The Cyber Kill Chain

Estimated read time 4 min read

Today, we dive into a core concept within cybersecurity: the Cyber Kill Chain. Let’s break down this fundamental model in a straightforward, digestible way.

The Cyber Kill Chain

First things first. What’s the Cyber Kill Chain?

Well, it’s not a literal chain. It’s a model developed by Lockheed Martin that describes the stages of a cyber attack from start to finish. Think of it as a roadmap for cyber threat hunting.

The Phases of the Cyber Kill Chain

The Cyber Kill Chain consists of seven stages. Each stage represents a critical milestone in a cyber attack. Understanding these stages can help us detect and respond to threats more effectively. Let’s go through them one by one.

Cyber Kill Chain flow


The initial stage of any cyber attack. The attacker is gathering information about the target, like scanning for vulnerabilities or researching employees’ social media profiles.


The next step is weaponization. The attacker creates a malicious payload to exploit the vulnerabilities found during the reconnaissance phase.


This is where the attacker delivers the malicious payload to the target. Common methods are phishing emails, USB drops, or infected websites.


Now, the attacker exploits the vulnerability they’ve discovered. The malicious payload is activated, and the breach begins.


Here, the attacker installs a backdoor or other malicious software on the compromised system. This allows for continued access even if the initial vulnerability is patched.

Command and Control

In this phase, the attacker gains control over the compromised system. They may now manipulate the system, steal data, or lay groundwork for future attacks.

Actions on Objectives

The final stage is where the attacker achieves their ultimate goal. This could be data theft, system disruption, or spreading the infection to other systems.

The Importance of Understanding the Cyber Kill Chain

Why is the Cyber Kill Chain important for us, the cybersecurity professionals? Simply put, it allows us to “think like an attacker.” By understanding their techniques and processes, we can predict, detect, and counter threats more effectively.

Complementary Frameworks and Tools

In our mission to fortify cyber defenses, we don’t just rely on the Cyber Kill Chain. There are other complementary tools and frameworks at our disposal that help us anticipate, detect, and neutralize threats. Let’s explore some of them.

The MITRE ATT&CK Framework

The MITRE ATT&CK (Adversarial Tactics, Techniques, and Common Knowledge) Framework is a vital addition to any cybersecurity professional’s toolbox.

This framework doesn’t simply outline the stages of an attack like the Cyber Kill Chain. Instead, it provides a comprehensive matrix of tactics and techniques used by cybercriminals in real-world attacks. It dives deeper into the post-exploitation stages, presenting a granular look at what attackers do once they’ve breached a system.

The ATT&CK Framework complements the Cyber Kill Chain by filling in the details of how an attack evolves once inside the network. It enables us to understand the attacker’s strategies, anticipate their next move, and respond swiftly and effectively.

Other Cybersecurity Models and Frameworks

Beyond the Cyber Kill Chain and ATT&CK, there are several other models and frameworks that are worth exploring:

  1. The Diamond Model: This model of intrusion analysis focuses on the fundamental aspects of an attack: adversary, capability, infrastructure, and victim. It helps analysts visualize and understand the connections between these components.
  2. Purdue Model (ISA-95): This model, designed for industrial control systems, provides a standard for integrating corporate and control functions. It’s particularly useful in defending against attacks on critical infrastructure.
  3. NIST Cybersecurity Framework: Developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, this voluntary framework provides guidelines to manage and reduce cybersecurity risk. It offers a set of standards, best practices, and procedures to manage cyber risk effectively.

Each of these frameworks provides its own unique perspective on cybersecurity, allowing us to address different types of threats in varied environments.

Remember, cybersecurity is not a one-size-fits-all discipline. Different situations call for different tools. Having a wide range of frameworks at our disposal is what makes us adaptable and resilient in the face of evolving cyber threats. Let’s use them wisely!

Reza Rafati

Reza Rafati, based in the Netherlands, is the founder of An industry professional providing insightful commentary on infosec, cybercrime, cyberwar, and threat intelligence, Reza dedicates his work to bolster digital defenses and promote cyber awareness.

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