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What to Know About the Average Cyberattack Lifecycle in 2023


When it comes to what to know about the average cyberattack lifecycle in 2023 and beyond, there are multiple factors to consider.

In today's blog, our team of ethical hackers has compiled answers to your FAQs surrounding the average cyberattack lifecycle...and why it plays into your cybersecurity efforts more than you may think.

Let's get started:

Firstly, What is a Cyberattack Lifecycle?

The process by which sophisticated cyberattacks are conducted is widely described as a "cyberattack lifecycle."

This process is broken down into eight typical sections:

  • Step #1 - Initial Reconnaissance: To kick off any cyberattack lifecycle, the threat actor first compiles information on a target (or multiple targets at once.) This is oftentimes a blend of people and systems and determines the attack methodology that will be deployed. This information compiling is generally made up of the following components:

    • Identifying websites that may be vulnerable to web application exploitation

    • Analyzing the target organization’s current or projected business activities

    • Delving into the target organization’s internal organization to better understand its systems

    • Researching potential conferences attended by employees to determine social engineering weak points

    • Combing through popular social media sites to more effectively identify and socially-engineer employees via

  • Step #2 - Initial Compromise: After the initial research, the threat actor will execute malicious code on one or more people or systems. Most commonly, this is done through social engineering (often spear-phishing) by exploiting a vulnerability in an Internet-facing system

  • Step #3 - Establish a Foothold: Next comes establishing a virtual foothold. Once the initial compromise has been launched, the threat actor maintains continued control over a recently compromised system; this is frequently accomplished by installing a persistent backdoor or downloading additional utilities or malware to the exploited system

  • Step #4 - Escalate Privileges: Now that a foothold has been firmly established, the threat actor has time and room to escalate their privileges. Attackers often escalate their privileges through a combination of password "hash dumping" (followed by password cracking or pass-the-hash attacks); keystroke credential logging; leveraging privileges held by an application; and by exploiting an organization's vulnerable software

  • Step #5 - Internal Reconnaissance: In this step, the threat actor will take a deep dive into an organization's networks to gain a better understanding of the environment, examine the roles and responsibilities of key individuals, and determine where an organization stores information of interest.

  • Step #6 - Lateral Movement: Now, the threat actor will utilize their access to move from system to system within the organization's compromised environment. Common lateral movement methods include accessing network shares, leveraging remote access tools such as PsExec, or using remote desktop clients such as Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) or Virtual Network Computing (VNC) to interact with target systems using a graphical user interface. This grants them almost full uncontested control of any virtual environment

  • Step #7 - Maintain Their Presence: After lateral movement, the threat actor will continue to access and exploit the environment. Standard methods of maintaining a presence include installing multiple variants of malicious backdoors or gaining access to remote services such as a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

  • Step #8 - Complete Their Mission: Lastly, the average cyberattack lifecycle ends with the threat actor accomplishing their primary goal. This often comes in the form of stealing intellectual property, financial data, mergers and acquisition information, or Personally Identifiable Information (PII) to sell or to leverage ransom with

The cyberattack lifecycle, first articulated by Lockheed Martin as the “kill chain,” further simplifies these steps as the following: Recon—the threat actor develops a target; Weaponize—the attack is put in a form to be executed on the victim’s network; Deliver—how the vulnerability is weaponized; Exploit—the initial attack on the target or targets is executed; Control—mechanisms are employed to manage the initial victims; Execute—by leveraging numerous techniques, the adversary executes the plan; and Maintain—long-term access is achieved to achieve the threat actor's desired end result.

How Long is the Average Cyberattack Lifecycle in 2023?

When it comes to how long the average cyberattack lasts in 2023, the average across North America is an estimated 24 days.

However, this is highly dependent on an organization's cybersecurity efforts. Other critical statistics surrounding the length of cyberattacks in 2023 include, but aren't limited to:

However, ensuring that an organization's cybersecurity is up to regulatory standards can help diminish both the risk of an attack and the financial and reputational losses that may be faced in the wake of a successful one.

How Penetration Testing Shortens the Average Cyberattack Lifecycle

As detailed in the MITRE cybersecurity framework, penetration testing can shorten the average cyberattack lifecycle by testing "defender actions."

