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The 7 layers of the cyber kill chain in veterinary medicine

By June 22, 2021February 16th, 2024No Comments

As a veterinary practice owner, you’ve probably never heard of the cyber kill chain, but you should. Threats posed by cyber criminals are evolving and calling for practice owners to rethink their cyber security strategies and how they can prevent future attacks.

What is a cyber kill chain?

A cyber kill chain provides a comprehensive guide on how to trace the stages of cyber attacks, identify vulnerabilities and stop the attacks.

The cyber kill chain framework allows us to understand the sequence of events involved in an external cyber attack on an organization’s IT infrastructure. This, in turn, helps organizations to put strategies and technologies in place to “kill” or contain the threats posed by the external cyber attacks at any stage of the attack.

Cyber kill chain origins

The cyber kill chain has its roots in the military, borrowing the term “kill chain” from the military concept related to the structure of an attack. In the military, the term encompasses different stages of attacks including target identification, force dispatch to target, decision, and order to attack the target.

Lockheed Martin, one of the largest aerospace, defense, information security, and technology companies, was the first to adopt the concept of kill chain in the information security domain, calling it cyber kill chain.

Inspired by the kill chain military concept, the idea of a cyber kill chain revolves around cyber security experts being able to interrupt their opponent’s structure of a cyber attack as a defense mechanism. The closer to the beginning of the kill chain an attack is stopped, the better, because it means that cyber criminals are not able to cause damage they intended. The cyber criminals at earlier stages of their attacks also are not able to gain valuable information that they can use against a veterinary practice or any other organization.

Cyber kill chain at work

The cyber kill chain has seven steps that aim to offer a better understanding and visibility of a cyber attack and the tactics being used by the cyber criminals. The seven steps of the cyber kill chain are an illustration of the different stages of a cyber attack from reconnaissance to the actual attack that most cyber criminals take during a cyber attack.

These seven steps are Reconnaissance, weaponization, delivery, exploitation, installation, command and control, and finally, actions on objectives. Here is a detailed look at what each stage entails and how your veterinary practice can utilize the cyber kill chain to thwart a cyber-attack.

  1. Reconnaissance

This is the first stage of a cyber attack, where cyber criminals aim at getting to know their targets in depth. In this stage, cyber criminals chose their target, and start to conduct in-depth research on them by collecting data on their potential victims and determining the mode of attack that is likely to be more effective on their selected victims.

Some of the methods used by cyber criminals in this stage to collect data include harvesting email addresses, using automated scanners to find vulnerability of their targeted victim’s systems, scanning system firewalls to expose vulnerability and determining intrusion prevention tools employed by their potential victims to see if their method of attack will be feasible. The research done in this stage is also used to determine if there is a point of entry that cyber criminals can use to launch their attack.

2. Weaponization

This is the stage where cyberc riminals come up with malware that is designed based on information collected in the reconnaissance stage. This malware is designed to exploit vulnerabilities discovered on the system.

This is the stage where attackers also try to develop payloads that are harder to get detected by their intended targets. This is done to increase the effectiveness of cyber attacks.

3. Delivery

This is the stage where weaponized payloads are delivered to potential victims using methods such as phishing, infected USB drives and websites that automatically download malware to victim’s computer systems. The purpose of this stage is to ensure that the weaponized malware is delivered to the victims.

4. Exploitation

This is the stage where the delivered weaponized malware starts executing in the system. In this stage, cyber criminals start executing their scripts and modifying security certificates to gain as much data from an organization, a business, or a veterinary practice.

In most cyber attacks, the victims operating systems are the primary targets of attacks. However, other exploitation’s such as scripting, dynamic data exchange and local job scheduling are also used in this stage to compromise systems and gain access to victims’ data.

5. Installation

In this stage, the scripts of malware are fully installed and by now the cyber criminals have gained full access to their victim’s computer systems. This stage creates a backdoor or remote access, which is used by cyber criminals to access important data on their target’s computer systems.

6. Command and Control

At this level, attackers have full control over an organization, a business, or a veterinary practice’s systems and network. They are able to gain access to privileged accounts and can be able to change permissions to prevent other legitimately authorized persons from accessing their accounts.

7. Actions on Objective

This is the last stage of a cyber kill chain, where cyber criminals have already taken over the entire system and can now reveal or execute their objectives.

Cyber criminals’ objectives can include gathering information, encrypting data, or extracting confidential information from an organization, a business, or a veterinary practice.

Using cyber kill chain to prevent an attack

Understanding the steps of a cyber kill chain can help you prevent any future cyber-attack by implementing any of these security measures depending on the stage a cyber attack targeted at your veterinary practice is at:

  1. Detect: This will help you determine attempts being made on your system.

  2. Deny: This is when you need to stop an attack in progress.

  3. Disrupt: In case you are already in the middle of an attack, you can use disruptions methods to slow down the attack as you figure out how to stop it.

  4. Degrade: Sometimes it becomes hard to stop an attack or disrupt it. When that happens, it is always important to limit the effectiveness of any attack carried out against you by keeping cyber criminals away from systems that are yet to be infected but are also in their target list.

  5. Deceive: This is where you may need to mislead your attackers by providing them with false information about your computer systems as you try to figure out how to stop the attack.

  6. Contain: In case of an attack, you need to make sure that you reduce its effectiveness. This can be done by limiting the scope of the attack by restricting some part of the organization that has not yet been comprised as you look at ways to stop the attack. This also reduces the damage done by the attack.

Looking for the tools to help you prevent a cyber attack at all 7 levels of the kill chain?

Lucca veterinary data security has custom suite of tools designed to help kill the attack at all seven layers of the kill chain. Schedule your FREE consultation call today to see how Lucca can help keep your veterinary hospital safe!


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