10 January 2021

The Cyber Kill Chain: A Detailed Study

The Cyber Kill Chain

The Cyber Kill Chain is a model developed by Lockheed Martin to represent various phases of an APT attack carried out by an attacker external to the target organization. The Cyber Kill Chain is meant to be used by organizations so that they identify different phases of an attack and take appropriate measures to stop an attack at various phases.

1. Reconnaissance involves observing the target and gathering information about it from various sources. The extracted information includes server details, IP addresses, the various software used in the organization, and possible vulnerabilities. This step may involve extracting personal information of employees in the organization to identify potential victims for social engineering attacks. Both active and passive methods can be used to gather information. Active methods can include direct actions like port scanning. Passive methods can include offline methods, including obtaining email IDs and other information from various sources.

2. Weaponization involves devising weapons that can penetrate an organization’s infrastructure and infect its system. One of the most important weapons are exploits which are developed based on the vulnerabilities during the reconnaissance phase. The other weapons can include spam emails that can be used for delivering exploits and malware that needs to be installed into the target infrastructure after successful penetration.

3. Delivery — A delivery mechanism involves delivering the weapon to the victim. This step is meant to transmit the weapon into the target organization. The step may involve sending spam emails to the employees contain links to malicious web pages that contain exploits or attaching malware as well. Other social engineering methods like honey trapping may also be used for delivery.

4. Exploitation involves the execution of the exploit, which leads to a compromise of the software in the target. The software may include web servers, user browsers, or other software that may be exploited by zero-day exploits or even known exploits in case the target software is not patched. Exploitation step is not always mandatory since malware can also be delivered to the system without needing to exploit the victim, by other means, including social engineering techniques like attachments in emails.

5. Installation involves installing specially crafted malware in the target’s network/systems. The exploit does the malware installation if it has been successful in exploiting the target software. The installed malware was developed in such a manner that it stays hidden and undetected in the target network for a longer duration of time. This malware should have the capability to download secondary malware and exfiltrate sensitive information back to the attacker.

6. Command-and-control involves the establishment of communication between the installed malware and the attacker. The malware is now ready to take commands from the attacker and act accordingly.

7. Action on objectives is the last step of the kill chain, where the malware has been installed in the target infrastructure and is ready to take commands from the attacker. Malware can execute its goals for which it was created. This includes spying inside the target network, gathering sensitive data, and exfiltrating it out to the attacker, taking hostage of sensitive data and infrastructure, and so forth.

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