Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Threat Intelligence

9/25/2018
04:45 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

The Cyber Kill Chain Gets a Makeover

A new report demonstrates how the cyber kill chain is consolidating as criminals find ways to accelerate the spread of their targeted cyberattacks.

The early phases of the traditional cyber kill chain are merging as criminals seek out faster ways to launch targeted attacks, a new report explains.

As part of the "2018 Critical Watch Report," researchers at Alert Logic reviewed 254,274 total verified security incidents, 7.2 million events linked to those incidents, and 1.2 billion anomalies between April 1, 2017, and June 30, 2018. They surfaced five key insights, top of which was the realization that the traditional cyber kill chain is transforming for different types of attacks.

Since 2011, they report, the typical kill chain has comprised seven steps: reconnaissance (harvesting credentials, email addresses, etc.), weaponization (bundling exploits with backdoors into deliverable payloads), delivery of weaponized bundles to victims, exploitation to execute code on a target system, installation of malware, command and control, and acting on objectives.

In this model, each phase has a corresponding stage to interrupt and contain the attack. The earlier in the kill chain the threat is addressed, the less potential it has to do damage. Companies can detect attackers as they poke around during recon, deny access to data, stop data going to attackers, counterattack command and control, and contain network segmentation.

The traditional attack method is typical of advanced persistent threat (APT) attacks and was common in cybercrime from the mid- to late 2000s, explains Matt Downing, principal threat researcher at Alert Logic.

"It's an explicit set of steps where the kill chain really made sense," he says. "An attacker is interested in you because of what you possess or who you are. They do reconnaissance to figure out your attack surface ... this is your typical targeted attack scenario."

Depending on what they found during the recon phase, attackers would match a victim's vulnerabilities against the exploits they had, bundle them up, and pass them on.

What researchers found is attackers now have modified this kill chain to consolidate the first five phases into a single action, accelerating the process of identifying vulnerable systems and launching attacks. The phases of recon, weaponization, delivery, exploitation, and installation are compressed as attackers leverage predefined, weaponized packages against targets. This merged kill chain was used in 88% of attack cases, researchers report.

Its use case is evident in cryptojacking, which researchers found to be the driving motivation for many attacks showing the condensed cyber kill chain. Most (88%) WebLogic attacks were cryptojacking attempts, and while this type of cybercrime doesn't steal data or hold systems hostage, it is a sign that target systems are vulnerable to the placement of other malware.

"In the context of cryptojacking, it makes every single host on the Internet valuable," Downing says. Attackers armed with cryptominers don't need to conduct recon. They can simply send off their preweaponized payload, and the contained sequence of events plays out. Ransomware is similar; however, a few factors are boosting the appeal of cryptojacking.

For starters, many view cryptomining as a more benign activity. "There's a lower ethical bar for some," points out Christine Meyers, director of product marketing at Alert Logic. "[Attackers] just feel as though this is a victimless attack, whereas ransomware isn't."

Operationally, cryptojacking is easy, Downing says. Morally, it's "a bit ambiguous" but growing among financially motivated cybercriminals who want direct access to digital currencies.

On a broader level, researchers noticed an uptick in automated attacks and "spray and pray" techniques. Web applications remain the primary attack vector across industries, including retail and hospitality (85%), nonprofits (82%), media and entertainment (80%), information technology and services (77%), education (74%), and financial services (71%).

To mitigate risk, researchers advise going back to basics. Vulnerability scanning, especially for low-level vulnerabilities, is essential to learn how an attacker can gain easy access to an environment. "It's a fundamental hygiene issue," says Downing, noting that "knowing and patching" is the key to defending against the consolidated cyber kill chain.

Meyers advises regularly assessing security posture – and doing so often. "It's not a one-and-done thing where you address risk once and it never changes," she says. "You need to continuously assess it."

Related Content:

 

Black Hat Europe returns to London Dec 3-6 2018  with hands-on technical Trainings, cutting-edge Briefings, Arsenal open-source tool demonstrations, top-tier security solutions and service providers in the Business Hall. Click for information on the conference and to register.

Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio
 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
News
Inside the Ransomware Campaigns Targeting Exchange Servers
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  4/2/2021
Commentary
Beyond MITRE ATT&CK: The Case for a New Cyber Kill Chain
Rik Turner, Principal Analyst, Infrastructure Solutions, Omdia,  3/30/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
2021 Top Enterprise IT Trends
We've identified the key trends that are poised to impact the IT landscape in 2021. Find out why they're important and how they will affect you today!
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
Recent breaches of third-party apps are driving many organizations to think harder about the security of their off-the-shelf software as they continue to move left in secure software development practices.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2021-30481
PUBLISHED: 2021-04-10
Valve Steam through 2021-04-10, when a Source engine game is installed, allows remote authenticated users to execute arbitrary code because of a buffer overflow that occurs for a Steam invite after one click.
CVE-2021-20020
PUBLISHED: 2021-04-10
A command execution vulnerability in SonicWall GMS 9.3 allows a remote unauthenticated attacker to locally escalate privilege to root.
CVE-2021-30480
PUBLISHED: 2021-04-09
Zoom Chat through 2021-04-09 on Windows and macOS allows certain remote authenticated attackers to execute arbitrary code without user interaction. An attacker must be within the same organization, or an external party who has been accepted as a contact. NOTE: this is specific to the Zoom Chat softw...
CVE-2021-21194
PUBLISHED: 2021-04-09
Use after free in screen sharing in Google Chrome prior to 89.0.4389.114 allowed a remote attacker to potentially exploit heap corruption via a crafted HTML page.
CVE-2021-21195
PUBLISHED: 2021-04-09
Use after free in V8 in Google Chrome prior to 89.0.4389.114 allowed a remote attacker to potentially exploit heap corruption via a crafted HTML page.