Understanding the Cyber Kill Chain – 7 Phases of Cyber Attacks

Cyber Kill Chain

In the ever-evolving landscape of cybersecurity, it has become crucial for organizations and individuals alike to understand the tactics employed by cyber adversaries. The Cyber Kill Chain is a conceptual framework developed by Lockheed Martin to help organizations identify and thwart cyber threats systematically.

Comprising seven distinct phases, the Cyber Kill Chain outlines the typical stages of a cyber attack, providing a comprehensive view of the attack lifecycle.

Let’s explore into each phase to gain a better understanding of how cyber attackers operate.

1. Reconnaissance

The first phase, Reconnaissance, involves the collection of information about the target. This can include researching potential vulnerabilities, identifying key individuals within the organization, and gathering intelligence through various means such as social engineering or scouring publicly available information.

Attackers may focus on email reconnaissance to discover email addresses, organizational structures, and employee roles, laying the groundwork for subsequent stages.

2. Weaponization

In the Weaponization phase, attackers create or acquire malicious payloads designed to exploit vulnerabilities in the target system. This could involve crafting a custom malware or using existing ones tailored to the specific target.

Weaponization often involves embedding the payload within seemingly innocuous files or links that can be delivered to the victim through various channels.

3. Delivery

Once the weaponized payload is ready, attackers move on to the Delivery phase, where they send the malicious bundle to the target. This could occur through methods such as phishing emails, infected websites, or other vectors.

The goal is to trick the target into activating or opening the payload, thereby initiating the next stages of the cyber attack.

4. Exploitation

In the Exploitation phase, attackers capitalize on vulnerabilities within the target system to execute malicious code. This could involve exploiting software flaws, weak security configurations, or utilizing zero-day vulnerabilities.

Successful exploitation grants the attacker access to the victim’s system, establishing a foothold for further actions.

5. Installation

With a foothold secured, the Installation phase involves deploying malware onto the compromised system or network. The installed malware can vary in sophistication and purpose, ranging from spyware for reconnaissance to ransomware for data encryption.

The objective is to maintain persistent access and control over the compromised assets.

6. Command and Control (C2)

In the Command and Control phase, the attacker establishes a remote connection to the compromised system. This connection serves as a communication channel for the attacker to send commands, receive data, and maintain control over the compromised environment.

C2 infrastructure can be complex, utilizing various methods to avoid detection and enhance stealth.

7. Action on Objective

The final phase, Action on Objective, is where the attacker achieves their ultimate goal. This could involve exfiltrating sensitive data, disrupting operations, or achieving any other malicious objective outlined in the initial attack plan.

The success of this phase depends on the attacker’s ability to navigate through the earlier stages of the Cyber Kill Chain without detection.


Understanding the Cyber Kill Chain and its seven phases is paramount for organizations aiming to enhance their cybersecurity posture. By recognizing the typical progression of a cyber attack, security professionals can implement proactive measures and defenses at each stage to disrupt the chain and mitigate potential damage.

As cyber threats continue to evolve, staying vigilant and adopting a holistic approach to cybersecurity is essential in safeguarding against the intricacies of the Cyber Kill Chain.

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