For enquiries call:



HomeBlogSecurityCyber Kill Chain (CKC) Model: The 8 Essential Steps

Cyber Kill Chain (CKC) Model: The 8 Essential Steps

23rd Oct, 2023
view count loader
Read it in
12 Mins
In this article
    Cyber Kill Chain (CKC) Model: The 8 Essential Steps

    Due to the dramatic increase in the size and complexity of cyber threats over the past couple of decades, traditional security defenses have become increasingly inadequate. Keeping up with these ever-growing threats requires cybersecurity prevention and mitigation techniques.

    Lockheed Martin developed the cyber kill chain framework to identify and prevent cyber intrusions. Incorporating this cybersecurity framework will help information security teams prevent attacks at a certain point and improve their ability to respond to and analyze incidents. Explore the top Cyber Security certification courses on KnowledgeHut to learn the different concepts.

    What is a Cyber Kill Chain?

    The kill chain in cybersecurity describes the stages of cyberattacks as part of cybersecurity models. Military terms such as "kill chain" are used to describe an attack's structure, including:

    • The process of identifying the target
    • Assembling the force to attack the target
    • Attacking the target after making a decision
    • Defeating a target

    A company based in the United States of America that manufactures aerospace, security, arms, defense, and advanced technologies — Lockheed Martin created the cyber kill chain based on the whole kill chain concept. It's a security framework meant to protect computer networks from intrusion.

    Cyber kill chain process

    The cyber-attack kill chain process describes a process similar to a stereotypical burglary. A thief surveys a building before committing a crime and then proceeds through several other steps before escaping with the loot. Cyber kill chains require a lot of intelligence and visibility to prevent attackers from sneaking into networks. One can prevent the attack by recognizing when something isn't supposed to be there.

    It will be less time-consuming and costly to remove an attack if you can stop it at the beginning of the chain. It will take a lot of forensic work to determine what information they've taken over if you don't stop the attack before it's already inside your network.

    Cyber kill chain model

    Cybersecurity organizations use the cyber kill chain model to understand how an external attack affects a company's IT environment. Using security alerts as a guide, Security Operations teams will be able to correlate detected activity with appropriate phases. At a glance, it allows security teams to see if a potential attack is further along. This will enable them to put strategies or technologies that stop the attack before it can advance.

    How does the Cyber Kill Chain Works?

    The model divided the cyber kill chain into 7 steps:

    1. Reconnaissance 

    The cybersecurity kill chain begins with reconnaissance, which involves researching potential targets before penetration testing. It consists in identifying a potential target, finding vulnerabilities, identifying third parties connected to the target, exploring existing entry points and discovering new ones. In addition to online reconnaissance, offline reconnaissance is also possible.

    2. Weaponization 

    Attackers exploit security vulnerabilities to develop malware. As part of the attack, malicious code is engineered to suit the attacker's needs and the attack's intent. Additionally, attackers are trying to reduce their chances of being detected by the security solutions in place at the organization.

    3. Delivery 

    Hackers can trick users into clicking through phishing emails with malware attachments. It is also possible to deliver malware by hacking into an organization's network and exploiting software or hardware vulnerabilities.

    4. Exploitation 

    As part of the cyber kill chain, attackers exploit vulnerabilities they have identified in earlier stages to penetrate target networks further. The goal of this process is to reach targets by moving laterally across a network. A network that does not employ deception measures may be exploited by attackers, leading them to their targets.

    5. Installation 

    The cyber kill chain begins when cybercriminals gain access to a target's network by exploiting vulnerabilities. In order to control the target network and exfiltrate valuable data, malware and other cyberweapons can be installed on it. Hackers may use a Trojan horse, backdoor, or command-line interface to install malware and cyberweapons during this step.

    6. Command and Control 

    An organization's systems networks are compromised during an attack. Attackers take control of a computer by brute-forcing, searching for credentials, and changing permissions using privileged accounts.

    7. Actions on Objectives 

    Having gained persistent access, the attacker finally executes his plan. Data theft, destruction, encryption, or exfiltration may be the actions the attacker takes at this cyber kill chain stage.

    These 7 stages of the cyber kill chain help reconstruct and evaluate the attack.

