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The Anatomy of an attack

The term “anatomy of an attack” generally refers to the step by step breakdown of a cyber-attack, detailing each phase from the attacker’s perspective. Understanding this anatomy helps in devising better defensive strategies. Here are the typical stages involved

Reconnaissance (Recon) Objective: gather information about the target Techniques: Passive reconnaissance, collecting information without directly interacting with the target (e.g., through public records, social media, websites)

Active reconnaissance, directly interacting with the target to gather information (e.g., network scanning, vulnerability scanning)

Weaponization, objectives: create a deliverable payload using the information gathered during reconnaissance

Techniques, combining an exploit with a backdoor into a deliverable payload (e.g., a phishing email with a malicious attachment)

Delivery Objective: transmit the weaponized payload to the target

Techniques: Phishing emails, malicious websites, USB drives, social engineering, exploiting network vulnerabilities.

ExploitationObjective, trigger the exploit to execute the attacker’s code on the target system

Techniques: buffer overflows, SQL injection, cross site scripting (XSS)

Installation objective, establish a foothold by installing malware on the target system

Techniques: installing rootkits, keyloggers, ransomware, or other forms of malware

Command and control (C2)objective, create a command and control channel to remotely manipulate the compromised system

Techniques, using C2 servers to send commands to the infected system and receive data

Actions on objectives

Objective, achieve the attacker’s goals, such as data theft, disruption, or destruction.

Techniques, data exfiltration, lateral movement within the network, encrypting files for ransom, wiping data, etc.

Defensive strategies

To mitigate these attacks, organizations often employ various defensive measures

Reconnaissance detection, use network monitoring to detect unusual scanning or probing activities

Harden systems, regularly update and path systems to reduce vulnerabilities

User training, educate users about phishing and social engineering attacks

Intrusion detection systems (IDS), monitor network traffic for suspicious activities

Endpoint protection, install antivirus and anti-malware solutions

Incident response plan, develop and regularly update an incident response plan to quickly react to attacks


By understanding the anatomy of an attack, organizations can better anticipate and defend against potential threats, improving their overall security posture.

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