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Threat Hunting

The process of proactively searching through networks to detect and isolate advanced threats that evade existing security solutions.
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Threat hunting is when a skilled cybersecurity analyst uses manual or machine-based methods to identify security incidents or potential threats that current detection methods did not find. To be successful, they must know how to coax their toolsets into finding the most dangerous threats. These cybersecurity analysts also require extensive knowledge of different types of malicious software, exploits, and network protocols.

The goal of cyber threat hunting is to discover new vulnerabilities before attackers do. This means recognizing when an attack has occurred, understanding what happened during it, and determining if there are any other attacks underway. The best way to accomplish this is to access all your data from every device on your network.

How does threat hunting work?

A typical threat hunter will use multiple techniques to gather information about a target system.

These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Network traffic analysis: Analyzing network traffic can reveal many things, including IP addresses, communication ports, and file transfers.

  • System monitoring: Monitoring systems such as servers, desktops, laptops, mobile devices, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices allow you to see what's happening inside them at any given time. You can even monitor specific processes running within these machines.

  • File activity: File activity includes looking through logs, registry entries, event viewer records, and more. Behavioral analytics looks at user behavior across various platforms like web browsers, email clients, instant messaging apps, and social media sites.

  • Malware analysis: Malware analysis helps you look at suspicious files, executables, scripts, archives, and more.

  • Data loss prevention: Data loss prevention analyzes log events generated by DLP solutions installed on endpoints.

  • Security intelligence: Security Intelligence provides insight into known threats and indicators of compromise. SI may include Indicators of Compromise (IOC) databases, vulnerability scanners, exploit kits, and malware repositories.

What are some key threat hunting characteristics?

  • Real-Time Response: RTR refers to the ability to react immediately after discovering something unusual. To achieve this, threat hunters need to have visibility into everything going on throughout the entire enterprise. They should be able to analyze data from anywhere, anytime.

  • Automation: An essential characteristic of threat hunting is automation. There are several ways to automate tasks related to threat hunting. For example, some organizations use automated scanning services that scan networks for signs of intrusion. Other companies leverage AI, machine learning, and natural language processing technologies to automatically classify and categorize detected anomalies.

  • Visibility: Another critical aspect of threat hunting is visibility. If you don't have visibility into your environment, you cannot effectively perform threat hunting activities. To ensure that you're getting complete visibility, you'll want to deploy security tools across your organization's IT infrastructure. These tools provide detailed reports detailing anomalous behaviors or malicious actions on computers, servers, and applications.

  • Scalability: One of the most challenging aspects of performing threat hunting is scalability. As an attacker becomes increasingly sophisticated, it becomes harder and harder to keep up with their tactics; This means that if you only focus on one type of attack, you might miss out on other types of attacks. The best way to address this challenge is to expand your threat hunting efforts beyond focusing on one particular area. By doing so, you increase the likelihood of finding new vulnerabilities before they become widespread.

  • Collaboration: Finally, collaboration is another critical component of successful threat hunting. When working together, teams will share information about potential issues and collaborate on how to resolve those problems. Without proper communication between team members, there's no guarantee that all parties involved will know when and where an issue has been resolved.

How To start performing threat hunting activities

There are many different approaches to threat hunting activities. Some teams start small while others begin large-scale operations. Regardless of what method that you choose, make sure that you follow these steps:

  • Identify Goals: Identifying goals and defining requirements can help you determine whether threat hunting is right for your business. Once you've decided that threat hunting is appropriate for your company, you must define what you want to accomplish by implementing threat hunting within your organization. Are you looking to improve network defenses? Increase employee awareness? Reduce downtime? Whatever your goal may be, make sure that you communicate them to your employees and management.

  • Define Resources: Now that you understand why you'd like to implement threat hunting, you need to figure out how much time and resources you'll require. To do this, you should first identify any existing processes that could benefit from being replaced with more effective methods. Next, you'll want to consider how long each task takes to complete. Then, you'll want to estimate how often you plan to repeat the specific task. After completing these calculations, you'll be better equipped to decide how much time and money you'll need to invest in threat hunting.

  • Develop an Action Plan: Before beginning your threat hunting journey, you'll also want to develop an action plan. A good strategy includes identifying who needs to be informed about your plans, Determining which individuals will take part in executing your plan, and how frequently you'll update everyone on progress.

