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All you need about 7 steps of Cyber Kill Chain

Published: July 25, 2021 By Rezarta Meni

The Cyber Kill Chain – an approach to cyberattacks!

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This year began with the promise of a brighter future, but it looks like it will be a long way ahead. If you look at the 2021 statistics, you will notice that most of them are showing the fact that cybersecurity risks are increasing as a result of COVID-19 and the work-from-home approach, making that one of the most serious challenges that businesses face daily.

Ignoring cybersecurity risks has been proven to be one of the costliest mistakes, but on the other hand, it is almost impossible to eliminate those. The battle between cyber dark side criminals and security professionals is never-ending.

As a result, having defense tactics in place in this dangerous battleground may be the most effective way to mitigate those. In this case, the Cyber Kill Chain can be helpful. But what is it, why, and for what you can use this approach? Let's figure it out in this article.

 

What is the Cyber Kill Chain?

The cyber kill chain is a classic cybersecurity model and a step-by-step approach for detecting and stopping malicious activities or attacks.

This model, which was first developed by Lockheed Martin in 2011, is to make security teams better understand the stages a cybercriminal goes through to perform an attack and help them stop it at each stage.

The kill chain model depicts the process by which an external attacker attempts to get access to data or assets located within the security perimeter. It is mainly designed to counter sophisticated cyberattacks, often known as advanced persistent threats (APTs), in which attackers spend a significant amount of time assessing and organizing an attack.


How does the Cyber Kill Chain work?

The cyber kill chain is divided into seven distinct stages. Each stage defines the behavior that the attacker performs in order to achieve its objective.

Seven (7) Steps of the Cyber Kill Chain model

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Stage 1: Reconnaissance - Find and research about the target. The cybercriminal selects a particular target and creates a profile with the contact information, including information from social media and email addresses, as well as additional details such as the company's IT structure.

What you or your company can use as a defense strategy in this stage is to restrict the reveal of data on the Internet and to do a detailed examination of possible attack types.

Stage 2: Weaponization – Preparation for the attack. Based on the approach of the cybercriminal and his objective, he selects tools in order to carry out the cyberattack.

As a defense strategy in this stage, you have to detect any potential threat directly and thoroughly evaluate it using unique analytic engines.

Stage 3: Delivery -The malware is ready. It's time to send it out. The malicious payload is ready to be transferred to the targeted network at this point, and the attacker begins the cyberattack. Malicious websites, phishing emails, USB drives, and social media are among the most common methods. If a company can mitigate phishing mails, that they would be much protected even from APTs.

In this stage, you should have the focus the defense strategy on detecting the intent of the cyberattack and comprehending the perpetrator's approach. This is the most important stage where the attack can be stopped by you.  

Stage 4: Exploitation - Execute the malware. The malicious code is already delivered, and the perimeter is breached here. The attacker now gets the opportunity to exploit the organization's systems by installing tools, running scripts, and modifying security certificates.

Penetration testers should find potential weak areas as a defense technique at this time. People, on the other hand, are a clear security risk and should be trained.

Stage 5: Installation - Create a backdoor. In this stage, the attacker is trying to find additional or new vulnerabilities to create additional access points to the victim's system, delete metadata, alter essential information, and remove any signs of activity to remain persistent.

This is also a key stage where you can use some systems such as HIPS (Host-based Intrusion Prevention System) to stop the attack.

Stage 6: Command & Control - Persistent access. Now the attacker has the full ability to manage the malware installed into the victim's system. Establishing a command and control channel grants the attacker complete access to the system, allowing them to carry out all the originally planned attacks.

Based on the study of the malicious software's attack vectors, you can get appropriate suggestions. The main goal is to reveal any current security flaws.

Stage 7: Action on Objectives - Now that the attacker has everything he needs, they may carry out the mission: steal data, erase data, launch denial-of-service assaults, and so on.

The specific measures to be taken and the responsibilities to be assigned must be clearly established ahead of time. This covers personal and company duties, as well as technical procedures and analysis, to be completed. This is the only way to prevent serious consequences.

Many information security professionals have added an eighth step to the kill chain:

Stage 8: Monetization - The cybercriminal focuses on making money from the attack. Whether through a ransom demanded from the victim or the sale of sensitive information such as personal data or trade secrets on the dark web.


The Cyber Kill Chain gaps.

