Threat hunting or cyber threat hunting is a strategy in internet security where threat hunters find security risks that are concealed within a network of any setup. While automated threat detection systems don’t seek out earlier undetected threats, cyber hunting does it for unknown and non-remediated threats, which may evade the network’s automated defense systems.
What is threat hunting?
Threat Hunting is an active information security strategy that security analysts use. Hence, you need to search through networks to detect IoCs or indicators of compromise, hacker TTPs or tactics, techniques, procedures, and threats like APTs which stand for Advanced Persistent Threats.
There are activities for threat hunting, including:
Hunting for insider threats or outside attackers:
Threat hunters can detect threats that insider’s pose (insiders here refers to an employee or outsiders such as a criminal organization.
Proactively hunting for familiar adversaries:
If you are one of the known attackers, you must be on the list of threat intelligence services. In addition, the attackers’ code pattern is available on the list of denied harmful programs.
Prevention of attacks from happening by finding hidden threats:
When threat hunters use constant monitoring, they can understand the computing environment. Besides, they can use behavioral analysis to identify anomalies used for any threat indication.
Execute the incident response plan:
Once hunters recognize a threat, they try to collect information as much as possible before executing this plan for its neutralization. While it allows you to update the response plan, it also helps to prevent similar attacks.
Why is threat hunting important?
Sophisticated threats can easily get past the level of automated cybersecurity, which is so important. It is true that automated security tools, along with tier 1 & 2 SOC analysts, are capable of dealing with 80% of threats. However, you have to think about the rest, ⅕ th of the threats, which refer to the sophisticated threats causing significant damage. When they get sufficient time along with resources, it becomes very simple for them to break into any network.
They prevent detection for up to 280 days on average.
An effective strategy can help you to decrease the period from intrusion to discovery. Thus, the process ensures that you will face less damage by attackers lurking for weeks and months before they discover. Threat actors wait patiently to uncover valuable information to unlock access further. Can you guess the amount of damage caused by potential threats?
According to a Data Breach Report, a company has to pay almost USD 4 million on average. You should know that a breach’s detrimental effects can linger for years. An organization has to pay more when the time between system failure and response deployed is longer.
Threat Hunting Indicators:
We have given here two types of indicators. Let’s check it.
Indicator of compromise: It is the standard form of IOC, indicating that an action has happened and the reactive mode is turned on. You can do this kind of IOC by checking your data from transaction logs or SIEM data. These are a few instances: unusual network traffic, privileged user account activity, login anomalies, enhanced database read volumes, suspicious registry or system file changes, unusual DNS requests, and Web traffic showing non-human behavior.
Security administration teams are capable of spotting threat actors in the cyberattack procedure.
Indicator of Concern: You can use OSINT or Open-source intelligence to collect data from public resources. Besides, you can use it for threat hunting and cyberattack detection.
Threat Hunting Methodologies:
The methodologies are as follows:-
Inside the Network Perimeter—
Reactive Threat Hunting:
A malicious event may trigger the process. For instance, it is triggered after a theft or data breach is found. Therefore, especially efforts are given to forensics and remediation.
Proactive Threat Hunting:
It seeks out the network’s ongoing activities and malicious events. The main target of the method is to recognize an in-progress cyber attack. Hence, the process is mainly used to detect and eliminate issues. According to the threat hunters, adversaries begin an investigation as they are already in the system to search for any abnormal behavior that lets us think about malicious activity. Hence, the starting of investigation is categorized into three parts:
It is a kind of proactive hunting method which is available in three types:
- Analytics-driven: If you want to use the process, you need to use machine learning and entity behavior analytics (UEBA) to create hypotheses and aggregated risk scores.
- Intelligence-driven: This one has several sections, including— malware analysis, vulnerability scans, and intelligence reports and feeds.
- Situational awareness has driven: It includes enterprise risk assessments and crown jewel analysis. If threat hunters collect plenty of data, they must automate a large part of the process with the help of threat intelligence and ML strategies.
