On Multi-Phase and Multi-Stage Game-Theoretic Modeling of Advanced Persistent Threats

Quanyan Zhu, Stefan Rass

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Advanced persistent threats (APT) are considered as a significant security threat today. Despite their diversity in nature and details, a common skeleton and sequence of phases can be identified that these attacks follow (in similar ways), which admits a game-theoretic description and analysis. This paper describes a general framework that divides a general APT into three major temporal phases, and fits an individual game model to each phase, connecting the games at the transition points between the phases (similarly to "milestones" accomplished during the launch of an APT). The theoretical description is derived from a running example. The benefit of this game-theoretic perspective is at least threefold, as it 1) helps to systematize the threat and respective mitigation actions (by turning them into pure strategies for the gameplay); 2) provides optimized actions for defense and attack, where the latter can be taken as a (non-unique) indication of neuralgic points; and 3) provides quantitative measures of resilience against an APT, in terms that can be defined freely by a security officer. We illustrate this approach with a numerical example.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13958-13971
Number of pages14
JournalIEEE Access
StatePublished - Mar 9 2018


  • H.4.2.a decision support
  • I.2.1 applications and expert knowledge-intensive systems
  • K.6.5 security and protection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Computer Science
  • General Materials Science
  • General Engineering

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