Here at Packetlabs, we execute these via a variety of potential methods:

  • DevSecOps: DevSecOps is integrated early in your development cycle and acts as an extension of your development team to flag vulnerabilities within your existing detected management systems

  • Red Teaming: Red Teaming is a full-scope simulated attack designed to get a holistic review of the level of risk and vulnerabilities across people, processes, and tech in an organization

  • Purple Teaming: Purple Teaming is our collaborative testing exercise where the Packetlabs red team works with your internal security operations team (or blue team) to bridge the gap between offensive techniques and response efforts

  • Cyber Maturity Assessments: A Cyber Maturity Assessment supports the tactical direction of your cybersecurity strategy. As the first step in strengthening your security posture, this assessment generates the roadmap to strengthen your overall security program

  • Compromise Assessments: A Compromise Assessment uncovers past or present threats like zero-day malware, trojans, ransomware, and other anomalies that may go unnoticed in standard automated vulnerability scans

  • OT Assessments: OT Cybersecurity Assessments simulate the likelihood of an attacker reaching the control centre from an external and internal perspective with production-safe testing

  • Ransomware Penetration Testing: A ransomware penetration test evaluates the preparedness and risk of a ransomware attack and identifies gaps in people, processes, and technology, to determine the likelihood and readiness for a ransomware attack

  • Cloud Penetration Testing: Multiple perspectives help with strengthening your security posture. These include Cloud Penetration Testing, which simulates an attacker in the environment, and a Cloud Penetration Review, which provides insights into cloud-specific vulnerabilities originating from an insecure configuration. Each of these services can be conducted separately or, for maximum effectiveness, combined as an enhanced cloud security bundle

  • Objective-based Penetration Testing: Following a preliminary penetration test, objective-based testing conducts a more advanced simulated cybersecurity attack. The test is conducted by persistent ethical hackers who deploy multiphase attacks to gain access to your organization's data so that you can discover gaps and vulnerabilities unique to your organization and test your ability to detect and respond to threat actor

  • Application Security Testing: More targeted in scope than a regular pentest, application security testing uncovers vulnerabilities residing in your web and mobile apps. Application Security Testing actively explores your application from an attacker’s perspective

  • Infrastructure Penetration Testing: An infrastructure penetration testing assessment uncovers vulnerabilities in your IT and network systems and provides a tailored approach to each environment

These are in addition to the Packetlabs Portal, which enables you to quickly view findings, prioritize efforts, request retests after remediation, and monitor progress.

The Impact 95% Manual Pentesting Has on the Length of Cyberattacks

Alongside employing a team of OSCP-minimum certified ethical hackers, the Packetlabs difference boils down to our 95% manual penetration testing.

Instead of outsourcing our work or relying on automated VA scans, we guarantee zero false positives via our in-depth approach and passion for innovation: our security testing methodology is derived from the SANS Pentest Methodology, the MITRE ATT&CK framework for enterprises, and NIST SP800-115 to ensure compliance with the majority of common regulatory requirements. Our comprehensive methodology has been broken up based on which areas can be tested with automation and those which require extensive manual testing.

Ways to Break the Average Cyberattack Lifecycle

On top of employing penetration testing services, multiple ways exist to help break the average cyberattack lifecycle in 2023.

Firstly, it's vital to ensure that all teams within an organization are in the know about the most up-to-date cyber resilience measures and security steps. At a baseline level, these include:

  • Unique passwords for every system or application

  • The enablement of two-factor authentication (TFA) (otherwise known as multi-factor authentication, or MFA) across all devices

  • Regularly patching and updating the software of all core systems and apps

  • Securing all networks and providing restricted VPN access to remote workers

  • Investing in cohesive antivirus software with built-in firewall and Internet security protection

  • Taking the time to roll out an in-depth Employee Awareness training program

While the above measures will provide your organization and team with a sturdier first line of defence, the real strength comes from team-wide increased awareness, regular up-skilling of staff, and an ever-evolving cybersecurity strategy.


As showcased in numerous high-profile cyberattacks this year alone, the average cyberattack lifecycle in 2023 is more than enough time to wreak magnitudes of financial and reputational damages on organizations of all sizes (and across all industries.)

Looking to learn more about how to bolster your security posture ahead of the next attempted cyber breach? Download our Buyer's Guide today.

Download our Free Buyer's Guide

Whether you are looking to complete Penetration Testing to manage risk, protect your data, comply with regulatory compliance standards or as a requirement for cyber insurance, selecting the right company is crucial.

Download our buyer’s guide to learn everything you need to know to successfully plan, scope and execute your penetration testing projects.