The cybersecurity landscape is a complex and ever-evolving space, with Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) actors and ransomware attackers continuously developing their skills and learning from their mistakes and peers. As these actors mature and potentially include false flag exercises in their operations, the future of APT analysis is a topic of significant interest and importance. This article aims to explore this future, focusing on how Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) can be analyzed as actors develop and mature.

The Evolution of APT Actors

APT actors are becoming increasingly sophisticated, learning from their mistakes, and improving their techniques. They are also learning from their peers, sharing information, and adopting successful strategies. This evolution is a natural progression in any field, but it presents unique challenges in the realm of cybersecurity. As these actors develop, so too must the methods used to analyze and counter them.

The evolution of APT actors is not just about improving their techniques. It’s also about adapting to the changing landscape of cybersecurity. As defenses improve and new technologies emerge, these actors must find new ways to achieve their goals. This could involve using new types of malware, exploiting previously unknown vulnerabilities, or using social engineering techniques to trick users into revealing sensitive information.

The Future of APT Analysis

The future of APT analysis lies in understanding these evolving tactics and techniques and developing methods to counter them. This involves a combination of technical analysis, behavioral analysis, and threat intelligence.

Technical analysis involves examining the tools and techniques used by APT actors. This can include analyzing malware, studying network traffic, and examining the systems that have been compromised. By understanding the technical aspects of an APT attack, analysts can develop effective countermeasures and prevent future attacks.

Behavioral analysis involves studying the behavior of APT actors. This can include analyzing their patterns of activity, their choice of targets, and their response to defensive measures. By understanding their behavior, analysts can predict their actions and take proactive measures to counter them.

Threat intelligence involves gathering and analyzing information about APT actors and their activities. This can include information about their identities, their motivations, and their past activities. By understanding the threat landscape, analysts can anticipate future attacks and prepare for them.

The Role of False Flag Operations

False flag operations, where an attack is designed to appear as though it was carried out by another entity, are becoming an increasingly common tactic used by APT actors. These operations can make it difficult to accurately attribute attacks and can lead to misdirected retaliation.

However, false flag operations also present an opportunity for APT analysis. By studying these operations, analysts can learn about the tactics and techniques used to deceive and misdirect. This can provide valuable insights that can be used to improve defensive measures and attribution efforts.

The Importance of Collaboration

Collaboration is a crucial component of effective APT analysis. This includes collaboration between different organizations, between different departments within an organization, and between humans and machines.

Collaboration between organizations can involve sharing threat intelligence, pooling resources, and coordinating responses to attacks. By working together, organizations can leverage their collective knowledge and resources to counter APT actors more effectively.

Collaboration between departments within an organization can involve sharing information, coordinating efforts, and developing a unified strategy. By breaking down silos and working together, different departments can contribute their unique perspectives and expertise to the fight against APT actors.

Collaboration between humans and machines can involve using machine learning and artificial intelligence to analyze large volumes of data, identify patterns, and make predictions. By combining the analytical capabilities of machines with the intuition and creativity of humans, organizations can counter APT actors more effectively.

The Threat Landscape as a 3D Landscape

The threat landscape can be thought of as a 3D landscape, with areas of greater and lesser understanding. Some areas are well-lit and easy to navigate, while others are dark and full of unknowns. The key to navigating this landscape is to ensure that your view is unrestricted and enhanced by the insights of others.

One way to do this is by leveraging the expertise of others within your organization or third-party experts. By sharing information and collaborating, you can illuminate the darker areas of the threat landscape and gain a more comprehensive understanding of the threats you face.

Another way is by using tools and technologies that can help you visualize and navigate the threat landscape. This can include threat intelligence platforms, security analytics tools, and machine learning algorithms. By using these tools, you can gain a clearer view of the threat landscape and make more informed decisions about how to protect your organization.

The Risk of Focusing Too Narrowly on APT Actors

While APT actors represent a significant threat, it’s important not to focus too narrowly on these advanced adversaries. Doing so can leave you vulnerable to the more opportunistic and drive-by attacks of lower skill attackers.

These lower skill attackers may not have the resources or expertise of APT actors, but they can still cause significant damage. They often exploit common vulnerabilities and use simple but effective tactics to compromise systems and steal data.

To protect against these lower skill attackers, it’s important to maintain a strong security posture. This includes keeping systems patched and up-to-date, using strong passwords and multi-factor authentication, and educating users about the risks of phishing and other common attacks.

The Role of Attribution in APT Analysis

Attribution, or the process of identifying who is behind a cyber attack, is a challenging but important aspect of APT analysis. While it’s often difficult to definitively attribute an attack to a specific actor or group, the process of attempting to do so can yield valuable insights.

However, the increasing use of false flag operations and the sophistication of APT actors can make attribution increasingly difficult. It’s also important to note that attribution is not always necessary or beneficial. In some cases, knowing the tactics, techniques, and procedures used in an attack can be more valuable than knowing who was behind it.

The Role of Mistakes in APT Analysis

Even the most skilled APT actors can make mistakes, and these mistakes can provide valuable clues for analysts. These mistakes can take many forms, from technical errors to operational slip-ups, and can provide insights into the tactics, techniques, and procedures used by the actors.

