The Different Phases of a Cyberattack

Cyber attacks come in many forms. But no matter if it’s a simple extraction of credit card details or a distributed denial-of-service attack, hackers usually stick to a process that can be followed easily enough if laid out.

To successfully thwart cybercriminals, users and companies in the business of cybersecurity solutions need to understand what makes up a cyberattack.

Generally, there are four phases in a typical cyberattack:

Phase 1: Knowing the target

Possibly the most crucial phase in any cyberattack, the reconnaissance phase is all about finding weak spots in your system.

Hackers will collect intelligence about the hardware you use, the IP addresses associated with any device you’re using, your online presence, and many more. Many open-source tools and techniques will aid in this effort — even if these methods weren’t created with the express purpose of maliciously hacking into a system.

A simple google search will reveal or give an idea about where you live or where you work. If you publicly display your email, that is another entry point that hackers can exploit. Specialized search engines like Shodan can search for internet-connected devices that you might frequently be using.

Using information gathered from these multiple sources, cybercriminals can start organizing an attack.

Phase 2: Consolidating assets and preparation

With a good grasp of vulnerable points, hackers will begin building an attack payload. One of the key ingredients of this attack is a remote access tool (aptly abbreviated as RAT).

RAT is essentially a compilation of software that sends essential information back to the operator while infiltrating your system. A smart hacker will always avoid getting detected by malware safeguards or antivirus programs. Thus, it’s common for RATs to be basic, often consisting of nothing more than a keylogger and a few basic scripts.

After setting up the necessary arsenals, hackers will then decide on a delivery mechanism. They might deliver the attack via email addresses found on various platforms like LinkedIn or Facebook. Insertion of flash drives and opening of web applications are also possible alternatives.

Phase 3: Attack delivery

Upon execution of the attack, attackers will aim to gain a strong initial foothold within your system.

To do that, the malicious code or program will regularly run in the background. It’s almost impossible to detect this as the program will be masked under an unsuspecting fake name like “GoogleChromeUpdate.exe” or “”

Next is command and control, a process in which the malicious software will establish a communication link with the attacker. It is also through this process that the attacker will set-up a mechanism to send critical information back without the target’s knowledge.


Phase 4: Information extraction and post-exploitation

With a stable code firmly entrenched in your system, the attacker can surreptitiously siphon financial details, source code, classified documents, intellectual property, and other sensitive information.

Before doing that, attackers will try to gain administrator access to the entire system. The reason for this is that some files may be located in other user profiles, which have higher-level access.

Once information is extracted, hackers enter the post-exploitation phase, where they will maintain access points to your system in case they want to mount a future attack. This is achieved through startup registry keys, backdoor credentials, and a host of other tactics.

Secure your computer systems

As you can see, it can be relatively easy for hackers to infiltrate your network. The good news is that there are simple steps you can start doing to better protect yourself from cyberattacks. Enlist the help of a cybersecurity professional if you find yourself in a more serious situation.