What is cyber threat hunting?

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What is threat hunting in cyber security?

Threat hunting is a cybersecurity technique where threat hunters scour networks, systems, and devices for anomalies to proactively search for cyber threats. Proactive threat hunting is an important measure that allows analysts to deep dive into the attack surface and expose malicious threats. These advanced threats have often successfully infiltrated the initial endpoint security layers undetected.

Unlike threat detection, threat hunting is not a reactive approach. The threat hunting process uses preemptive techniques to monitor systems and information in conjunction with threat intelligence to identify and prioritize suspicious activity. Its core focus is to prevent sophisticated cyberattacks and advanced persistent threats from wreaking havoc within the network.

How does threat hunting work and what are the steps?

Cyber threat hunting techniques involve 5 main steps to complete a successful campaign which include hypothesis, trigger, threat intel data, threat investigation, and response.

Hypothesis

A threat hunt begins with developing a hypothesis. The campaign sets out to explore a threat hunter’s ideas, statements, or educated guesses on what malicious activity is occurring, how and why the threat actors are permeating an environment. Threat hunters use MITRE ATT&CK Framework, tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP), indicators of compromise (IOC), and threat intelligence to better understand adversary behavior to form these hypotheses. An example of an adversary’s technique includes network lateral movement, a common behavior cyber attackers rely on to maliciously sleuth for targeted data and assets.

Trigger

When an alert is triggered, the threat hunters use this trigger as a guide when identifying patterns and commonalities between incidents. Advanced threat detection tools make it possible for threat hunters to notice triggered alerts so they can begin the threat investigation process. A threat hunter’s developed hypothesis can also serve as a trigger within proactive hunting as new threats emerge.

Threat intelligence data collection

The compilation of threat intelligence data is driven by threat hunting tools such as Security Information and Event Management (SIEM), Managed Detection and Response (MDR), and Security Orchestration, Automation, and Response (SOAR). This library of security data supports the threat detection, investigation, and analysis process.

Threat investigation

The threat investigation process relies on threat detection technologies to deep dive into suspicious activity to determine malicious behavior from benign, false alerts. Along with the security tools mentioned above, Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) assists in providing contextual information gathered from monitored end-user devices.

Response

Once suspicious activity is deemed malicious, security teams use the collected threat intelligence data to prepare an incident response strategy to take action against the confirmed attack. This could include deploying software patches, running a malware removal tool, or configuring changing in a cloud-based security platform.

Understanding threat hunting models

The threat hunting cybersecurity methodologies can be categorized into 2 models:

Hypothesis-driven threat investigation

In this model, threat hunting is led by a hypothesis that is founded on the threat hunter's observations, threat intelligence, and developed years of experience. Hypothesis-driven threat hunting is followed by 3 key steps, formulating a hypothesis, implementing the predictions, and testing the results. Threat hunters focus on the relevancy, actionability, and testability of their hypotheses. Hypotheses should factor in the current industry trends, the needs of the organization, and accessibility to security tools.

Intelligence-based threat hunting

In a threat intelligence driven model, threat hunting focuses on tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP), indicators of compromise (IOC), indicators of attack (IOA), and sourcing threat intelligence data to fully comprehend threats, monitor triggers, and expose ongoing attacker activity.

Threat hunting vs threat intelligence: what’s the difference?

Cyber threat intelligence is a set of collected data which is processed and analyzed to better understand adversary instructions. Intelligence information can be gathered and investigated with automated systems by way of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI).

Cyber threat hunting is a practice that relies on threat intelligence to carry out network-wide campaigns. These threat hunting campaigns center on seeking out the cyber attackers within systems. Hunting threats is a process dependent on the threat intelligence data retrieved from critical security tools.

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