Kill chain

Understanding the kill chain helps cybersecurity professionals develop strategies to detect, prevent, and respond to cyber threats at different stages of an attack.

What is the Kill Chain?

The kill chain is a concept developed by Lockheed Martin that describes the various stages of a cyber attack, from the initial planning and reconnaissance to the final exploitation of a target system.

The Kill Chain Stages

  1. Reconnaissance: The attacker gathers information about the target organization.
  2. Weaponization: The attacker creates a malicious payload that can exploit a vulnerability in the target organization's systems.
  3. Delivery: The attacker delivers the malicious payload to the target organization.
  4. Exploitation: The attacker exploits a vulnerability in the target organization's systems to gain access to the network.
  5. Installation: The attacker installs malware on the target organization's systems.
  6. Command and control: The attacker establishes a command and control server to communicate with the malware and issue commands.
  7. Actions on objectives: The attacker achieves their objectives, such as stealing data, disrupting operations, or launching further attacks.

The Ransomware Kill Chain

Attackers follow the Ransomware Kill Chain because it provides a systematic and strategic approach to executing successful ransomware attacks. Let's break down the reasons:

  1. Methodical Approach: The Kill Chain is a step-by-step process, providing a structured method for attackers to follow. This systematic approach ensures that they cover all necessary stages for a successful attack, from infiltration to encrypting files.
  2. Maximizing Success Rates: Each stage of the Kill Chain is designed to exploit specific vulnerabilities or weaknesses in a target system. By meticulously progressing through these stages, attackers increase the likelihood of a successful compromise.
  3. Evading Detection: The Kill Chain includes stages like reconnaissance and silent execution, allowing attackers to gather information discreetly and execute their malicious payload without triggering alarms. This stealthiness is crucial for avoiding early detection.
  4. Customization and Adaptation: The Kill Chain framework allows attackers to customize their approach based on the target's vulnerabilities and defenses. This adaptability makes it challenging for security measures to anticipate and counteract each attack.
  5. Establishing Control: The Command and Control (C2) stage in the Kill Chain is where attackers establish control over infected systems. This control is essential for executing commands, maintaining persistence, and ensuring the victim complies with ransom demands.
  6. Increasing Ransom Success: Following the Kill Chain enhances the chances of successfully encrypting files and displaying ransom messages. By reaching the final stages, attackers ensure that their demands are communicated clearly and that victims understand the consequences of non-compliance.
  7. Efficiency and Scale: The Kill Chain model allows attackers to scale their operations efficiently. They can use similar tactics across multiple targets, streamlining their efforts and maximizing the impact of their ransomware campaigns.
  8. Economic Motivation: Ransomware attacks are often financially motivated. The Kill Chain provides a strategic framework for attackers to achieve their monetary goals by systematically compromising and extorting victims.

In summary, the Ransomware Kill Chain serves as a roadmap for attackers, guiding them through a series of carefully planned steps to maximize the effectiveness of their ransomware campaigns. Understanding this process is crucial for cybersecurity professionals to develop effective countermeasures and protect against evolving cyber threats.

> Read about a real ransomware attack anatomy

How APTs use the Kill Chain

Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) leverage the Cyber Kill Chain as a framework to orchestrate and guide their sophisticated attacks. The Cyber Kill Chain, consisting of stages from initial reconnaissance to achieving the objectives, provides APTs with a strategic roadmap to maximize the chances of success while remaining undetected for extended periods. Let's explore how APTs use the Cyber Kill Chain:

  1. Reconnaissance: APTs invest significant time and resources in this stage, conducting thorough reconnaissance to gather intelligence on the target. They aim to understand the target's infrastructure, personnel, and vulnerabilities. Te reconnaissance to identify potential entry points and gather information crucial for customizing their attack strategies.
  2. Weaponization: Armed with the gathered intelligence, APTs develop or customize sophisticated malware and tools tailored to the specific target. This ensures that their weapons are effective and less likely to be detected. The weaponization stage in the Cyber Kill Chain allows APTs to craft highly targeted and evasive malware, aligning with their goal of remaining undetected.
  3. Delivery: APTs employ various delivery methods, often using socially engineered phishing emails or exploiting vulnerabilities in software to deliver their customized malware to the target. The delivery stage facilitates the successful introduction of APTs' malware into the target's environment, a critical step in the Cyber Kill Chain.
  4. Exploitation: APTs exploit vulnerabilities in the target's systems, aiming to gain initial access and establish a foothold. They may use zero-day exploits or known vulnerabilities to achieve this. Exploitation in the Cyber Kill Chain aligns with APTs' goals of breaching the target's defenses and escalating their level of access within the network.
  5. Installation: Once inside the target's network, APTs focus on installing their malware covertly, ensuring that it operates silently to avoid detection. The installation stage allows APTs to embed their malicious tools within the target's infrastructure, aligning with the persistence aspect crucial for APT operations.
  6. Command and Control (C2): APTs establish a command and control infrastructure to remotely manage the compromised systems, enabling them to execute commands, receive updates, and maintain persistence. Command and control in the Cyber Kill Chain provides APTs with the necessary framework to control their operations within the target's environment.
  7. Actions on Objectives: The ultimate goal for APTs is to achieve their specific objectives, such as data exfiltration, intellectual property theft, or disruption of critical systems. Actions on objectives in the Cyber Kill Chain represent the culmination of APTs' efforts, aligning with their long-term and targeted objectives.

