Symantec has downplayed the significance of Operation Shady RAT, a major cyber espionage campaign discovered last week by rival security firm McAfee, claiming that it was less advanced and sophisticated than at first thought.
The attack was carried out over five years and targeted 72 organisations in 14 countries, displaying many of the techniques associated with advanced persistent threats (APTs), according to McAfee.
However, Symantec researcher Hon Lau argued in a blog post that the attackers made several basic errors which slightly undermines this point of view.
Most notably, all the information gleaned by McAfee researchers was freely available on the attackers' command-and-control site, which was a major oversight, according to Lau.
They also installed web traffic analysis tools to help monitor their efforts, which investigators were able to use to work out the scale and nature of the attack.
"Is the attack described in Operation Shady RAT a truly advanced persistent threat? I would contend that it isn't, especially when you consider the errors made in configuring the servers and the relatively non-sophisticated malware and techniques used in this case," said Lau.
"Sure, the people behind it are persistent but no more so than the myriad of other malware groups out there such as Zeus, Tidserv and others like them."
It certainly didn't take long for the latent rivalry between Symantec and McAfee to break the surface again, then. But is the talk over whether this was an APT or not really relevant?
I'd suggest not. The term APT has shifted so much from its original meaning anyway that to quibble over details like that is mere semantic pedantry.
That hackers are doing this on a huge scale which barely even this tip of the iceberg fully illuminates is a much more worrisome prospect for organisations.
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