Unlike ransomware, an “advanced threat” is not one type of malware; it is simply a designation for a complicated and high-tech attack that isn’t well-understood or easy to guard against. In general, there are three styles of advanced threat, each with their own challenges and dangers.

Hacking-Based Attacks

Hacking is most simply defined as gaining unauthorized access to a device or network, which means that essentially all cyberattacks are a form of hacking. However, not all computers or systems are susceptible to unsophisticated attacks, like malware, which means that hackers who want to infiltrate heavily protected business networks need to get their hands dirty with more active forms of hacking. Often, hackers will create purpose-built hacking tools for exploiting unique vulnerabilities, and defending against these unique attacks can prove tricky. Worse, once inside, hackers tend to set up camp on organization systems, lurking in the background to soak up as much valuable data as possible.  

This strategy of intruding, expanding access and remaining undetected is called an advanced persistent threat (APT) because hackers will return again and again to mine for useful information. Unfortunately, as more businesses arm themselves with fundamental cybersecurity, advanced persistent threats are becoming more common. Only the most advanced security solutions are capable of identifying and removing this kind of threat, which means businesses at risk for APTs need to pay more to stay safe. Still, the cost of falling victim to an advanced hacking attack like an APT is always higher than the cost of preventative practices.

Sophisticated Malware

The second type of advanced threat is malware — but not the malware you are most likely accustomed to. Hundreds of thousands of new malware variants emerge on the web every day, but the vast majority of these are exceedingly basic viruses and worms that do little more than lock victims’ screens or plague victims with advertisements. A simple antivirus tool will block almost all malware — allowing only the most cutting-edge, most advanced malware to get through.

“Sophistication” is programming jargon describing how complex a particular program is; in general, the more bells and whistles an application boasts, the more sophisticated it is. This is true in the world of malware, but it is also true that sophisticated malware tends to have the best bells and whistles, or else bells and whistles that no one has seen before. Because sophisticated malware tends to be unprecedented, typical antivirus suites aren’t often equipped to identify or block them, so this type of malware can sneak through established defenses and wreak havoc.

The good news is that there aren’t many new ways for malware to get on a system to begin with, which means even the most cutting-edge malware sneaks in through corrupt downloads, links and the like. By maintaining a cyber-hygienic workforce, who knows how to avoid risky behavior, most businesses can successfully evade all malware, including the advanced kind.

Evolving Threats

Finally, there are all sorts of threats evolving that cybersecurity professionals can hardly anticipate. Especially as artificial intelligence gets recruited to develop attacks, the threats of the future will undoubtedly be advanced and capable of circumventing existing security solutions. Arming yourself with the best possible protection available today is smart and more likely to keep you somewhat secure even as threats progress.

Not everyone is at risk of advanced threats, but businesses almost certainly are. By knowing a bit more about what types of advanced threats exist and how they operate, you can make informed security decisions to keep your organization defended and safe.