Investigation with IoA or indicators of attack:
Investigation with the help of IoA is the most proactive threat-hunting strategy. You should first detect APT or advanced persistent threat groups and malware attacks by leveraging global detection playbooks. It is a strategy that aligns with MITRE ATT&CK and other threat-hunting frameworks.
These are the actions that are involved in the procedure.
- You should take the help of IOAs and TTPs to detect hackers.
- After that, threat hunters assess domain, environment, and attack behaviors for a hypothesis creation.
- Once they detect a behavior, they start monitoring activities to find patterns. Hence, their task is to find the threat, identify this and isolate it after that.
This process is the combination of all the procedures mentioned above. In addition, it enables security analysts to customize the hunt. Hence, industry-based hunting, including situational awareness, is related in this case. For instance, it is possible to customize the hunt with the help of data about geopolitical problems. Moreover, you are capable of using triggers and leveraging IoAS and IoCS.
Outside the Network Perimeter—
External Threat Hunting:
With the help of this method, you can know the hackers’ plan and how they think to execute their plan so that a defensive strategy can be made. People should use this process mainly for Cyber Threat Reconnaissance, Threat Surface Mapping, and monitoring of third-party risks.
Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP):
Do you know what kind of threat-hunting maturity model is detected by The SANS Institute? Let’s know about it in detail—
Initial: It refers to Level 0 maturity, where any setup depends on automated reporting. Therefore, it doesn’t collect data routinely.
Minimal: An organization incorporates the threat intelligence indicator searches at Level 1 maturity. This one can collect data routinely at a moderate or high level.
Procedural: This is called Level 2 maturity, where the organization undergoes the analysis that others made. Hence, we can see a high or very high level of routine data collection.
Innovative: The organization processes new data analysis at Level 3 maturity. This one comes with routine high or super-high data collection.
Leading: This Level 4 maturity can automate the majority of successful data analysis processes. It has top-level routine data collection.
Types of threat hunting:
Generally, hunters make a hypothesis that depends on security data. It acts as a springboard when they investigate to get deep information. These investigations can be structured, unstructured, and situational.
It depends on IoA and an attacker’s TTPs. Hence, all types of hunting depend on the TTPs of any hacker. As a result, before any environmental damage, the hunter can detect hackers. It generally uses the MITRE Adversary Tactics Techniques and Common Knowledge or ATT&CK framework.
This type depends on the trigger, one of the IoCs. The trigger cues a threat hunter for finding a pre- and post-detection pattern. This hunter is capable of researching as far back as data retention.
Situational or entity driven:
This type of hypothesis belongs to an internal risk assessment of an enterprise or an analysis of trends and vulnerabilities. The source of Entity-oriented leads basically comes from the attack data of crowdsourcing. First, it can reveal the latest TTPs of current hackers. After that, a threat hunter finds particular behaviors within the environment.
How does threat hunting work?
You should know that the success of a threat-hunting program always depends on the data fertility of an environment. In other words, an organization must first have an enterprise security system to collect data. Then, threat hunters get valuable ideas from the collected information.
These hunters usually come with a human element so that security can be enterprise. It complements automated systems. IT security professionals can find, log, track, and neutralize threats before they cause any kind of damage. The skilled professionals who are security analysts from within a company’s IT department know about the operations properly. However, they can be outside analysts, also.
The goal of the procedure is to look for something that is usually not present in the environment. So it goes beyond SIEM or security information and event management, EDR or endpoint detection and response, and other detection technologies.
Usually, threat hunters find hidden malware and different patterns of suspicious activity which your computer may not have fixed. Then, they help you patch any enterprise’s security system to prevent any cyber attack from recurring.
Threat Hunting steps:
There are five major steps of cyber hunting techniques through which you can complete a successful campaign. These are as follows: hypothesis, trigger, threat intel data, threat investigation, and response.
