The Complexity of Contemporary Indicators of Compromise




State Actors, APT, IoC, Threats


The cybersecurity landscape has undergone substantial transformation, especially in the sphere of Advanced Persistent Threats (APT). These evolving threats, marked by increased sophistication, scale, and impact, require the critical revaluation of traditional security models and the development of more advanced defensive strategies. This study offers a comprehensive analysis of the progress in APT attack methodologies over the past 30 years, focused on the evolving nature of compromise (IoCs) and their role in shaping future predictive and defensive mechanisms. Using a rigorous methodological approach, this survey systematically reviewed 21 significant APT incidents that span three decades. This includes integrating data from various sources such as academic journals, specialised cybersecurity blogs, and media reports. Using comparative and analytical methods, this study dissects each incident to provide an intricate understanding of the APT landscape and the evolution of IoCs. Our findings indicate a notable change in thinking from isolated hacker activities to organised state-sponsored APT operations driven by complex motives such as political espionage, economic disruption, and national security interests. Advancements in APTs are characterised by sophisticated persistence mechanisms, innovative attack vectors, advanced lateral movement within networks, and more covert data exfiltration and evasion methods.
This study emphasises the difficulties in detecting advanced persistent threat (APT) activities due to their sophisticated and secretive nature. This stresses the importance of thoroughly investigating the evidence of such activities and highlights the need for a dynamic and initiative-cybersecurity approach. This study also highlights the crucial role of integrating IoC understanding into AI-driven predictive models and frameworks to predict potential APT. This integration is essential for the development of pre-emptive defence strategies. This study provides valuable information on the evolving dynamics of cyber threats and emphasises the urgent need for forward-thinking adaptive cybersecurity strategies. It offers a framework for understanding the complexities of modern APTs and guides the development of more effective AI-enhanced defence mechanisms against emerging cyber threats.

Author Biographies

Raymond André Hagen, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Raymond A. Hagen is a Senior Cyber Security Advisor at The Norwegian Digitalisation Agency and Public PhD Candidate at NTNU. Lives for security and the intersection between technology and people. 

Kirsi Helkala, Norwegian Defence College

Dr Kirsi Helkala is a professor of cyber security at the Norwegian Defence University College, Norway. She received her PhD in information security from University of Oslo in 2010. Her main research interest is human factors in cyber security.