While the Cyber Kill Chain has gained widespread acceptance in the cybersecurity world because it is very linear and easy to use, it has yet to be widely implemented. Critics of the Kill Chain frequently point out what they believe are the model's inherent shortcomings:

  • The model's design is effective at preventing and detecting malware, which is what it was created for, but it fails to recognize or defend the threats.
  • The Cyber Kill Chain does not devote enough attention to what to do once an attacker has successfully gained access to your network, which they will inevitably achieve with enough perseverance.
  • Because numerous kill chain phases can be bypassed entirely, the Cyber Kill Chain phase sequence cannot accurately depict all attacks. The time of each attack phase once inside a victim's network is unpredictable. Phases can last from a few minutes to several years. Attackers may lie inactive for long periods of time, waiting for the best opportunity to launch the last phase of their attack and have the greatest influence on their victim.

Alternatives to Cyber Kill Chain.

Different security techniques necessitate a variety of approaches. In this case, some alternative approaches to the cyber kill chain are the "Diamond Model". "MITRE ATT&CK "and "Unified Kill Chain".

Diamond Model

In 2013, the Centre for Cyber Threat Intelligence and Threat Research released the Diamond Model. Instead of looking at a sequence of events, the Diamond Model focuses on the relationships between features as in the figure below:

Steps of the Diamond model

  • Adversary: The person or group who is attacking you.
  • Infrastructure: IP addresses, domain names, and email addresses, among other things.
  • Capabilities: What the opponent is capable of (e.g., manipulate infrastructure…)
  • Victim: This can be a person, a service, a network asset, or information.

When using the Cyber Kill Chain to investigate individual incidents, you have the risk of presuming that the lack of subsequent malicious activity means the protective mechanisms in place were effective. Using the Diamond Model, on the other hand, you'll be able to predict what might happen next.

In other words, both techniques are valid and useful. The Diamond Model can just be seen as complementary to the Cyber Kill Chain Model. As a defender, your first line of defense must be the Cyber Kill Chain. You must, however, keep track of information that will aid in the development of the Diamond Model for each attack, even if you don't use it right away.

The more you know about your attacker's skills and technology, the better equipped you'll be to minimize the majority of their attacks and resist the ones that succeed.

MITRE ATT&CK

MITRE ATT&CK was born out of MITRE's Fort Meade Experiment (FMX), in which researchers imitated both attacker and defense behavior in order to improve post-compromise threat detection. You can also use MITRE for postmortem analysis or cyber attribution to APT Groups.

ATT&CK stands for Adversarial Tactics, Techniques, and Common Knowledge. The Enterprise ATT&CK Matrix divides the Cyber Kill Chain into categories termed Tactics as shown in the figure below, which are further subdivided into specific known adversary Techniques.

Tactics of the MITRE ATT&CK model

One advantage of this technique is that you don't have to just understand defense. You must comprehend how the offense operates.

  • How does the adversary operate?
  • What are their thoughts?
  • What do they need to do to achieve their objectives?

Knowing this will help you defend your network more effectively.

One disadvantage is that it is currently very complex. There is a lot of information to handle, and many organizations have not automated much of it in terms of mapping it to the data in their system and to their security infrastructure. For new organizations, it can be very tedious and difficult to implement.

Unified Kill Chain

A more complete strategy integrates components from both the Cyber Kill Chain and ATT&CK, breaking down an attack into 18 phases. By using these two approaches, it helps to know whether a threat needs attention or not. A unified kill chain attack model can be used by both defenders and red teams to assist in the development and improvement of defensive controls.


Conclusion

In conclusion, the earlier an organization can stop a threat during the lifetime of a cyber attack, the lower the risk it will face. One of the most prevalent mistakes made by enterprises today is leaving cybersecurity vulnerabilities open to security threats.

Continuous security validation across the Cyber Kill Chain as a classic approach can assist your company in identifying, preventing, stopping, and preparing for such attacks. However, there are more recent alternatives mentioned in this article that you can use for this purpose, also depending on you and on your organization's situation. There is no one model that is superior to the others; you can also choose your model and adjust a certain step to match your needs.

Tags: 
Security
Author
Rezarta Meni
IT Security Compliance Analyst with experience in identifying and remedying security deficiencies and gaps, investigating security needs, and recommends information security improvements based on the latest Cybersecurity events.

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