Posted on December 23, 2022
Estimated reading time 7 minutes
The term Cyber Kill Chain (or CKC) was coined in 2011 by Lockheed Martin and describes the attack methods of cyber criminals attempting to compromise an organisation.
Derived from the military term ‘kill chain,’ defence team heuristics play a vital role in developing effective countermeasures to any attack. For instance, it helps mobilise teams quickly, establishes an events schedule with hard deadlines, etc.
But at the same time, well-worn defensive frameworks can also be a liability to defence organisations. Attackers quickly learn how to outsmart overused defence methodologies and deploy increasingly more sophisticated workarounds to keep their adversaries at bay.
Therefore IT and business leaders need complete reassurance that SOC teams are doing their utmost to thwart cyber attackers from completing CKC. Their defence tactics must be unpredictable yet organised and optimised to bring the fastest and most effective results.
In this article, we’ll discuss how the cyber kill chain works and how managed security services teams like Atech can ensure all defences are future-proofed.
What is the Cyber kill chain?
The cyber kill chain is a defence model that helps security teams identify and respond quickly to cyberattacks. It describes the seven steps attackers use to infiltrate networks and steal data. Plus, how cybersecurity teams should counteract at each stage to eliminate threat actors and recover lost data.
The seven Cyber Kill Chain steps can be outlined as follows:
First, an attacker will attempt to learn as much as possible about their target. This includes using automated scanners for spying and examining network vulnerabilities. For example, they will look into a business’ firewalls, authentication methods, and even their existing threat identification tools.
Once they have gathered vulnerability data, the attackers will build a malicious ‘weapon’ to exploit the targeted system. At this point in the CKC, no active attack has occurred. Still, security teams need to be aware of the vulnerabilities caused by encrypted HTTPS port 443 over SLL payloads that could be transmitted to their systems at any time.
This step describes the moment the organisational defence barrier is breached. Delivery methods might include different types of malware used to take control of a user’s device. It could also be in the form of an insider threat granting hackers access.
Whether the attack targets a supply chain vulnerability exposed by unpatched IoT devices, or a spear phishing attachment, once an attacker is in, further exploitation of systems is expected. Common exploitation attacks include adding malicious code or PowerShell, .Net, C# scripts. The aim is to give more access points after initial intrusion, so the attacker can protect themselves from countermeasures.
The attacker will often try to install more evasive malware, gain more access, and switch between systems to find more weak points. Or, they might deploy Windows Remote Management, hijack SSH or launch an internal spear phishing attack.
6. Command and Control
Once they have gained control of enterprise systems, cyber attackers will seek to obfuscate their activities. This process often involves binary padding, code signing, deleting files, hiding users, and hollowing processes. They may also send out decoy denial-of-service attacks such as resource hijacking, service shutdowns, endpoint or network denial, etc.
7. Action on Objective
Finally, it’s important to note that every attack has a goal, whether it is to steal from, extort or control enterprise data. Subsequent actions are usually directed towards meeting a clear objective. So, defence teams need a plan to counteract data encryption, compression, data exfiltration over alternative protocols or physical mediums, and more.
Why CKC remains a severe threat to organisations
Unfortunately, cybercriminals share their tools and techniques with others on the dark web. Subsequently, in the years since the CKC was first formulated, attack methods have become far more sophisticated.
Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to see several CKC steps deployed simultaneously at the start of an attack lifecycle. Moreover, it could be argued that kill chain cyber security can somewhat hinder modern security providers, as protections become predictable and attackers become more adept at speeding up or cloaking their strikes.
However, the CKC heuristic is still valid in many ways. It gives security teams a definitive plan of action to dispatch malware/ransomware threats – attack methods that may seem ‘old hat’ to some, but are still widely deployed.
To illustrate, in the first quarter of 2022, over 236.1 million ransomware attacks occurred worldwide. A 2021 study found that 93% of businesses are vulnerable to external cyber attacks like these. Therefore, establishing adequate defensive measures for traditional kill chain cyber security remains vital.
Updating CKC for modernised cyber defence protocols
The kill chain cyber security framework can be updated to incorporate various defensive methods. Everything from minimising insider threats to closing zero-day vulnerabilities needs to be planned and provisioned for within SOC teams.
Time is also money when it comes to CKC. The longer an attacker has access to your systems, the more damage they can do.
To illustrate, IBM found that the average time it takes to contain an external breach in 2022 is 277 days. However, dispatching threat actors in less than 200 days can save organisations an average of $1.12 million in damages. Therefore, eliminating ‘dwell time’ is key to modernised defensive strategies.
Here, we have gathered some tips for improving the speed and effectiveness of your threat response tactics:
- Future-proof your threat detection tools and processes. Outdated Security Information and Event Management (SIEM), anti-virus, and anti-malware tools struggle to identify new threats. Investing in Managed Detection and Response (MDR) instead can help close your protection gaps.
- Seek out MDR vendors that incorporate automated Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) technologies and provide 24/7 monitoring. These vendors can significantly lower mean time to response (MTTR) rates.
- Choose an MDR provider with Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) hunting capabilities. These include alert and remediation advice and incident-based triage services. Ensure they also regularly conduct security assessments, digital forensics investigation, and malware analysis.
Atech’s SOC services provide advanced CKC protection at all times
Deter skilled and motivated threat actors with feature-rich MDR solutions from managed security service providers like Atech.
We carry advanced Microsoft qualifications in Security, giving us access to the latest CKC tools and training. We provide comprehensive reporting, real-time detection, and remediation capabilities.
We also go above and beyond to share global insights on cybersecurity threats today, information on your system vulnerabilities, and how you can fix them. All the while streamlining your IT costs.
So, if you want to learn more about our managed SOC service and how they can protect your business, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.