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In Security Last updated: August 9, 2023
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Cyber Kill Chain is a security model developed by Lockheed Martin in 2011 that outlines the steps of a cyberattack, which helps understand, identify, and defend against threats.

If you are curious, Lockheed Martin is a global aerospace, defense, arms, and security company.

And the Cyber Kill Chain (CKC) is one of the popular security models referenced by cybersecurity experts to form a strategy and defend organizations against cyberattacks.

Why is Cyber Kill Chain Important in Cybersecurity?

A cloud with a shield and a check mark on it.

Let us be honest; Cybersecurity is not that simple. It may sometimes sound simple and convincing when giving the end-users the tips they need to stay safe on the internet.

However, when tackling a real cyberattack, organizations need to know many technical things about it. One cannot expect an organization to defend against cyberattacks with a couple of security tips, can you?

So, a framework (or a model) is needed to lay the groundwork to understand cyberattacks and defend against them accordingly.

Cyber Kill Chain is a traditional security model that serves as the base to help understand the stages of a cyberattack. It includes seven stages, which we will be discussing below.

Role of Cyber Kill Chain in Cybersecurity

A woman sitting at a desk with a laptop and a padlock on it.

Not just limited to providing insights about a cyberattack, Cyber Kill Chain helps organizations know ways to detect attackers, prevent access from unauthorized users, mitigate an active attack, and stop an attacker within the network.

This helps organizations and cybersecurity experts form a strategy that would help.

Cyber Kill Chain alone cannot guarantee everything, various things matter outside the network or internally in an organization, and this model does not include any of that.

Stages of Cyber Kill Chain

An infographic showing the steps of the coronavirus.
Image Credits: Lockheed Martin

The CKC framework consists of seven steps to describe a cyberattack. They are:

  1. Reconnaissance
  2. Weaponization
  3. Delivery
  4. Exploitation
  5. Installation
  6. Command and Control
  7. Action

#1. Reconnaissance

Reconnaissance is the first phase of the Cyber Kill Chain which is all about information gathering.

The attacker will gather insights into a network’s entry points and weaknesses and scan for vulnerabilities. Not just limited to identifying them but collecting email addresses, addresses, and other software-related data that could help devise malicious strategies to carry out the attack.

The more details the attacker has, the more influential the attack can be. This surveillance phase of the attack can be both offline and online. So, it may not be possible for anyone to get a hunch about a malicious actor at this stage.

To tackle this phase, organizations and their employees must focus on privacy, whether it is about keeping the physical location restricted to authorized users or asking all the associated users not to share sensitive personal information online.

For instance, everyone should use privacy tools to protect their online identity.

#2. Weaponization

A man in a hoodie is sitting at a desk with a laptop connected to a chain.

Here, the malicious actor makes the weapon, i.e., the malware or tool to use in the cyberattack.

Sometimes they use existing tools or modify them as per the target to prepare for delivery, which is the next step.

The weapon created for the attack will depend on the goal of the malicious actor. For instance, some prefer to disrupt services, some want to steal data, and some want to ask ransom for holding sensitive data.

The weapon can be anything that aligns with that aim.

#3. Delivery

This is one of the crucial stages where the attacker’s luck begins.

If the delivery succeeds, the malware gets inside and starts its work. And, if it fails, all the strategies for the attack come to an end.

The attacker uses tools or mediums to deliver the malware. For instance, malicious e-mail attachments, phishing emails to hand over credentials, a text message that fools a user into user authorization, and similar.

Of course, the malicious actor uses any of the information from the surveillance phase to make the target convincing of a message or link, so they click through it without giving it a second thought.

If the organization and its employees are aware of phishing attacks and other common cyberattacks, the delivery will be tough to succeed.

#4. Exploitation

A man in a hoodie is sitting at a desk with a laptop in front of him.

The attacker knows the flaws and has entered the victim’s system.

Now, the known vulnerability will be exploited to be able to execute the malicious code delivered. In this process, the attacker will also be able to gain more insights into the system and find out weak spots.

Any vulnerable system connected to the network will have the chances to be compromised.

#5. Installation

Once the attacker has scanned all the flaws out, the attacker will focus on installing the malware and introduce other malicious code to exploit various other things that were unknown initially.

In other words, the infiltration completes with this phase where the attacker goes deep into the network compromised.

#6. Command and Control

Once infiltration is completed, it is time for the malicious actor to take control of the compromised system or the network.

They could choose to track and monitor information remotely or start wreaking havoc to disrupt the system and services. These could be in the form of DDoS attacks or adding a backdoor that lets them enter the system at their convenience without anyone noticing.

#7. Action on Objectives

As per the attack’s goal, the malicious actor executes the final blow to fulfill the objective.

They could encrypt the data and hold ransom for it, infect the system to spread malware, disrupt services, or steal data to leak or modify it. A lot of similar possibilities include for the actions.

How Does Cyber Kill Chain Help Protect Against Attacks?

A man is touching a padlock on a computer screen.

Understanding how attackers get into your network and systems help organizations and their employees defend against cyberattacks.

For instance, with Cyber Kill Chain, one understands that vulnerabilities in a network can help the attacker quickly infiltrate. Hence, organizations can consider using Endpoint Detection and Response tools to add early detection techniques to their cybersecurity strategy.

Similarly, you can choose to use a firewall to protect cloud infrastructure and cloud-based DDoS protection services to step up the security game.

Not to forget, VPNs can also be used to secure things in a business.

Organizations can use the Cyber Kill Chain model effectively by picking solutions that tackle each stage of a cyberattack.

Is Cyber Kill Chain Enough?

Yes, and no.

As I mentioned previously, Cyber Kill Chain only tackles some of the basics of a cyberattack. And, even if an organization defends against all that, it is already a big win.

Though some cybersecurity experts have expanded the model with an 8th stage.

The 8th stage involves Monetization:

This phase explains how the attackers make money from a successful attack. Whether it is about the ransom request or the use of cryptocurrency, the organization should also buckle up to handle such situations.

Overall, the model is considered somewhat outdated as innovation in the digital world progresses. Cyberattacks are now more complex, even though the basics remain the same. For instance, the CKC framework does not mention all kinds of attacks – but is limited to malware.

Additionally, it does not deal with insider threats, considering a rogue employee can also affect the organization.

Considering that cyberattacks are getting more complex with cloud, and artificial intelligence, in the mix, other models can also be referred to, like MITRE ATT&CK and Unified Kill Chain.

You may also explore the best Breach and Attack Simulation tools to prepare for Cyberattacks.

  • Ankush Das
    A computer science graduate with a passion to explore and write about various technologies. When he’s not writing, it is usually his cats who keep him busy.
  • Narendra Mohan Mittal

    Narendra Mohan Mittal is a versatile and experienced digital branding strategist and content editor with over 12 years of experience. He is a Gold Medalist in M-Tech and B-Tech in Computer Science & Engineering.

    Currently,… read more

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