Advanced Persistent Defense Simulation Playbook

December 17, 20234 min read

Playbook Objectives:

  • To enhance the organization’s ability to identify, respond to, and mitigate an advanced persistent threat (APT) within a controlled environment.
  • To simulate a sophisticated, multi-staged attack on the company’s network infrastructure, designed to expose potential weaknesses and test the effectiveness of security measures.
  • To train the incident response team (IRT) in recognizing subtle indicators of compromise that might suggest the presence of an APT.
  • To cultivate a defensive strategy that incorporates threat hunting, forensic analysis, and continuous monitoring to counter sophisticated adversaries.
  • To assess the current security posture of the organization and improve upon incident response plans and protocols.

Difficulty Level:

  • Expert: This exercise is designed for security professionals with significant experience in network defense and incident response.


  • CyberSec Solutions, a mid-size financial tech company, has recently noticed irregular patterns of network traffic and a few unexplained system reboots. Alarmingly, these events coincide with reports of a new cyber espionage campaign targeting financial service providers. Given the sensitive customer data and proprietary trading algorithms at stake, CyberSec Solutions needs to ensure that their network is not compromised and can withstand advanced threats. The company has enacted an Advanced Persistent Defense Simulation to uncover any lurking threats and reinforce their defenses.


  • Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) Simulation

Exercise Attack Steps:

  1. Reconnaissance:
    • The attackers conduct thorough information-gathering activities on CyberSec Solutions. They collect data on employees, network architecture, and system vulnerabilities through various methods, including social engineering, public records, and technical probing.
  2. Initial Compromise:
    • Using spear-phishing emails tailored to key finance personnel, the attackers deploy malware to gain a foothold on the company’s internal network.
    • Compromised credentials are used to access a workstation, setting the stage for lateral movement within the network.
  3. Establishment of Backdoor:
    • The attackers establish a backdoor with command and control (C2) communications, ensuring persistent access while avoiding detection by standard security tools.
  4. Privilege Escalation and Lateral Movement:
    • Utilizing the compromised workstation, the attackers escalate privileges and begin to move laterally across the network in search of sensitive financial data and critical systems.
    • Exfiltration channels are prepared to move stolen data out of the network stealthily.
  5. Fortification:
    • The attackers attempt to fortify their presence by deploying additional malware, creating new accounts with administrative privileges, and modifying system logs to hide their activities.
  6. Data Harvesting:
    • Valuable data is identified, accessed, and prepared for exfiltration. The attackers target customer information, proprietary algorithms, and strategic business plans.
  7. Exfiltration:
    • The stolen data is slowly and discreetly exfiltrated to external servers controlled by the attackers, ensuring that the large data transfer goes unnoticed.
  8. Covering Tracks:
    • After completing the exfiltration, the attackers clean up artifacts of their presence and leave behind decoys and false flags to mislead the CyberSec Solutions incident response team during the investigation.
  9. Post-Exercise Analysis:
    • The CyberSec Solutions incident response team analyzes logs, network traffic, and system changes to detect and understand the simulated APT activity.
    • The team documents the timeline of the attack, methods used, and security lapses that allowed the breach.
    • The exercise concludes with a thorough debriefing, lessons learned, and recommendations for enhancing the organization’s defensive capabilities.