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The Cybersecurity Kill Chain model explains the typical approach hackers take in a successful cyberattack. This framework was developed by Lockheed Martin, adapted from military attack models and applied to the digital realm to assist teams in understanding, detecting, and preventing persistent cyber threats. While not all cyberattacks utilize all seven phases of the Cybersecurity Kill Chain model, most attacks follow a majority of them, often from Phase 2 to Phase 6.
There are several other Cyber Kill Chain models developed by different companies, but for simplicity, we will stick with the Lockheed Martin model, the most well-known framework in the industry. Here, we will explain the individual phases and provide brief solutions for each of them to help you better understand hackers’ procedures in targeting an entity.
Like any other form of traditional warfare, the most successful cyberattacks start with gathering a wealth of information. Reconnaissance is the first phase in the Cybersecurity Kill Chain. Various techniques, tools, and commonly used functionalities come into play during this stage, including:
There is an array of tools and techniques that hackers use to collect information about their targets and uncover various pieces of data. These data bits can then be leveraged to find entry points into your applications, networks, and increasingly cloud-based databases. It is essential to safeguard your confidential data with cloud-based SASE security measures, encryption, and secure websites to prevent attackers from stumbling upon compromising information when browsing your publicly accessible assets, such as apps and cloud services.
Once an attacker has gathered sufficient information about their target, they select one or more attack vectors to infiltrate your environment. An attack vector is a means through which hackers gain unauthorized access to your systems and information. Attack vectors range from simple to highly technical, but keep in mind that hackers typically weigh the costs against the return on investment when selecting their targets.
Attackers consider everything from computational power to amortization time. The typical hacker follows the path of least resistance, which is why it is crucial to consider all possible entry points along the attack surface (all points where you are vulnerable) and enhance your security accordingly.
Common attack vectors include:
Remember: A hacker only needs one attack vector to succeed. Therefore, your security is only as strong as its weakest link, and it’s up to you to identify where these potential attack vectors exist. Ransomware attacks continue to leverage remote access services to gain entry, perform lateral movements, and identify sensitive data for exfiltration – all before encrypting the data and making ransom demands.
Once an attacker gains entry, their next step typically involves finding various ways to move laterally through your network or cloud resources, expanding their access rights to reach the most valuable information, all while remaining undetected for as long as possible. To prevent this behavior, Zero-Trust principles must be implemented, requiring reauthentication of identity when users move from one area to another within networks or applications.
After gaining access to your systems, a hacker has the freedom to introduce the malware of their choice (malware, ransomware, spyware, etc.) into the systems. They set up programs for all types of attacks that can occur immediately, with a delay, or triggered by a specific action (logic bomb). Sometimes these attacks are a one-time event, while in other cases, hackers establish a remote connection to your network that is constantly monitored and controlled.
Malware detection with Next Gen SWGs, which decrypt and inspect web and cloud traffic, is a key component in preventing the transmission of this type of malicious software. Attacks are increasingly being delivered via the cloud: 68% of malware is introduced via the cloud instead of the web. Inline threat scanning services for web and cloud traffic, as well as consideration of the status of all endpoints, are crucial to ensure that your company is not infected with malicious software.
Once the intended malware is introduced, the exploitation of a system begins, depending on the nature of the attack. As mentioned earlier, some attacks occur with a delay, while others depend on a specific action by the target, known as a logic bomb. These programs sometimes include obfuscation features that conceal their activity and origin, preventing detection.
Once the executable program is triggered, the hacker can initiate the attack as planned, leading us to the next phases and encompassing various types of exploits.
When a hacker sees an opportunity for future attacks, their next step is to install a backdoor for constant access to the target’s systems. This allows them to come and go within the target’s network without the risk of detection through other attack vectors upon re-entry. Such backdoors can be established through rootkits and weak credentials, and as long as their behavior does not raise red flags before a security team (such as unusual login times or significant data movements), this intrusion can be challenging to detect. The SASE architecture combines numerous security measures to capture extensive metadata about users, devices, applications, data, activities, and other attributes to support investigation and anomaly detection.
Once the programs and backdoors are installed, the attacker takes control of the systems and executes the planned attack. All actions taken here solely serve to maintain control over the situation concerning the target. These actions can take on a variety of forms in the future, such as injecting ransomware, spyware, or other means of exfiltrating data.
Once you become aware of an intruder and data exfiltration, it is usually too late – hackers have taken control of your system. Therefore, it is crucial to have security measures in place that monitor data movements for suspicious activities and assess them. A computer can detect and prevent malicious behavior much faster than any network administrator.
All of this has led to this point. This is the phase of continuous execution where an attacker proceeds against their target, encrypts the data for ransom, exfiltrates the data to profit from it, cripples the network with a denial-of-service attack, or monitors system behavior for other vulnerabilities using spyware, to name just a few possible outcomes. In this final phase of the Kill Chain, attackers often engage in espionage and surveillance while remaining discreet and continuing their activities.
Real-time monitoring of data movements and the detection of suspicious behavior is crucial because attackers act as quickly as possible to achieve their goals. They never have enough time to respond to every possible anomaly within a large corporate structure, so your role in prevention must be proactive rather than reactive.
The upcoming blog articles will explain how our solution can protect companies in each of the above mentioned phases.