The Cyber Kill Chain Phases & Model Explained

Written By Sambita Panigrahy  
Anuraag Singh
Approved By Anuraag Singh 
Published On April 25th, 2023
Reading Time 5 Minutes Reading

In the past couple of decades, industries have witnessed more complex cyber threats, rendering traditional security measures insufficient. For that reason, it has become necessary to adopt improved cybersecurity prevention practices to keep up with the ever-growing cyber attacks. Apparently, the cyber kill chain framework has proven to be an effective means to defend an organization’s IT infrastructure.

Though nearly all cybersecurity strategies follow a prevention-first mindset. But, this strategy alone can’t face today’s high-profile cyber-attacks. Especially, when the target is a reputed and well-established organization. So, it’s absolutely necessary not only to ensure prevention but also how to respond to a security incident efficiently.

Besides that thanks to the well-structured cybersecurity model, regardless of what type of security incident you are looking at whether internal or external, they can be easily addressed and mitigated. 

Let’s understand the model and its process in detail.

Introduction to Cyber Kill Chain

It is essentially a cybersecurity military model consisting of a series of different phases. Basically, it’s a visualization study of the attacker’s offensive behavior. The model helps in tracing the stages of a cyberattack, identifying vulnerabilities, and at the same time mitigating attacks.

The main intention of the cyber kill chain framework is to protect organizations against sophisticated cyber attacks or commonly known as Advanced Persistent Threats. Since this attack is carefully planned and carried out over a period of time by inserting ransomware, social engineering, and other means, a powerful strategy needs to be followed in phases to combat such attacks.

7 Stages of Cyber Kill Chain Model

A military model derived by Lockheed Martin was originally established to identify, prepare, engage, and destroy the attack. And, the kill chain has evolved to better anticipate the growing threats. 

The cyber kill has seven successive stages ranging from reconnaissance to exfiltration.

  1. Reconnaissance
  2. Weaponization
  3. Delivery
  4. Exploitation
  5. Installation
  6. Command & Control
  7. Actions on Objectives

cyber kill chain

1. Reconnaissance (Gathering Crucial Information)

Reconnaissance phase is the first phase of the cyber kill chain cybersecurity model where hackers spend a significant amount of time researching the target. Once the research is done, they identify the vulnerabilities in the network and penetrate it. 

Then, start gathering as much information that includes email addresses, user IDs, physical locations, software applications, and operating system details as they can. They harvest that information to successfully plan & carry out phishing and spoofing attacks. 

Altogether, the attack will be more sophisticated and convincing if the intruder is able to obtain more information during the Reconnaissance phase.

2. Weaponization (Combining Exploits for The Attack)

During the Weaponization phase, the attacker couples all of the preparatory work in order to create malware to be used against the target organization. Primarily, cybercriminals create remote-access ransomware or other kinds of malware such as viruses or worms that can exploit a known vulnerability.

Also, in this stage of the cyber kill chain, the attacker may leave a backdoor open in case the original entry point is identified so that they can carry on doing malicious activities. 

3. Delivery (Delivering Weaponized Bundle to the Target)

Delivery is the third step where the hacker launches the attack. The activity is entirely based on the type of attack they wanted to carry out. It may be through phishing emails containing malicious attachments or exploiting a hardware or software vulnerability.

4. Exploitation (Taking Advantage of Vulnerability)

In the Exploitation phase of the cyber kill chain, the intruder will execute the malicious code on the victim’s system by taking the advantage of the vulnerabilities found earlier by the attacker. 

5. Installation (Installing Malware on Victim’s Assets)

Installation is the fifth stage of the security framework. Once the cybercriminals gain access to the target’s network, they begin installing malware and other malicious tools on the target network. After that, they start extracting data undetected. Mostly, hackers use Trojan Horses, or command-line interfaces as their weapons in the installation process.

6. Command & Control (Command Channel for Remote Manipulation)

Command and control step is the sixth step. It is often referred to as the C2 phase of the cyber kill chain. Here, the intruders will give the command to the cyberweapons they installed previously. Lateral movement is very common in this stage. The cybercriminals will slowly move across the target’s network and slowly take control of the entire network.

7. Actions on Objectives (Attackers Achieve Their Original Goal)

In this final stage of the cyber kill chain, the intruders fulfill their objective of sneaking into the target computers and stealing sensitive information. Usually, hackers perform data theft, destruction, encryption, and exfiltration activity.

What Is The Role of Cyber Kill Chain in Cybersecurity?

This modern cybersecurity model plays an important role in mitigating cyber threats. Different stages of the kill chain help the information security team to prevent, detect, or intercept attackers.

Apart from that it also helps in,

  • Identifying attackers within each stage of the threat cycle with security intelligence techniques.
  • Preventing unauthorized access.
  • Responding to cyberattacks in real-time.
  • Putting a stop to the lateral movement within the network.
  • Ceasing the chance of sensitive data being shared, saved, altered, or exfiltrated by hackers.
Final Verdict

With traditional cybersecurity, it’s not possible to eliminate the risks entirely. But, it’s possible with the cyber kill chain security framework. Using the layered security model, the majority of cyber threats can be minimized. As a part of the model, organizations must adopt professional Cybersecurity Services and solutions that allow them to tackle security challenges effectively.