Cyber threat hunting is a proactive security practice that searches for suspicious activity within an organization's environment to detect threats that have evaded regular security tools and help organizations respond swiftly and minimize damages from attacks. It differs from traditional penetration testing in that it assumes an attack has already occurred rather than simply trying to avoid one.
Approaches to cyber security that go beyond SIEM tools require an in-depth knowledge of current attacks, potential solutions, and the security landscape as a whole.
Cyber threat hunting is an iterative, proactive process that combines human expertise and security solutions to identify and mitigate advanced threats that bypass automatic detection technologies. Employing tools such as SIEM (security information and event management), UMM or MDR solutions, as well as big data analytics-based forensic search and visualization tools, cyber threat hunters systematically search networks actively looking for hidden threats by hypothesizing possible sources and testing these hypotheses through active searches in their network.
Security teams cannot rely solely on automated threat detection systems to notify them of an attack or potential vulnerabilities. Therefore, cyber threat hunting was created to proactively detect unknown threats, attacks, or suspicious activities within a network.
Security hunting begins with creating a threat hypothesis, including infrastructure risks or vulnerabilities, adversary tactics techniques and procedures (TTPs), or anything that deviates from expected baseline behavior. Threat hunters employ their logical reasoning, forensic skills, and knowledge of security monitoring tools in search of evidence supporting this hypothesis. No matter what anomalous pattern or behavior is at hand, an investigation must produce results to identify and deal with a threat before irreparable harm occurs.
Implementing low-code security automation supports this hypothesis-driven hunt process by providing analysts with the visibility to identify threats efficiently without draining valuable resources. Implement mitigations that stop an attacker, such as disabling user accounts or IP addresses, implementing security patches, altering network configurations, changing authorization privileges, or creating new identification requirements.
Threat Hunting Methodologies
Threat hunters use various approaches to detect suspicious activity. They might start with a baseline of expected or approved events to quickly spot unusual ones or look for indicators of compromise (IOCs) as evidence that malicious activities have occurred, usually through an integrated detection and response solution or security information and event management (SIEM) tool.
Another approach is investigating host or network artifacts to search for evidence of successful attacks, such as searching for malware involvement in the registry, file system, or network traffic for signs of command and control communication. Finally, some threat hunters utilize frameworks like MITRE ATT&CK to identify attackers and their techniques of attack (TTPs).
Successful threat detection requires quality intelligence and data regardless of your approach to threat hunting. A plan for collecting, centralizing, and processing this information is also essential; for instance, a Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solution could provide insight and a record of activity within an organization's IT environment while simultaneously using threat intelligence to identify attackers and attacks thereby decreasing time to detection quickly.
Threat Hunting Steps
Enterprises looking to stay abreast of modern cyber threats should rely on classical cybersecurity products and proactive threat-hunting techniques to remain resilient against potential attacks. While it can often be impossible to stop a successful cyberattack once it has occurred, security teams can proactively identify and isolate threats that bypass traditional solutions by creating and investing in comprehensive threat-hunting processes and elite-managed services.
Threat hunters use various tools and data sources to detect threats, such as SIEM platforms that simplify data navigation. Furthermore, dynamic risk management (DRM) tools give them an external view of any current or potential threat exposure - including stolen credentials sold on dark web marketplaces or sensitive information stored in cloud repositories.
Threat hunters must comprehensively analyze their environment and all users and machines to distinguish malicious activity from anomalous activities. One effective method for doing so is using UEBA technology which can give visibility into all devices within an enterprise and show what is normal and suspicious activity.
Cyber threat hunting should be a continuous process that engages dedicated resources. Unfortunately, SOC teams often face too many daily alerts to conduct in-depth investigations; for this reason, they need an ongoing threat-hunting program with clear goals, set aside enough time for exercise, and evaluate results moving forward.
Why threat hunting is important
With all the recent attention paid to cyber threat-hunting vendors, it's important to remember that this technology or trend isn't some newfangled trend. Instead, it reverts to one of the core information security principles: reviewing your IT environment for signs of malicious activity. Instead of using rules- or signature-based detection for this task, hypothesis-driven investigation and behavioral analysis are used.
Companies can reduce the risks and impacts of security breaches by taking an aggressive stance against threats that bypass traditional defenses or by employing threat hunters who can detect such attacks themselves. They can then use what they learn from these efforts to enhance existing detection mechanisms, thereby protecting themselves against future attacks.
As organizations struggle to manage the vast array of alerts produced by security tools, they must devote sufficient resources and attention to those most pertinent for business. SOC teams receive thousands of security alarms daily; unfortunately, most alarms only receive minimal investigation compared to what should have happened; attackers could remain undetected for months performing reconnaissance on valuable assets and data before performing theft of login credentials and moving laterally across networks without detection.
Threat hunters employ manual and machine-assisted techniques to detect malicious activity on networks and endpoints, including indicators of compromise (IOCs) and attack patterns that might otherwise go undetected by traditional monitoring processes. For maximum efficiency, hunts should focus on specific objectives while being conducted regularly to prevent threats from becoming breaches.
How threat hunting works
Human capital is of utmost importance when it comes to threat hunting. A skilled hunter should possess an in-depth understanding of the threat landscape, quickly recognize warning signs, and access all pertinent endpoint, network, and Cloud infrastructure data for analysis and short data navigation and analysis timeframes with ease using SIEM platforms such as SIEM Pro.
Hunters must first develop a threat hypothesis. This can be accomplished by studying patterns in privileged user activity, login attempts, registry changes, and port access anomalies. Hunters can then compare these observations against Indicators of Compromise (IOCs) to validate their threat hypothesis.
If the hunter's hypothesis is confirmed, they can then take steps to identify and address threats. Furthermore, their findings can help strengthen security within an organization, perhaps restricting access to certain sensitive documents to reduce insider attacks on an ongoing basis.
As attackers continue to develop and perfect stealthy techniques, organizations should invest in cyber threat hunting as a preventative measure against any successful breaches into networks and critical systems. This proactive approach to detection may enable organizations to protect themselves better.
Types of threat hunting
Threat hunters use various tools and methodologies to detect threats. They may leverage SIEM platforms for data navigation and analysis, Endpoint Protection Platforms, EDR, network monitoring tools, and third-party risk management (DRM) tools, as well as Dark Web marketplaces, social media channels, or any other digital channels for indications of compromised accounts, or sensitive data being offered for sale; as well as looking out for indicators of compromise (IOCs) which could point towards an in-progress cyber attack.
Proactive threat hunters are essential. Security teams that adopt an ad hoc, reactive approach may struggle to detect and respond to threats effectively and may not maximize the value of sophisticated detection technologies.
Once they detect suspicious, malicious activity, threat hunters take swift remedial actions to end it and prevent the recurrence of attacks. Remediation steps include:
- Disabling users.
- Restoring altered files to their original states.
- Blocking IP addresses.
- Applying security patches.
- Changing network configurations.
Furthermore, threat hunters continually learn from their responses, which they then incorporate into automated detection technologies so similar threats are more quickly detected and avoided in the future.
Effective threat hunting requires more than simply integrating security technology into a comprehensive framework; effective threat hunters rely on intelligence from internal and external partners and colleagues for data. By drawing upon multiple perspectives, threat hunters can distinguish anomalous activities from true threats among daily operations activity noise.