Basically, the threat hunt process starts with creating a hypothesis. In the campaign, we learn about the clues of threat hunters, their statements, etc. We get to know also about the occurrence of malicious activity, how hackers permeate an environment, and so on. Hunters take help from different things, including MITRE ATT&CK Framework, tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP), indicators of compromise (IOC), and threat intelligence which let them understand adversary behavior in a better way for forming hypotheses. The lateral movement of a network is an instance of the adversary’s threat-hunting techniques. Do you know what a lateral network movement is? It is common behavior on which the attackers depend to sleuth for targeted data and assets.
Whenever threat hunters get an alert, they start using the trigger as a guide to detect patterns and commonalities between incidents. With the help of Advanced threat detection tools, it becomes possible to observe the triggered alerts, the result of which threat hunters can undergo the threat investigation procedure. Moreover, the hypothesis works as a trigger within proactive hunting because of the emergence of new threats.
Threat intelligence data collection:
If you want to complete the process, you need to use threat-hunting tools. For instance, you may use SIEM, MDR, & SOAR, which stand for Security Information and Event Management, Managed Detection and Response, and Security Orchestration, Automation, and Response. The library of security data allows you to detect threats and investigate and analyze processes.
The procedure depends on threat detection technologies for diving into suspicious activity to recognize harmful behavior from benign, false alerts. EDR or Endpoint Detection and Response helps to give you contextual information which is collected from the monitored end-user devices.
As soon as any malicious activity is found, security teams are there to face the challenges. It means that they take action against the attacks with the help of the collected threat intelligence data to prepare an incident response strategy. For instance, they can deploy software patches, run a malware removal tool, or configure changes in a cloud-based security threat-hunting platform.
Benefits of automation in cyber threat hunting:
Several modern technologies are getting evolved continuously with new updates to prevent attacks. Therefore, enterprises need to automate manual workloads to deal with attacks. Let’s see the benefits of automation in this case.
Data Collections: Investigations in threat hunting gather plenty of data from many sources. It takes many hours to sort through and delineate good data from insufficient data.
But when it comes to talking automation, it can decrease the required time for collection. It can also help to increase the precious resources of security SOCs.
Even an experienced, talented SOC can get overwhelmed by a constant volume of warnings and alerts of threats. But it can categorize threats as high, medium, and low risks. Thus, it helps to decrease the threat noise. Moreover, doing so helps to recuse security staff time demands and permits them to address those which require more investigation or instant action.
As soon as the method identifies a threat, it is essential to generate mitigations throughout an enterprise’s networks, endpoints, and cloud.
Automated responses can easily handle the smaller attacks that need to be performed routinely. For instance, it can delete customized scripts to isolate a compromised endpoint. Besides, it can delete harmful files after isolation. In addition, this one uses backup info to restore data compromised in an attack.
Where Does Threat Hunting Fit?
It complements the standard incident detection, response, and remediation procedure. Moreover, the process works in parallel because the security technologies create alerts by analyzing the raw data. Hence it uses automation to extract hunting leading out of the same data.
Human cyber threat hunters can analyze hunting leads. However, in this case, they must be well trained so that it becomes easier for them to identify the signs of adversary activity, which can be managed via the same pipeline.
Should You Enlist a Managed Threat Hunting Service?
While this idea is clear, the challenge comes from sourcing personnel who are capable of conducting exercises accurately. Remember that only the best threat hunters can fight easily against cyber adversaries and have enough experience. But when it comes to talking about threat hunting, you can see a skill shortage in the cybersecurity industry. Moreover, it indicates that seasoned hunters are not coming cheap. That is why multiple organizations switch to managed services offering deep expertise and 24×7 vigilance at a reasonable price.
What’s Required to Start Threat Hunting?
Usually, a hunting service follows a three-pronged approach for attacking detection. While it needs experienced and trained security professionals, it also requires two components: vast data and powerful analytics. These are also useful for successful hunting.
Although the new generation of security technology can recognize more advanced threats, the Human Brain is still in the top place and works as the best detection engine. Usually, automated detection techniques can be predicted, and it is not unaware of the hackers. That’s why they create new techniques to bypass, evade or hide from automated security tools. Therefore, when discussing an effective threat-hunting service, you should know that human threat-hunters are crucial.
