Unmasking the Cyber Kill Chain: Safeguarding the Digital Realm

Cybersecurity isn’t a luxury anymore; it’s a necessity. Organizations that aren’t prepared to mitigate cybersecurity attacks won’t be able to make it in the coming years, thanks to rising numbers of attacks and more sophisticated threats. Cybersecurity helps your organization protect against threats and to keep data and personal information private and secure. Cybersecurity is essential to protect sensitive data, prevent financial losses, preserve privacy, ensure business continuity, safeguard national security, and maintain trust in digital systems.

How can organizations successfully protect themselves and their data? That’s where the Cyber Kill Chain can help. What is Cyber Kill Chain? The Cyber Kill Chain, as its name suggests, delineates the stages an attacker is likely to traverse during a targeted cyber attack. It provides a sequential framework, helping to illustrate and categorize each step that an adversary must undertake to achieve their nefarious objectives. It originates from Lockheed Martin and is based on the military’s Kill Chain approach.

Read on to learn about Cyber Kill Chain, the 7 stages, how it’s evolved, and how to get started.

The Cyber Kill Chain Explained

The Cyber Kill Chain follows an attacker’s process for leading an attack, and it follows seven stages. Cybersecurity experts can follow the Cyber Kill Chain to stop and mitigate attacks before they get too much traction. These are the 7 stages and how they work:


During the Reconnaissance stage, an attacker gathers as much information about a system and its vulnerabilities as possible. The more information they can gather, the more convincing and potentially dangerous the attack might be. As part of this stage, the attacker might also harvest information they need to further infiltrate the system—like passwords, credentials, physical locations of servers, email addresses, and more.


During this stage, the attacker creates their weapon that they’ll use to steal information or harvest data. For many attackers, this stage is when they create ransomware, malware, or some other kind of malicious code that will take advantage of a known vulnerability they scouted out in the Reconnaissance phase. The attacker may also take time to build in back doors in case their access point is shut off by the cybersecurity team.


Once the weapon is created, the attacker delivers it to the system and begins the attack. The exact steps of this phase will depend on what type of attack they’re initiating. It might be that they send out phishing emails or that they hack a hardware vulnerability and insert malicious code that way or even a drive-by download.


Once the malicious payload has been delivered, the attackers take advantage and exploit any vulnerabilities they know about to begin the attack. It might be taking advantage of zero day vulnerabilities.


The attacker now has access to the system, and they can install the malicious payload in the system and take control of the system. The attackers will probably use this phase to establish as many footholds as they can and establish persistence.

Command and Control

The attackers now can assume remote command of a device within the system, and they can use that to move laterally, gaining more access and control as they go. They can now also take control of systems to begin succeeding at their objectives.

Actions on Objectives

This final stage is when the attackers go through with stealing data, destroying data, encrypting data, or whatever their initial objective for the attack was. The attack may cause some level of a system disruption, and by this point, most cybersecurity teams may be aware of the attack, but it’s too late.

Mitigating the Cyber Kill Chain

The Cyber Kill Chain illustrates the process an attacker will work through to successfully infiltrate a system and carry out their objectives. But cybersecurity professionals can use that same progression of stages to mitigate the attack before it can escalate. These are the 7 Cyber Kill Chain steps with the mitigation strategies that can help stop an attack at that point.

Reconnaissance Mitigation Strategies

Cybersecurity mitigation strategies during the Reconnaissance stage include user awareness training, vulnerability scanning, and patch management. Organizations can train their teams on cyber attacks and what they might look like to help users be prepared. Cybersecurity teams will also manage vulnerabilities as well as they can and keep patches constantly updated to block as many vulnerabilities as possible.

Weaponization Mitigation Strategies

To prevent attackers from successfully weaponizing their malicious payload, cybersecurity teams may rely on Advanced Threat Detection tools that are specifically designed to pick out advanced and hard to trace threats, allowing the team to mitigate them before they expand. Cybersecurity professionals may also make sure they’re using secure coding practices that limit the options attackers have to weaponize code.

