What Is an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) Attack?

Recent massive cyberattacks like the attack on Microsoft Exchange Servers don’t always go away when they’re patched. Instead, some attacks lead to what are known as Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) attacks, which are becoming an increasing issue for small to midsized businesses

If you’re not familiar with these types of attacks yet, now is the time to learn more.

An Advanced Persistent Threat attack is where a hacker breaks into your system and hides out there for months or years, quietly collecting your data and waiting to see how your system could be of value to them. Often, your value is as an entry point to another, larger system, like a business or government agency you work with. Luckily, you can prevent these types of attacks. Contact Interplay to Learn More. 

What Is an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) Attack?

In general, an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) attack is a large-scale, highly complex hacking attack in which cybercriminals gain long-term access to systems and then quietly explore the systems for a long time while figuring out how to set up larger attacks or steal tons of data. 

You can think of it like having a thief break into your house and then hide in your attic for months or years, exploring the house and photocopying your files every night while you sleep. (Super creepy, right?) 

There are usually a few stages to an APT attack: 

1. The hacker gains access

In this stage, the hacker typically sends phishing emails, malware, or takes over a device like a smartphone or tablet in order to steal credentials that help them log in to your system.

2. The hacker explores the system

This stage is a lengthy looking-around process, in which the hacker tries to break into more and more areas, set up backdoors into your systems, crack additional passwords, gain administrative access, and generally stay as long as they need to while looking over and stealing all the information you’ve got. This stage can last months or years, and the hacker often rewrites code inside your systems to cover their tracks.

3. The hacker strikes

In this stage, the hacker typically sends phishing emails, malware, or takes over a device like a smartphone or tablet in order to steal credentials that help them log in to your system.

Since Advanced Persistent Threat attacks are complex and difficult to set up, they are traditionally used only in high-profile hacking situations, such as intrusions into government agencies or large corporations. 

Recently though, that’s been changing.

Why Should SMBs Worry About APT Attacks?

Remember the supply chain attack that caused the damage in the SolarWinds attack? Sorry to tell you this but, as a smaller company that works with larger corporations or government agencies, your organization would be a prime target as part of the supply chain for APT attacks.

In short: If a cybercriminal can successfully breach your systems and then wait inside your systems until you start working with a large corporation or government agency, they can then leapfrog off of your system to gain access to the larger companies’ or agencies’ systems.

This idea is neither far-fetched nor new. When Target suffered a massive hacking attack in 2013, the hackers broke into their systems through their access to an HVAC company that worked with Target. 

We didn’t look into it, but we’re pretty sure that situation didn’t end well for the HVAC company. You certainly don’t want to end up in their shoes. 

Protect Your Business – Stop APT and Other Cyberattacks

When you work with a great Managed Service Provider (MSP) that delivers an all-inclusive range of IT maintenance, IT support, and cybersecurity services, you’ll have the power to prevent or avoid Advanced Persistent Threat and other cyberattacks. 

Interplay, one of Seattle’s top MSP firms for small to midsized businesses, can help you explore preventative cybersecurity options that stop APT actors from gaining access to your system. 

Services include:

Contact the IT experts at Interplay to learn more. 


For 20 years, the friendly and knowledgeable IT team at Interplay has helped business leaders across a range of industries get more out of their tech, stress free. Not only are we always (and we mean always) happy to offer the best managed IT services, support, and advice, we’re also the team you can trust for the best cocktail recommendations here in Seattle or in Disney World – we’re versatile! All humor aside though, we’d love to help you get your IT running smoothly and securely, around the clock.


Photo by Adi Goldstein from Unsplash