How Can Cyber Kill Chain Help In Protecting Against Cyber Attacks?

  • August 2, 2022
  • By Cyberarch Admin

How Can Cyber Kill Chain Help In Protecting Against Cyber Attacks?

Cyberattacks are not uncommon. For decades, cybercriminals have leveraged various tools and methods to conduct attacks and derail the functioning of private organizations, world governments and even individuals. However, modern-day cyber attackers are far more skilled, sophisticated, well-trained and strategic. In addition, they have levelled up their attack campaigns which are better known as Advanced Persistent Threats (APT). 

Given the far-reaching consequences of cyber strikes such as shutting down government assets, monitory losses for business entities and release of private information of individuals, it is high time to upgrade your cybersecurity to the highest standard. 

One of the ways to fight against modern-day threat actors is to understand their intent and strategic approach. This is where The Lockheed Martin Cyber Kill Chain approach can help in protecting against cyber attacks. Find out in-depth about Cyber Kill Chain and how it can benefit your business goal of countering online threats. 

What is Cyber Kill Chain

Kill chain is a concept which originated in the military. It involves the identification of targets and sending the forces or reinforcements to counter or stop target activity. This step-by-step process of identifying and stopping was adapted by Lockheed Martin in 2011 to counter cyber attacks. 

The cybersecurity approach is essentially a part of the Intelligence Driven Defense model to prevent cyber attack activities. It lays out the phases or stages cyber criminals need to pass through to succeed. This, in turn, helps cyber security professionals and teams to block them at any given stage and protect the entity. 

In addition, every intrusion opens up the possibility of understanding the threat actor’s strategies on a deeper level and furthermore allows security leaders to use it to counter them. 

If you want to defend against growing sophisticated cyber attacks which involve malware, spoofing, social engineering, ransomware and others, this security model can help. Learning about different stages of cyber attacks and various measures you can take to intercept them at every stage and defend them can be advantageous. 

Different Phases of Cyber Kill Chain Process

  • Reconnaissance

In this phase, cybercriminals decide who the best possible targets are and they put in much effort to gain readily available and valuable information about the target individual, company or network. They use this information to plan the attack or series of attacks. Simply put, it is similar to how burglars first assess their potential target’s home and then loot it.

According to experts, there are two types of Reconnaissance attacks, passive and active. In the former type, the hacker typically knows about the registered domain and uses commands to get information, while in the latter type system information is used to get unauthorized access. 

Many times, businesses underestimate the skill of cybercriminals and they make available too much information for them to exploit. In addition, the rise of social media platforms also leaks personal information about employees and leaders of an organization. The social engineering approach is often used to retrieve personal information. Besides the discussed methods, harvesting email addresses, collecting PR pieces and contracts and finding internet-facing servers are some of the other methods employed. 

As a business entity, cybersecurity professionals can defend against reconnaissance attacks by understanding the intent of the attackers. This can be done by studying visitor logs, using website analytics, understanding browsing behaviour and building a defence against reconnaissance activities using threat intelligence tools and network intrusion detection systems. 

  • Weaponization

In this phase, the cyber threat actors utilize the information collected and build an attack approach and develop tools to conduct the attack against the chosen target. More information means more precise can be the social engineering attacks. 

To successfully exploit the target, various weapons are installed on the network. It includes remote access Trojan and spear phishing which can help them gain access to your network. Plus, there are advanced weapons like Botnet, DDoS and Malware which are discussed.

Botnets are a network of robot computers that are operated by the threat actor to attack other systems. DDoS or Distributed Denial of Service attacks, which have become quite common, are carried out by flooding the website with a large volume of traffic, leading to system breakdown and eventually shut down. Malware is malicious software placed on a system or network which can perform various unwanted and undesirable functions.

Businesses can defend themselves by conducting malware analysis, using weapon detection systems and discovering and assessing files and meta data for the future. 

  • Delivery

There are more than 100 delivery methods cyber criminals use to deliver a malicious payload to the target. The primary objective is to launch or start the intrusion. Generally, two methods are used namely; adversary-controlled delivery which is directed against web servers and adversary-released delivery which can be a malicious email, social media conversation or compromised sites. 