Delivery Mitigation Strategies

Delivery can come in so many different ways, so cybersecurity teams have to cover many areas. Some ways they might do this include email filtering to remove phishing emails, sandboxing to mitigate phishing attacks, web filtering, and traffic inspection. Traffic inspection helps keep attackers from being able to sneak onto the network.

Exploitation Mitigation Strategies

Cybersecurity teams may rely on strategies like network segmentation to limit exploitation. Network segmentation breaks up the network, so attackers can’t infiltrate one area and gain access to all other areas of the network. The cybersecurity teams may also use intrusion detection and prevention systems to alert their team of any attempted exploitation.

Installation Mitigation Strategies

Cybersecurity professionals will use tools like endpoint protection to limit the opportunities an attacker may have to install malicious software. Secure Configuration Management may also help mitigate installation techniques.

Command and Control Mitigation Strategies

Once an attacker has command and control, cybersecurity teams are no longer using preventative measures. Instead, they’re relying on security incident responses to mitigate the attacks and contain the damage as much as possible. With behavioral analysis, they can also determine how the attack reached this point and work to prevent similar attacks in the future.

Actions on Objectives Mitigation Strategies

At this stage, cybersecurity teams are going to use data loss prevention to try to keep attackers from succeeding in their objectives and to protect as much data as possible. With incident recovery and forensics, the experts will investigate how the attack happened and recover quickly.

Overall, the cybersecurity teams that can best mitigate attacks use protections from every stage to keep their networks as safe as possible. Teams can’t rely only on preventative measures, so having a well-rounded cybersecurity approach will help keep networks safer.

Advancements in Cyber Kill Chain Tactics

The original Cyber Kill Chain model isn’t as profoundly useful as it once was. Today, attackers will combine steps, skip steps entirely, or focus on other entities like the cloud. To combat this, cybersecurity professionals have used advanced tactics to help keep networks protected. These are some of the advancements in Cyber Kill Chain tactics:

  • Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs). The Cyber Kill Chain has evolved to be able to help teams contain and mitigate Advanced Persistent Threats that pose a great danger to networks.
  • Insider Threats. Insider threats come from inside the organization or from past employees who already have information that could help with an infiltration. Advanced techniques can help mitigate these threats.
  • Ransomware Attacks. Ransomware attacks are constantly evolving and growing. Advancements in tactics have helped mitigate these new threats that are constantly appearing.
  • Nation-State Actors. Larger organizations use Cyber Kill Chain tactics to help mitigate nation-state actors that have malicious intent.

Strengthening Cybersecurity Posture

The goal of understanding the Cyber Kill Chain is to better strengthen the cybersecurity posture or the way your organization handles threats. These are some key ways to strengthen the cybersecurity posture currently in place and to better mitigate evolving threats:

  • Security Awareness Training. Training teams on cybersecurity awareness helps everyone at the organization be on the lookout for potential threats. While it’s the security team’s job to protect the network, having more people aware of what’s happening can strengthen the overall cybersecurity approach.
  • Continuous Monitoring and Threat Intelligence. Monitoring is a great way to keep track of potential threats, and it’s crucial that it’s continuous. Threat intelligence can help organizations determine exactly what happened and how to prevent similar incidents.
  • Incident Response Planning. No amount of prevention will be 100%. Every security team needs to have pre-planned responses to incidents, so they can respond quickly and accurately to begin mitigating damage.
  • Cybersecurity Frameworks and Standards. Staying within established frameworks and standards can help protect a network.

The Bottom Line

Overall, the Cyber Kill Chain is a framework to help understand the process an attacker might use when creating a threat, and mitigation strategies help stop and reduce the threats before they can escalate and cause extensive damage that can ruin reputations, reduce trust, and lead to loss.

To protect your network from nonstop threats, you need a nonstop solution. Ontinue ION is designed to be a holistic and nonstop protector of your network. Request a demo to learn more about Ontinue and how we can help protect your network from evolving threats.