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Dimensions of ‘socio’ vulnerabilities of advanced persistent threats.

Nicho, Mathew; McDermott, Christopher D.


Mathew Nicho

Christopher D. McDermott


Dinko Begušić

Nikola Rožić

Joško Radić

Matko Šarić


Advanced Persistent Threats (APT) are highly targeted and sophisticated multi-stage attacks, utilizing zero day or near zero-day malware. Directed at internetworked computer users in the workplace, their growth and prevalence can be attributed to both socio (human) and technical (system weaknesses and inadequate cyber defenses) vulnerabilities. While many APT attacks incorporate a blend of socio-technical vulnerabilities, academic research and reported incidents largely depict the user as the prominent contributing factor that can weaken the layers of technical security in an organization. In this paper, our objective is to explore multiple dimensions of socio factors (non-technical vulnerabilities) that contribute to the success of APT attacks in organizations. Expert interviews were conducted with senior managers, working in government and private organizations in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over a period of four years (2014 to 2017). Contrary to common belief that socio factors derive predominately from user behavior, our study revealed two new dimensions of socio vulnerabilities, namely the role of organizational management, and environmental factors which also contribute to the success of APT attacks. We show that the three dimensions postulated in this study can assist Managers and IT personnel in organizations to implement an appropriate mix of socio-technical countermeasures for APT threats.

Start Date Sep 19, 2019
Publication Date Nov 21, 2019
Publisher Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
Series ISSN 1847-358X
Institution Citation NICHO, M. and MCDERMOTT, C.D. 2019. Dimensions of ‘socio’ vulnerabilities of advanced persistent threats. In Begušić, D., Rožić, N., Radić, J. and Šarić, M. (eds.) Proceedings of the 27th International software, telecommunications and computer networks conference 2019 (SoftCOM 2019), 19-21 September 2019, Split, Croatia. Piscataway: IEEE [online], article ID 8903788. Available from:
Keywords Advanced persistent threats (APT); Spear-phishing; User vulnerabilities


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