    8 Phases of The Cyber Kill Chain 


    There are eight cyber kill chain phases - the better you understand each stage, the more likely you are to survive a data breach or system intrusion.

    1. Reconnaissance  

    The reconnaissance stage involves the attacker collecting information about the target organization, and vulnerability or weak points in the system may be revealed. Automated scanners can be used to detect vulnerable spots and weaknesses.

    2. Intrusion

    For entry, attackers inject malware into a system and attempt to breach the security perimeter. Various methods can deliver malware, such as phishing emails, adware, compromised accounts, insecure endpoints, or open ports.

    3. Exploitation

    In order to take advantage of the organization's systems, attackers look for vulnerabilities or weak points. As a result, attackers are now capable of installing additional tools, altering security certificates, and creating unauthorized script files.

    4. Privilege Escalation

    An attacker will escalate their privileges in order to gain access to resources. A brute force attack is usually used in this technique, along with exploiting zero-day vulnerabilities and password vulnerabilities. Security settings, configuration files, and permissions will be changed, and authorization will be attempted.

    5. Lateral Movement

    The goal of lateral movement is to access more assets by moving from system to system. An attacker may also be able to gain access to sensitive data, email servers, critical documentation, and administrative access.

    6. Obfuscation — Anti-Forensics

    To prevent detection and hinder investigations, cyber attackers will conceal their existence and mask their activity during the obfuscation phase. Data may be overwritten with false timestamps or modifying the data.

    7. Denial of Service

    Attackers will target the data framework and the network during this phase. It is for the purpose of preventing unauthorized users from gaining access. During a denial of service attack, access is disrupted and suspended, the system can be crashed, and services may be flooded.

    8. Exfiltration

    The final phase is the exfiltration phase, which aims to implement an exit strategy. Following the data theft, the attackers will copy, move, or move confidential data to a controlled location. This will enable them to do whatever they want with it. It can be ransomed or sold to unauthorized users. It may take some time to reach the attacker, but it is under their control once it does.

    How can Cyber Kill Chain Protect Against Attacks?

    Cyber kill chain in cyber security helps organizations identify and fix security gaps within seconds using a simulation platform.

    1. Create a simulation of cyberattacks 

    A cyberattack simulation can detect vulnerabilities and threats across all vectors in real-life scenarios. A number of cyber-attack scenarios can be manufactured, including those involving email gateways, web gateways, web application firewalls, and other similar scenarios.

    2. Identify security gaps by evaluating the controls. 

    Analyzing simulations and identifying risks is part of this process. Every vector is analyzed in detail by simulation platforms.

    3. Cybersecurity gaps must be remedied and fixed. 

    Following identifying security gaps, the next step is filling them. One organization that may take to reduce threats and vulnerabilities is installing patches and changing configurations.

    Explore the cyber security courses and learn about Ethical Hacking online on KnowledgeHut!

    Critiques and Concerns Related to the Cyber Kill Chain 

    Despite its popularity as the best framework for developing cyber security strategies, the Cyber Kill Chain has several major drawbacks that could have devastating results.

    1. Focusing on the perimeter

    The cyber kill chain methodology's main disadvantage is that it reinforces traditional defense strategies by focusing on malware prevention. However, cyber-attacks aren't limited to malware only. There is a need to develop different strategies to deal with attackers from within a company, as traditional kill chains are not suitable for handling internal threats, for instance, ones caused by employees.

    How to fix this? 

    By accounting for threats inside and outside the perimeter, the kill chain can be balanced to solve this issue. Monitor your cloud assets and on-premises assets simultaneously.

    2. The first and seconphases are the identification of threats 

    The first stages outside the defended network present a disadvantage to the attacked system, making it extremely difficult to identify or protect against an attacker's actions in these early stages.

    How to fix this?

    Early warning signs are not to be ignored or treated as one-time events. Analyze all activities that seem to be active reconnaissance.

    3. An inability to adapt

    Lockheed Martin created the first cyber kill chain in 2011 to defend its network. A company's kill chain cannot prepare them for advanced threats due to the nature and makeup of cyberattacks that have changed drastically.

    How to fix this? 