By understanding and utilizing the Cyber Kill Chain, APTs streamline their operations, enhance the likelihood of success, and remain persistent within targeted networks, making them formidable adversaries in the realm of cybersecurity. Defending against APTs requires organizations to adopt a multi-layered security approach and remain vigilant at each stage of the Cyber Kill Chain.

> Learn more about APTs

MITRE ATT&CK vs. Cyber Kill Chain

MITRE ATT&CK (Adversarial Tactics, Techniques, and Common Knowledge) and the Cyber Kill Chain are both frameworks used in cybersecurity, but they have different focuses and purposes.

Key Differences between MITRE ATT&CK and the Cyber Kill Chain

  1. Focus: MITRE ATT&CK focuses on documenting the tactics and techniques used by adversaries across different platforms. The Cyber Kill Chain focuses on the sequential stages of an attack, emphasizing the need to disrupt the attack chain.
  2. Structure: MITRE ATT&CK is organized into matrices based on different platforms and covers a wide range of tactics and techniques. The Cyber Kill Chain is a linear model that outlines the stages an attacker goes through to achieve their objectives.
  3. Use Case: MITRE ATT&CK is often used for defensive purposes, enhancing detection and response capabilities. The Cyber Kill Chain is used for incident response and prevention, guiding strategic decisions to disrupt attacks.

In summary, while both MITRE ATT&CK and the Cyber Kill Chain contribute to the understanding of cyber threats, MITRE ATT&CK is more comprehensive and adaptable, covering a broader spectrum of adversarial behavior, while the Cyber Kill Chain provides a structured approach to understanding and disrupting the sequential stages of an attack. Organizations often use both frameworks in conjunction to strengthen their overall cybersecurity posture.

How to Detect Threats along the Kill Chain

Vectra AI is a cybersecurity platform that uses artificial intelligence to detect threats all along the kill chain. Vectra AI analyzes network traffic and behavior to identify suspicious activity that may indicate an attack in progress.

Vectra AI can detect threats at the following stages of the kill chain:

  1. Reconnaissance: Vectra AI can detect reconnaissance activity, such as unusual spikes in network traffic or attempts to access sensitive data.
  2. Weaponization: Vectra AI can detect malicious payloads, such as malware and phishing emails.
  3. Delivery: Vectra AI can detect delivery vectors, such as malicious attachments and exploit kits.
  4. Exploitation: Vectra AI can detect exploitation activity, such as attempts to exploit known vulnerabilities.
  5. Installation: Vectra AI can detect malware installation activity, such as the creation of new files and processes.
  6. Command and control: Vectra AI can detect command and control activity, such as communication between malware and command and control servers.
  7. Actions on objectives: Vectra AI can detect actions on objectives, such as data exfiltration and disruption of operations.

Cyber Attack Kill Chain Examples: Real-world Insights

Zero Day Exploit: A Prelude to Vulnerability

As a leading R&D company specializing in advanced materials, Ficto Tech’s high-value intellectual property makes them a prime target for cyberattacks. This attack was initiated through a zero-day exploit that was left unpatched in an on premises marketing server, where IT does not control software updates.

> Learn more about the Zero Day exploit

Spear Phishing: The Art of Deception

Lazarus Group uses spear-phishing tactics to target employees at pharmaceutical companies — a common theme throughout the pandemic in an attempt to steal proprietary patent information. This attack highlights that trend where an employee at a Global 500 company was targeted through social media to ultimately gain initial access.

> Read more about the spear phishing attack

MFA Bypass: Overcoming Multi-Factor Authentication

Lapsus$ has shown the ability to exploit weaknesses in prevention security (including MFA) to gain access to enterprise environments. This simulated example highlights their ability to use compromised credentials to access and progress across a cloud environment.

> Learn more about attacks bypassing MFA

Living Off the Land: Blurring the Lines

Volt Typhoon emphasizes gathering information such as user credentials to assist with Live Off The Land (LOTL) techniques and maintain access. Small home office network equipment including routers, firewalls and VPN hardware are targets. The actor attempts to leverage any privileges available on compromised devices and extract data to an AD account with attempts to authenticate to other devices on the network.

> Read the full story of a real Live Off the Land attack

Credential Stuffing: Unraveling the Web of Compromise

Credential theft gives cyber attackers the keys to move about an organization and progress towards other objectives. In this instance, an actor gained stolen credentials and headed straight for Microsoft SaaS and attempted to log in.

> Learn more about real attacks using credential stuffing

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