We know that proactive hunting relies on human intervention and interaction. That is why success relies on the person who is hunting via the data. People who are
Intrusion analysts should contain the required expertise which helps to detect sophisticated targeted attacks. In addition, they should have the essential security resources that respond to any discovery of unusual behavior.
A Wealth of Data:
The service should be capable of collecting and storing granular system events data to offer absolute visibility into all endpoints and network assets. A security service uses a scalable cloud infrastructure for aggregating real-time analysis and performing this on big data sets.
You need to ensure that threat hunting solutions can cross-reference internal organizational data with modern threat intelligence. Moreover, you need to confirm that the solution can deploy sophisticated tools for analyzing and correlating harmful actions. These activities need time, resources, and dedication. In most cases, organizations don’t have enough staff. Besides, they are unable to operate 24/7 threat hunting operations continuously.
However, there is nothing to be worried about as the managed security solutions come with the correct resources, including data, necessary people, and analytical tools. This help to hunt for hidden threats and abnormal network activity.
How Does Extended Storage Help with Threat Hunting?
If you retain the security data for a long time, it will help in extracting developed visibility and threat context from historical and real-time data. Moreover, it supports the accuracy of the investigation. Teams can look for hidden threats and uncover these in the environment with the help of the extended storage of security data. Besides, they can remove APTs or advanced persistent threats using security data. In this case, the sifting via the data is required to detect irregularities for getting potential suggestions regarding malicious behavior.
You can use disparate data sets and correlate these when you ingest & retain security data in a repository in terms of getting new insights. Thus, you can understand the environment clearly. The unification of multiple log sources, such as security detections and threat intelligence, enables the hunters to define in a better way. Moreover, this helps narrow the detection scope for matching adversary techniques and behaviors, resulting in fewer false positives. As soon as you enable the extended storage & management with enriched security telemetry, security teams can get the required visibility to boost the speed of detection and response of potential threats.
What makes a great threat hunter?
A threat hunter refers to a security analyst who can use manual or machine-assisted techniques to detect, isolate, and neutralize APTs that automated security tools don’t detect. They should undergo threat hunting training if they want to gain more skills. In addition, they need to obtain a threat hunting certification, including CCTHP standing for Certified Cyber Threat Hunting Professional or Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH).
Threat hunters need to report to the information security director, whose job is to report to CISO or the chief information security officer. If any threat hunter works in SOC or security operations center, they should report to the SOC manager.
These are a few essential skills which are good to have including:-
Data analytics and reporting: It includes pattern recognition, technical writing, data science, problem-solving, and research.
Operating systems and networks knowledge: They should know the inner and outer things of organizational systems and networks.
Information security experience: It includes malware reverse engineering, adversary tracking, and endpoint security. Besides, they should understand clearly the past and current TTPs that attackers use.
Programming language fluency: They need to know at least a compiled language and a scripting language. However, in recent times, the need for scripting language has been reduced due to modern tools.
Three tips to improve threat hunting:
You should know that cyber-attacks and data breaches cost organizations a lot of money per year. So, follow the tips if you want your organization to detect the threats in an improved way.
Identify the organization’s “normal”:
It is essential for threat hunters to sift through anomalous activities. Besides, they must be able to detect the actual threats. Therefore, they have to understand their organization’s normal operational activities. To accomplish this, the threat hunting team must collaborate with key personnel within IT and outside of it to gather important data and insights. As a result, they can know what threat is, what unusual means, or what is normal. It is possible to automate the process with UEBA, a technology to display normal operation conditions for an environment.
Observe, orient, decide, act (OODA):
They borrow the strategy from the military in cyber warfare.
Observe: It gathers logs from IT and security systems.
Orient: It cross-checks data against the information which is already available.
Decide: As per the incident status, it can detect the proper action course.
Act: When there is a case of attack, it executes the response plan. The strategy prevents similar attacks that may occur in the future.
Enough appropriate resources:
If there is a threat-hunting team, it must be the following:
Personnel: The team must have an experienced cyber threat hunter.