  • Execute: Make sure that you document everything that happens during your execution/implementation process. Doing so will allow you to review your actions later and provide feedback to ensure that things run smoothly. If something goes wrong or doesn't work correctly, don't hesitate to ask questions until you're satisfied with the results.

  • Evaluation: Lastly, evaluate your success after every step along the way. Ask yourself, "Did we achieve our objectives?" If not, then adjust accordingly. Don't forget to include metrics such as the number of incidents detected, average response times, etc.

Once you have completed all of these steps, you'll be ready to perform threat hunting activities.

How is threat hunting conducted?

The best way to perform threat hunting depends entirely upon your situation. For example, if you're just getting started, you might only need to focus on one aspect of threat hunting. However, if you already have some experience under your belt, you might find that performing multiple types of attacks simultaneously would yield even more significant benefits.

Regardless of where you stand now, there's no denying that threat hunting has become increasingly popular over recent years. As a result, the demand for qualified professionals capable of conducting threat hunts continues to rise.

The following is a list of typical ways to perform threat hunting:

  • Manual Analysis Manual analysis refers to analyzing security logs manually. While manual analysis isn't necessarily complex, it does involve significant amounts of time spent reviewing log files. Additionally, because most organizations use several tools to monitor their networks, they typically have hundreds of thousands of log entries stored locally. Therefore, when analyzing them manually, you may spend hours searching through large volumes of information before finding anything useful.

  • Automated Detection: Automated detection refers to scanning systems that automatically scan network traffic looking for malicious activity. These scans can either occur at regular intervals or whenever new suspicious behavior occurs. When automated detection finds evidence of malware, it sends alerts to administrators who must determine whether those findings warrant further investigation. Because this type of system requires less human intervention than traditional methods, it produces fewer false positives.

  • Hybrid Methods: Hybrid approaches combine both manual and automatic techniques into a single solution. They often rely heavily on machine learning algorithms to identify potential indicators of compromise without requiring any prior knowledge of what constitutes a legitimate event. Once a hybrid approach generates an alert, humans still play a role in determining how serious the issue is.

  • Machine Learning: Machine learning uses artificial intelligence to automate many aspects of cybersecurity operations. One common application of AI within the context of cybersecurity is anomaly detection. Anomaly detection looks for patterns in everyday events that deviate from expected behaviors. In other words, anomalies represent deviations from standard operating procedures. If these deviations continue long enough, then they could indicate a breach. This process allows machines to quickly spot potentially dangerous situations while allowing humans to take action as needed.

What are some additional threat hunting techniques?

Below are the common threat hunting techniques used to pinpoint threats in an organization's environment, including:

  • Searching: When searching for threats, it is crucial to balance being overwhelmed by receiving too many responses and missing out on threats by getting too few responses.

  • Clustering: This typically uses AI and machine learning technology. It separates clusters of similar data based on specific characteristics from a more extensive database. The practice allows analysts and others to gain a broader view of data that's of the most interest. They can also find similarities or related correlations and weave those into a clearer picture of what is going on within their organization's network and determine how to move forward.

  • Grouping: This technique involves taking multiple unique items and identifying when multiples appear together based on the predetermined search criteria. While similar in concept to clustering, this technique only includes searching an explicit list of items that have already appeared suspicious.

  • Stacking: This practice involves counting the occurrence of values of a particular type and analyzing the outliers. Stacking is most useful with data sets that produce finite results and when inputs can be organized, filtered, and manipulated. Leveraging technology — even something as simple as Microsoft Excel — is essential when stacking.

Why are threat hunters important?

The importance of threat hunters cannot be overstated. As organizations become more reliant upon digital technologies, their business can only run if the network is running. These networks contain valuable information about your business, employees, customers, partners, and suppliers, making them attractive targets for hackers looking to steal intellectual property or otherwise disrupt your operation.

As such, you need to ensure that all of your security measures are up to date and effective. You should always keep abreast of new developments in malware and hacking methods and ensure that your defenses can identify and block any potential attacks before they reach critical levels.

In summary, if you want to protect yourself against malicious actors who may try to access sensitive information stored online, you must first understand exactly where that information resides. Once you know where it lives, you will be better equipped to prevent unauthorized users from accessing it.