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What is Threat Hunting in Cyber Security?

What is Threat Hunting in Cyber Security?

Threat hunting in Cybersecurity is a proactive security search through networks, endpoints, and datasets to hunt malicious, suspicious, or risky activities that have evaded detection by existing tools. Thus, there is a distinction between cyber threat detection versus cyber threat hunting. Threat detection is a somewhat passive approach to monitoring data and systems for potential security issues, but it’s still a necessity and can aid a threat hunter. Proactive cyber threat hunting tactics have evolved to use new threat intelligence on previously collected data to identify and categorize potential threats in advance of attack.

Why Is Threat Hunting In Cybersecurity Required?

Today’s cybercriminals are becoming more sophisticated than ever, which means threat hunting in Cybersecurity is an essential component of robust network, endpoint, and dataset security strategies. If an advanced external attacker or insider threat can elude initial network defense systems, they could remain undetected for months. During this time, they could gather sensitive data, compromise confidential information, or secure login credentials that enable them to sneak laterally across your networking environment.

Security personnel can no longer afford to sit back and wait for automated cyber threat detection systems to notify them of an impending attack. To remain steadfast, threat hunting in cybersecurity enables your IT security teams to proactively identify potential vulnerabilities or threats before an attack can cause damage.

How Does Threat Hunting In CyberSecurity Work?

Threat hunting in CyberSecurity works by combining the human element with a software solution’s big data processing power. Human threat hunters–whose purpose is to use solutions and intelligence/data to find adversaries who may evade typical defenses by using techniques such as living off the land–lean on data from complex security monitoring and analytics tools to help them proactively identify and neutralize threats.

Human intuition, strategic and ethical thinking, and creative problem solving play an integral role in the cyber hunting process. These human characteristics enable organizations to implement threat resolutions faster and more accurately than solely relying on automated threat detection tools.

What's Required to Start Threat Hunting In Cybersecurity?

For cyber threat hunting to work, threat hunters must first establish a baseline of anticipated or authorized events to better identify anomalies. Using this baseline and the latest threat intelligence, threat hunters can then comb through security data and information collected by threat detection technologies. These technologies can include security information and event management solutions (SIEM), managed detection and response (MDR), or other security analytics tools.

Once equipped with data from varied sources such as endpoint, network and cloud data, threat hunters can scour your systems for potential risks, suspicious activities, or triggers that deviate from the normal. If a threat is identified or known threat intelligence indicates new potential threats, threat hunters can develop hypotheses and in-depth network investigations. During these investigations, threat hunters attempt to discover whether a threat is malicious or benign, or whether the network is safeguarded adequately from new types of cyber threats.

Is Threat Hunting a Part of Threat Intelligence?

Cyber Threat Intelligence is a focus on the analysis, collection and prioritization of data to improve our understanding of threats facing a business.

Threat Hunting Investigation Types

There are three core threat hunting investigation types, including:

  • Structured: This type of cyber security hunting is based on an indicator of attack (IoA), as well as the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) of an attacker. Using the MITRE Adversary Tactics Techniques and Common Knowledge (ATT & CK®) framework, structured hunting enables threat hunters to identify a malicious actor before they can harm the network.
  • Unstructured: Based on a trigger or indicator of compromise (IoC), threat hunters use unstructured hunting to search for any noticeable patterns throughout the network both before and after a trigger or IoC was found.
  • Situational or Threat Intelligence Based: Hypotheses are derived from situational circumstances, such as vulnerabilities discovered during a network risk assessment. The latest threat intelligence can also lead to cyber threat hunting, as threat hunters can reference internal or crowdsourced data on cyberattack trends or TTPs of attackers when analyzing their network.

In all three of these investigation types, threat hunters search through events for anomalies, weaknesses, or suspicious activity outside of anticipated or authorized events. If any security gaps or unusual activity are found, hunters can then patch the network before a cyberattack occurs or reoccurs.

The Five Steps of Threat Hunting in Cybersecurity

To effectively initiate a cyber threat hunting program, there are five steps your security personnel should follow, these steps include:

Step 1: Hypothesis

Threat hunts begin with a hypothesis or a statement about the hunter’s ideas of what threats might be in the environment and how to go about finding them. A hypothesis can include a suspected attacker's tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs). Threat hunters use threat intelligence, environmental knowledge, and their own experience and creativity to build a logical path to detection.

Step 2: Collect and Process Intelligence and Data

Hunting for threats requires quality intelligence and data. A plan for collecting, centralizing, and processing data is required. Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) software can provide insight and a track record of activities in an enterprise’s IT environment.

Step 3: Trigger

A hypothesis can act as a trigger when advanced detection tools point threat hunters to initiate an investigation of a particular system or specific area of a network.

Step 4: Investigation

Investigative technology, can hunt or search deep into potentially malicious anomalies in a system or network, ultimately determined to be benign or confirmed as malicious.

Step 5: Response/Resolution

Data gathered from confirmed malicious activity can be entered into automated security technology to respond, resolve, and mitigate threats. Actions can include removing malware files, restoring altered or deleted files to their original state, updating firewall /IPS rules, deploying security patches, and changing system configurations – all the while better understanding what occurred and how to improve your security against similar future attacks.

What Are the Top Challenges of Cyber Security Hunting?

Because cyber security hunting takes a proactive, hands-on approach to threat detection and remediation, some organizations face significant challenges when implementing this security practice. For a cyber hunting program to be successful, an organization must have three key components working in harmony:

  • Deploying expert threat hunters: The human capital involved with cyber threat hunting is arguably the most critical component. Today’s threat hunters must be experts in the threat landscape and be able to identify the warning signs of sophisticated attacks quickly.
  • Collecting comprehensive data: To properly seek out threats, hunters must have access to a wealth of data (both current and historical data) that provides visibility across an entire infrastructure. Without this aggregated data, threat hunters won’t be able to create informed threat hypotheses based on your endpoints, network or Cloud infrastructure.
  • Staying up-to-date with threat intelligence: Threat hunters must be equipped with the most up-to-date threat intelligence, enabling them to compare current cyberattack trends with internal data. Without knowing what new or trending threats exist, threat hunters won’t have the necessary information to analyze potential network threats correctly.

Deploying all three of these components and ensuring they seamlessly work together requires many organizational resources. Unfortunately, some security teams don’t have access to the right tools, personnel, or information to establish a full-scale cyber threat hunting program.

Threat hunting tools

Hunters use data from Managed detection and response (MDR), Security information and event management (SIEM) and security analytics tools as a foundation for a hunt. They can also use other tools, like packer analyzers, to execute network-based hunts. However, using SIEM and MDR tools require that all essential sources and tools in an environment are integrated. This integration ensures IoA and IoC clues can provide adequate hunting direction.

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