However, relying on mistakes can be a risky strategy. APT actors are constantly learning and improving, and the mistakes they make are becoming fewer and far between. Furthermore, some mistakes may be deliberate, designed to mislead analysts and throw them off the trail.

The Future of APT Analysis: A Dynamic Landscape

The future of APT analysis is not static; it is a dynamic landscape that continues to evolve as threat actors adapt and innovate. As we look ahead, several trends and considerations emerge that will shape the future of APT analysis.

APT actors are not standing still. They are continuously looking for new ways to perform their attacks to avoid detection and achieve their goals. Established threat actors such as Turla, MuddyWater, Winnti, Lazarus, and ScarCruft are continually developing their toolsets. For instance, Turla has been spotted using the TunnusSched backdoor, a relatively unusual tool for this group, which Tomiris has been known to employ. This demonstrates how established APT actors are adapting and evolving their tactics to stay ahead of the game. (Further Reading)

Moreover, there have also been campaigns from threat actors that have recently been discovered and reported, such as Trila, targeting Lebanese governmental entities. This indicates that the APT landscape is not only evolving but also expanding as more actors are being detected. (Further Reading)

APT actors are also expanding beyond their traditional victims, such as state institutions and high-profile targets, to include a wider range of industries and geographies. Industries such as aviation, energy, manufacturing, real estate, finance, telecoms, scientific research, IT, and gaming sectors have become subjects of interest for APT actors. These companies possess substantial amounts of data that serve strategic requirements related to national priorities, or create additional accesses and vectors to facilitate future campaigns. (Further Reading)

Geographically, APT actors are performing attacks with a focus on Europe, the US, the Middle East, and various parts of Asia. For instance, MuddyWater, an actor that previously showed a preference for targeting Middle Eastern and North African entities, has expanded its malicious activity to organizations in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Malaysia, and Canada. (Further Reading)

APT campaigns continue to use a variety of different programming languages, including Go, Rust, and Lua. The use of diverse programming languages not only demonstrates the technical sophistication of these threat actors but also presents challenges for defenders in terms of detection and mitigation. (Further Reading)

Geopolitics remains a key driver of APT development, and cyber-espionage continues to be a prime goal of APT campaigns. As geopolitical tensions rise, so too does the likelihood of APT campaigns. This underscores the need for organizations to stay abreast of geopolitical developments and understand how these might impact their threat landscape. (Further Reading)

The Importance of Tools, Strategies, and Understanding

To effectively analyze APT actors and their activities, it’s important to have the right tools, strategies, and understanding.


There are many tools available that can aid in the analysis of APT activities. These include:

  1. Threat Intelligence Platforms: These platforms collect, correlate, and analyze data from a variety of sources to provide actionable intelligence about threats.
  2. Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) Systems: SIEM systems collect and analyze log data from across an organization’s network to detect suspicious activity and provide real-time analysis of security alerts.
  3. Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) Tools: EDR tools monitor and collect data from endpoints to detect, investigate, and prevent threats.
  4. Sandboxing Tools: These tools allow analysts to execute and observe malicious code in a controlled environment, providing insights into its behavior and potential impact.
  5. Forensic Tools: These tools aid in the collection and analysis of digital evidence following a security incident, helping to determine the cause and impact of an attack.


Effective strategies for APT analysis can include:

  1. Threat Hunting: This proactive approach involves searching for threats that may have evaded existing security measures. It requires a deep understanding of the organization’s network and the current threat landscape.
  2. Incident Response: Having a well-defined and practiced incident response plan can help organizations respond quickly and effectively to an attack, minimizing its impact.
  3. User Education: Training users to recognize and respond to potential threats can help prevent attacks from succeeding.
  4. Regular Auditing and Testing: Regularly auditing and testing security controls can help ensure they are working as intended and identify any potential weaknesses.


Understanding is perhaps the most important element of APT analysis. This includes understanding the tactics, techniques, and procedures used by APT actors, the systems and data they may target, and the potential impact of an attack. It also includes understanding the organization’s own network and systems, including their vulnerabilities and the value of the data they hold.


The future of APT analysis is a complex and challenging landscape, but with the right tools, strategies, and understanding, it is a landscape that can be navigated. By staying informed about the evolving tactics and techniques of APT actors, collaborating with others, and maintaining a strong and proactive security posture, organizations can protect themselves against these advanced threats.

Further Reading

  1. The Evolution of APTs
  2. APT Trends in 2023
  3. The Future of Cyber Threat Intelligence
  4. Understanding and Addressing APTs
  5. NATO 2030: United for a New Era
  6. How to Map the Cybersecurity Threat Landscape
  7. Understanding the Cyber Threat Landscape
  8. Defending Against Advanced Persistent Threats
  9. APT trends report Q1 2023
  10. APT Q1 2023 playbook: advanced techniques, broader horizons, and new targets
  11. APT Groups Expand Reach to New Industries and Geographies

Remember, the streetlight effect can be a pitfall in cybersecurity. Don’t just look for your keys where the light is better, illuminate the dark areas and broaden your search. The threats are evolving, and so must we.