What is Cyber Threat Hunting?

Cyber threat hunting can be defined as the practice of proactively searching for malicious actors and contents yet undetected in the network system. It takes a deep dive into the environment to find out cyber threats which may have somehow bypassed the best of endpoint security defences.Many times, cyber criminals sneak into systems without the knowledge of the user or the company. This mostly happens because no system is completely secure or protected. Thus, threat actors stealthily collect private and sensitive data and scratch the surface to gain login credentials that enable lateral movement in the environment. So once the cybercriminals escape detection and successfully penetrate an organisation’s defence system, it becomes difficult to identify and stop the rampage. 

This is where cyber threat hunting is extremely valuable to thwart such attempts. Including this in your defence strategy can boost the response to unknown, unresolved and undetected threats. Threat hunting experts look for any kind of suspicious activity rather than wait for cyber attacks to occur. It helps companies to be one step ahead of the threat actors and respond in a timely manner. 

Threat Hunting Process

The threat hunting process involves different stages in which the expert or a team of experts execute multiple functions at each stage. 

  • Setting Objective

In this stage, the threat hunters in collaboration with key decision-makers should set the objective for the mission. The answer to why the hunting process should be initiated can be made clear in this stage. Discussions over the most important assets, the impact of cyber attacks on these assets, and the present vulnerabilities can be helpful. Experts suggest small but object oriented threat hunting has a higher chance of success than a big directionless hunting process. 

  • Data Collection and Analysis

The data collected should be of high quality. Incomplete or poor data quality can impede the success of threat hunting. Thus, solutions such as Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) should be used in the environment for recording valuable data.It is essential to note that threat hunting should be a continuous process. This way the past threat hunt can help in achieving new objectives. Data analysis is often considered as one of the difficult stages in the process. Why? Because the collected data is more often than not encrypted and encoded. Hunters should however use advanced techniques to analyse every bit of information collected. Generally, hunters select a trigger for further investigation. Furthermore, efforts are made to find anomalies to prove or disprove hypotheses. 

  • Resolution and Response

Once the analysis is completed, threat hunters plan to respond to the threat in the best possible manner. They develop short-term as well as long-term solutions against the threat. The key objective of this stage is to eliminate the attack as fast as possible. In addition, measures are taken to prevent any future attack of this kind. 

The information is shared with other teams of the security program as well. This helps in better-coordinated defence development. Plus, it paves the way for future investigations and deep analysis. 

Threat Hunting Elements

  • Methodology
    For a successful and productive cyber threat hunting process, the methodology used is important. It must be proactive, continuous and dynamic. In other words, a single dimensional methodology in the ever-evolving threat landscape won’t help companies. 
  • Technology
    Business organisations with cybersecurity programs already have in place strong endpoint security solutions plus automated detection tools. The threat hunting process, however, demands the use of the latest and advanced technologies to find anomalies, malicious content, abnormal patterns and traces of malicious activities. 
  • Personnel
    Cyber threat professionals will have extensive knowledge about the processes, technology and tools. Beyond that, these personnel will be highly capable of problem solving and finding and combating hidden malicious actors and their activities. 
  • Intelligence

Access to global intelligence helps the threat hunters to find existing indicators of compromise. 

Threat Hunting Methodology

  • Intelligence – Intelligence-based threat hunting is a reactive form of hunting. In this type, the experts first assess and learn about the intelligence received such as indicators of attacks, IP address, domains etc. Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) provide network artifacts which are a great source of information.
  • Hypotheses – Majorly, three types of hypotheses are used namely: Analytics-based, Intelligence-based and Situation-driven. The large volume of data collected means threat hunters need to use machine learning and automation techniques. 
  • Indicators of Attack – This is used in the proactive threat hunting process. The global resources are used to identify Advanced Persistent Threats and malware. 
  • Hybrid – Hybrid threat hunting combines all the methods discussed above. The hunt can be customized in this manner for different situations. 

Threat Hunting Myths

At this point, it is important to note that there are many myths surrounding cyber threat hunting. This blog aims to bust them all as it will provide you with more clarity regarding the process. So, here we go!

  • Complete Automation is Required: Threat hunting can only be done by a human analyst. This is true because the process is proactive and hypothesis-based, and automation tools are unable to perform this function. Besides, the main purpose of threat hunting is to find lurking threats missed by the reactive automated alerting mechanisms in place. The tools and technology can provide you with an alert which can be the starting point for hunters. Further investigation and analysis will be required to get the valuable information. 
  • Vast Data and Advanced Tools are a Must : Cyber threat hunting may seem like a new concept but it isn’t. Security experts have been conducting threat hunting for a long time using simple techniques and less data. Of course, the advanced tools can simplify procedures and help experts hunt at scale. But you can certainly begin the process even without them. 
  • Hunting is Only for Qualified and Experienced: There are different types of hunting approaches with different levels of complexity and implementation dynamics. Although many techniques take many years to master, there are easier techniques which can be learned pretty quickly. People can learn threat hunting only by doing it, asking the right questions and learning continuously. 
  • Measuring Cyber Threat Hunting Success: Threat hunting is possible when people, technology and knowledge come together. It is essential to evaluate the success of cyber threat hunting. How can you do that? The following metrics will help:
  • Tracking the rate at which the number of incidents occurs
  • Measuring the number of hosts compromised
  • Determining the dwell time of incidents found
  • Identifying logging gaps and correcting them
  • Identifying vulnerabilities
  • False positive rate of transitioned hunts

All in all, as you can see, cyber threat hunting is necessary to outsmart cyber attackers. Therefore, invest in developing a threat hunting team or partner with third-party consultants to protect your business against growing cyber crimes.