    Do not create a cyber kill chain; never update the model to fix the problem. APTs (advanced persistent threats)are the latest threats, and the kill chain must evolve to stay effective. Revising the chain as your company grows to address new attack surfaces and potential dangers is important.

    Cyber kill chain examples 

    Using an automated tool called a weaponize, malicious software, such as remote access trojans, can be bred with an exploit using the cyber kill chain.

    Here is a cyber kill chain process. For example using Microsoft Office documents infected with malware, an attacker may send phishing emails containing urgent or critical information. - using Microsoft Office documents infected with malware, an attacker may send phishing emails containing urgent or critical information.

    Another example is a cyber kill chain case study for an aerospace firm:

    An incursion happened to an aerospace firm's website — a watering hole attack on July 16, 2015. The attack was detected by Palo Alto Networks Unit 42. The launch was attacked by the company's customers through the company's website.

    The hacking team data breach recently revealed a vulnerability called CVE-2015–5122 that was targeted by the Adobe Flash exploit. Observations have shown that anti-virus programs cannot detect movie.swf due to its ZWS compression. The Flash file contained a binary once it was uncompressed.

    Several targeted attacks have been carried out by this exploit, providing attackers with a means to gain access to a victim's machine or network.

    The file was further analyzed, and the team uncovered that the attack file contained identical characteristics equivalent to a Trojan Virus called IsSpace. IsSpace appears to be an expansion of the NFlog backdoor, originally attributed to DragonOK and Moafee by its codebase and behavior patterns. Both groups are based in Southeast Asia, and Moafee has been associated with attacks on US defense industrial bases.

    Looking to boost your career? Explore our ITIL Courses for different ITIL certifications. Gain the skills you need to succeed in the ever-evolving IT industry. Enroll today and take your career to new heights!


    Due to inadequate cybersecurity, cybercrime costs have risen 72% in the past five years. Therefore, safeguarding the system is crucial. Businesses can reduce their risk of cyberattacks by understanding how cybercrime typically occurs. Through continuous security validation across the kill chain, identifying, preventing, stopping, and preparing for cyberattacks can be achieved.

    As the cyber kill chain explained above, it prevents unauthorized users from sharing, saving, altering, exfiltrating, or encrypting sensitive data. Thus, it helps protect the organization's data and define its cybersecurity strategy.

    Explore the KnowledgeHut top cyber security certifications programs and learn from the experts!

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    1What is meant by a kill chain?

    Lockheed Martin's cyber kill chain describes the phases of a targeted cyberattack. Defenders can identify and stop malware attacks by breaking down each stage. 

    2What is step 4 of the cyber kill chain process?

    After delivery and weaponization, exploitation is the fourth step of the cyber kill chain. By exploiting vulnerabilities discovered in previous stages of the Cyber Kill Chain, an attacker infiltrates and gains access to a target's network.

    3How can SOC analysts use the Cyber Kill Chain?

    SOC analysts can also use NIDS (Network Intrusion Detection System) for intrusion detection. Firewalls, network segmentation, and Access control lists (ACLs) are all used as part of the Cyber Kill Chain to prevent C2 server attacks.

    4When was the Cyber Kill Chain created?

    The cyber kill chain was developed by computer scientist Lockheed Martin in 2011 and has gained attention in the business and government communities.


    Shweta Lakhwani


    Shweta Lakhwani runs a travel business - "Voyage Planner" based in Ahmedabad (Gujarat), India. In addition, she is a freelance writer and wins her clients with her creative writing skill. She creates content on various topics such as travel, entertainment, self-help, science, education, information technology (IT), cryptocurrency, insurance, medical, real estate, personal growth, business development, health care, and lifestyle. She is also a Brand Ambassador at the Isla Ida Bracelet and a partner at the Eden Reforestation Projects. She advocates free and life-changing travel experiences while positively influencing the planet.

    Share This Article
    Ready to Master the Skills that Drive Your Career?

    Avail your free 1:1 mentorship session.

    Your Message (Optional)

    Upcoming Cyber Security Batches & Dates

    NameDateFeeKnow more
    Course advisor icon
    Course Advisor
    Whatsapp/Chat icon