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Cyber Kill Chain vs MITRE ATT&CK: What are the Key Differences

Anna Szentgyorgyi-Siklosi | 6 min read| Published On - May 27, 2024

Prevent-cyber attack

The Cyber Kill Chain and MITRE ATT&CK Framework are two distinct models used to understand and combat cyberattacks. While both models share a common goal of understanding and mitigating cyber threats, they differ in their approach and scope.The Cyber Kill Chain is a seven-stage model that breaks down cyberattacks into stages, whereas The MITRE ATT&CK Framework takes a more granular approach.
These models enable cybersecurity teams to identify and prioritize threats, develop effective defenses, share cyber threat intelligence, and catalogue adversarial tactics and procedures.

What is the Cyber Kill Chain Framework?

The Cyber Kill Chain, inspired by the military’s kill chain, is a step-by-step approach that identifies and stops malicious cyber activity. First introduced by Lockheed Martin in 2011, the Cyber Kill Chain outlines the various stages of common cyberattacks, including the points at which an information security teams can intervene, thus helping them prevent, detect, or intercept an attack.
The Cyber Kill Chain is designed to defend against the most sophisticated cyberattacks, known as advanced persistent threats (APTs), where adversaries spend significant time planning and surveilling their attack. These attacks typically combine a range of tactics, including malware, ransomware, Trojans, spoofing, and social engineering techniques to carry out their plan.

What is the MITRE ATT&CK Framework?

MITRE’s ATT&CK is a comprehensive, globally accessible knowledge base that includes adversary tactics and techniques based on real-world observations. This knowledge base serves as the foundation for developing tailored threat models and methodologies across various sectors, including the private and public sector, and cybersecurity communities. By bringing together diverse communities, MITRE is committed to solving problems and creating a safer world. And, as part of its mission, MITRE makes the ATT&CK knowledge base available to anyone, free of charge, to empower better cybersecurity practices worldwide.

Cyber Kill Chain vs.ATT&CK: Key Differences

The Cyber Kill Chain and MITRE ATT&CK are two complementary models that serve different purposes. While the Cyber Kill Chain provides a simplified and easy-to-understand overview of the attack lifecycle, MITRE ATT&CK offers a more detailed understanding of attacker tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs). In practice, both models can be used in various ways. For security operations planning, the stages of the Cyber Kill Chain can guide monitoring and response priorities, focusing on early phases like delivery and exploitation to stop attacks sooner. For threat hunting, MITRE ATT&CK can be used to search for indicators of specific techniques, such as registry modifications associated with credential abuse. Proactively hunting for intruders in the network can help identify and respond to potential threats earlier.

Choosing Between the Models

The choice between the Cyber Kill Chain and MITRE ATT&CK ultimately depends on the organization’s specific needs and goals. For organizations with limited cybersecurity resources or those new to cybersecurity, the Cyber Kill Chain can be a valuable starting point. On the other hand, MITRE ATT&CK provides a deeper level of analysis and guidance for organizations with more sophisticated security needs.

Applying the Models

When reviewing security architecture, the MITRE ATT&CK framework can be applied as a “lens” to assess which techniques and tactics may be mitigated or detected by current controls, and where new solutions should focus. Additionally, the framework can be used to model the attack paths and TTPs of advanced adversaries, enabling red teams to simulate attacks and improve detection and response capabilities. The framework also provides a consistent taxonomy for indicators of compromise (IOCs) and attacker behaviors, enabling effective information sharing within and amongst organizations.

The Evolving Threat Landscape

It is also important to recognize that the threat landscape is constantly evolving, and new attack techniques, tactics, and procedures emerge frequently. As a result, the MITRE ATT&CK matrix is updated regularly, highlighting the need for security teams to continually tune their protections and preparedness as attacks become more advanced.

Key Components of Cyber Kill Chain and MITRE ATT&CK

Below are the key components of both the Cyber Kill Chain and the MITRE ATT&CK Framework:

Cyber Kill Chain components

The Cyber Kill Chain Framework categorizes known attacker tactics and techniques into seven key categories:

    1. Gathering Intelligence – The attacker collects information about the target, including network infrastructure, security posture, and employee credentials.
    2. Network Navigation – The attacker moves through the network to access more sensitive data and resources.
    3. Vulnerability Exploitation – The attacker takes advantage of software or hardware vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access to systems and data.
    4. Persistence – The attacker installs malware or other malicious code on the compromised system to maintain access and execute further actions.
    5. Communication – The attacker communicates with the compromised system to control the malware and gather stolen data.
    6. Achieving Objectives – The attacker carries out their intended goal, such as stealing data, disrupting operations, or launching a ransomware attack.
    7. Evasive Measures – The attacker takes steps to maintain their access to the compromised system and evade detection by security systems.

The MITRE ATT&CK Framework Components

The MITRE ATT&CK Framework categorizes known attacker tactics and techniques into four main groups:

  1. Attack Techniques – Specific methods used by attackers to achieve their objectives.
  2. Attack Tactics – High-level strategies employed by attackers to progress through the attack lifecycle.
  3. Groups – Known attacker groups and their associated tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs).
  4. Enterprise Matrix – A mapping of attack techniques to specific software products and platforms.

Cyber Kill Chain vs. ATT&CK: Which is Better?

The Cyber Kill Chain has several advantages over MITRE ATT&CK, including its ability to encourage proactive defense by identifying attack stages and allowing defenders to allocate security investments based on the most vulnerable stages. However, it also has limitations. For example, it may not account for the increasing sophistication of threats and all potential attack vectors. Additionally, its focus on malware may lead to a lack of attention to other types of attacks, such as insider threats.

The MITRE ATT&CK framework, on the other hand, offers a more comprehensive and granular view of the tactics, techniques, and procedures used by threat actors. It is dynamic and continuously updated to reflect the latest threats and tactics, making it a valuable resource for organizations. However, it can be overwhelming for beginners due to its complexity and level of expertise required, and it may require continuous monitoring for new updates to ensure preparedness for the latest threats. Additionally, its dynamic nature may make it less effective in detecting and disrupting attacks in real-time.

Conclusion

The Cyber Kill Chain and MITRE ATT&CK are two pivotal frameworks for understanding and analyzing cyber-attacks. While both frameworks have their own strengths and weaknesses, combining them in your defensive strategy can provide a clear understanding of the cyber-attack life cycle. MITRE ATT&CK offers a broad view of the tactics, techniques, and procedures used by threat actors, whereas the Cyber Kill Chain provides a more structured approach to understanding the development of a cyber-attack. By integrating both frameworks, you can bolster your defenses against potential threats.

Anna Szentgyorgyi-Siklosi
Anna Szentgyorgyi-Siklosi

Anna is an experienced Customer Success Manager with a demonstrated history of working in the SaaS industry. She is currently working to ensure that Lepide customers achieve the highest level of customer service.

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