Systems: The basic threat-hunting infrastructure gathers security events.
Tools: These are software used to detect anomalies and track down attackers.
Practices For Ransomware Threat Hunting:
Monitor And Analyze Security Data with Automation:
This practice may sound like a cliché, but you should know that this one is a simple thing that threat hunters usually do to unveil anomalies and suspicious events. Unfortunately, in most cases, security tools create excessive security data and alerts.
That’s why we recommend that security teams leverage artificial intelligence tools to correlate data from IoCs. Hence, SOAR, which stands for security orchestration, automation, and response, can analyze events and isolate hosts.
Keep An Eye on Insider Threat Detection:
Ransomware may strike from the inside. In these serious threats, threat hunting & UBA play a major role. They review data to know who accesses what things.
Scan proactively for Vulnerabilities:
Currently, many companies are using the cloud, due to which the risk of attack is increasing. Plenty of customers might fall into risk due to one vulnerability. Hackers exploit vulnerabilities in public applications to deploy ransomware and steal data. So, to hunt serious threats and weak spots, the security team needs to run internal and external scans to check whether the OS is out of date. Moreover, by doing so, they can know whether the devices require any security patches to get installed.
Threat hunting tools:
Data from these analytics tools are used as a foundation by hunters for a hunt. There are other tools for use, like packer analyzers used for the execution of network-based hunts.
Although, if you want to use SIEM and MDR tools, these will need essential sources. You need to make sure that the tools in the environment remain integrated. Whereas the integration confirms that the ideas of IoA and IoC can offer enough hunting direction.
MDR or Managed detection and response:
This threat hunting tool uses proactive threat hunting and threat intelligence to identify and help in getting rid of the threats. As a result, it decreases the dwell time of attacks. Besides, this security solution can offer quick responses to attacks within the network.
The mix of SIM or security information management and SEM or security event management is called SIEM or security information and event management. This is because it can monitor in real-time. Besides, SIEM can analyze events and track and logging of security data. In addition, it uncovers user-behavior anomalies that can help in the deep investigation.
Threat Hunting Challenges:
The threat hunters’ main challenges will intensify due to the evolution of the hackers’ tricks, processes, and tactics. The threat hunters can detect not only random malware attacks but also focused professional and customized attacks. But to enhance hypotheses, and perform investigation, a lot of time is required, whereas the adversary keeps moving fast.
If there is the right data set in the correct format, the job of threat hunters will be more effective. Moving rapidly between metadata, enriched flow records, and packet-level data is essential to go to the ends. If there are perfect automated security tools, these can fight against attackers and beat them to the punch.
There may not be enough standardization and infrastructure built around threat hunting, and it is one of the challenges they face. Practices of threat hunting have been produced independently at different organizations. Therefore, some standard guidelines and protocols exist for threat hunters. But remember that making more standardization for the process might unintentionally give intelligence to the bad actors.
Difference between threat hunting and threat intelligence:
Threat intelligence is a data set containing information related to attempted or successful intrusions. Automated security systems gather these and then analyze them using ML and AI.
Threat hunting takes the help of threat intelligence to carry out a system-wide search for poor actors. We can say, in other words, that the starting of threat hunting starts where threat intelligence ends.
A successful threat hunt can detect threats they haven’t spotted yet. In this case, threat indicators work as a hypothesis for a hunt. These are virtual fingerprints that are left by malware or an attacker, a strange IP address, phishing emails, or other unusual network traffic.
Threat Hunting is a type of iterative approach with the help of which you can identify the threats on the web. It is a process to remove threats that evaded traditional security tools. In this case, you should know that threats like malware or attacks can infiltrate any business’s network, due to which your personal information can get stolen.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is meant by threat hunting?
Its target is to track regular activities and traffic across the network. Threat hunting also investigates anomalies to check whether any malicious activity is occurring.
What is the need for threat hunting?
It is essential because sophisticated threats can get past automated cybersecurity.
What are the four basic stages of threat?
There are four categories of threats which are classified as— direct, indirect, veiled, and conditional.