In this stage, defenders can detect threats by using Endpoint Malware Protection. Furthermore, analysis of delivery medium, upstream infrastructure, targeted servers, people and their duties along with assessing the intent of the attacker can be done. In case the intrusion detection is delayed, professionals must determine the cause of delivery and the time as well. 

Other tools such as host-based intrusion prevention system, proxy filtering, application white-listing, inline Anti-virus, app-aware firewall, trust zones, and router access control lists can be used. These systems can be used for other phases as well. 

  • Exploitation

The exploitation phase is executed after the successful delivery phase of malware or another attack vector in the target’s system. Any vulnerability in the form of software, hardware or human error is identified and exploited to get access. A special code in the form of an email attachment or link is used to accomplish success in this phase. Once it occurs, the attacker typically goes on to download tools for further exploitation. Moreover, more functions like password extraction and privileged escalation follow. 

This attack phase can be defended by spreading awareness about the potential threat actors and modes of cyber attacks to the business team and employees. Web developers can be trained to develop secure codes. Penetration testing and vulnerability checks can be done regularly. Plus, other measures such as restricting admin privileges and endpoint process auditing and the use of Microsoft EMET can be taken. 

  • Installation

This is a major phase as the attacker has gained access to the system and can now control it after malware is installed. This can be done for an extended period of time by using a web shell on the web server, backdoor on the client victim, creating a point of persistence and time stomping the file to mask malware from detection. 

Experts recommend certain defence mechanisms such as HIPS to alert common installation paths, endpoint process auditing, extracting certificates of signed executables and assessing malware compile time to know if it is old or new. 

  • Command and Control

In this phase, malware enables the threat actor to control and manipulate the target system remotely by opening up a command and control channel. It further allows maintaining continuous connectivity and access to the target’s environment and has open two-way communications channel via C2 infrastructure. These C2 channels are generally enabled over Web, DNS or email protocols. Also, it is important to note that these C2 channels may be owned by the target or the threat actor.

If the cybercriminal has reached this stage and made changes to the system, it will be a daunting task for cyber security professionals. Forensics can be used to determine the depth of the attack, how it is affected and the data tampered with or stolen. 

To defend against attacks in this phase, malware analysis can be carried out to find C2 channels, proxies for different traffic types can be placed and thorough research on new C2 infrastructure can be done as well. In addition, detection of data exfiltration and bad credential usage can be helpful too. 

  • Actions on Objectives

The last phase of the Cyber Kill Chain is the ultimate action taken by the threat actor based on the objectives. It can vary from simply disrupting systems to extracting a ransom from a business entity in exchange for decrypting files containing crucial information. 

In the majority of cases, monetary gain is a strong motivation and it is growing rapidly across the world. Leaking customer databases to the black market and extorting money as ransom are on the rise. 

These are the seven phases of the Cyber Kill Chain. All these phases have to be passed to succeed in a cyber attack and these stages give businesses the opportunity to break the chain and ensure cyber protection. 

Cyber Kill Chain and Cyber Attack Prevention

One of the major benefits of Cyber Kill Chain is that business entities can use the simulation model to find security gaps present in their security approach rather quickly. 

Simulating cyber attacks in such a fashion can help to discover existing vulnerabilities and possible threats. The simulation can be used for web and email gateways and web application firewalls. 

Evaluation of controls can be carried out to find security gaps plus areas of risk. As a result, cyber security professionals can fix the security gaps and lapses in the steps, helping in building a robust security model in place. 

Concerns with Cyber Kill Chain

Cyber Kill Chain is one of the most popular and widely adopted security approaches. However, there are certain concerns related to it. 

First of all, modern-day attackers are far more skilled, sophisticated and use advanced tools and devices bypassing existing security defence mechanisms. In other words, threat actors are ignoring traditional mechanisms and executing different phases of an attack in a single phase of action. In such cases, the defence approach may seem pointless and wouldn’t work. 

Other attack types like compromised credentials and web application attacks cannot be prevented using the Cyber Kill Chain method. These are some of the limitations of this security approach. 

Besides, new technologies like IoT – Internet of Things, DevOps and Robotic process automation are used for cyber attacks and these are not in sync with the kill chain concept. 

This is the reason why organizations can partner with cyber security organizations to develop a strong cyber security program to counter advanced threats and prevent themselves from monetary losses. Cyber security professionals can lead the way in building a strong security model apt for your business needs. 

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