What is Threat Hunting?
Cybercrime groups are now building hard-to-detect tools and deploying techniques making it quite difficult for organizations to tell if they are being intruded.
Passive methods of detecting signs of intrusion are becoming less practical as environments are complicated, and no method or technology is able to absolutely detect malicious activities; thus, humans must “go for a hunt.”
Threats are conducted by humans; threat actors are persistent, and they often manage to dodge network defense. For instance, the actors behind an advanced persistent threat (APT) manage to gain unauthorized access to a network and operate for a long period. Persistent and funded threat actors will not be caught by the security measures taken on the network.
Threat hunting is a proactive method with a focus on the pursuit of attacks and the evidence that attackers leave behind when they are conducting reconnaissance, malware or data exfiltration attacks. Instead of waiting for technological methods to detect an attack and alert us, we can employ human analytical skills and knowledge of environment context to detect unauthorized activities much faster and more efficiently.
Threat hunting makes the premature discovery of an attack possible, and it aims to stop the attack before it is carried out successfully.
Threat hunting is not a new concept but it has been a trending topic in the cybersecurity industry lately. As the name suggests, threat hunting is about proactively looking for intruders and signs of potential future intrusions instead of using passive methods of detecting threats, and waiting for obvious signs of an intrusion as these methods are becoming outdated.
Threat Hunting Process
Why cyber-attacks happen?
Threat actors including cybercrime organizations, nation-state hackers, and hackers for hire have various motivations to attack an organization:
- Financial gain: Threat actors steal information for direct or indirect financial gain; for instance, hackers steal credit card data to financially profit from them. Hackers can also compromise a corporate database to gain access to personal information and sell it on the dark web.
- Theft of intellectual property: Hackers steal information on military or industrial secrets, trade secrets, and infringements on products such as aircraft, car, weapon, and electronic parts, sometimes intending to spy on adversaries.
- Disruption of critical infrastructure: Hackers disrupt or sabotage systems such as electric power generation and distribution, water supplies, and transportation systems with to create chaos.
- Political statement: Hackers and “hacktivists” attack sites to make a political statement; back in 2016, the hacktivist group, known as “Anonymous,” threatened to attack Donald Trump’s website who was, at the time, a United States presidential candidate.
- Revenge: Revenge hacking sometimes happens when companies dismiss employees who have confidential information that can be used to cause great damage to the company.
- Fame: In the hacker community, hackers are respected and recognized for compromising sites with a high-security level. However, the purpose remains the same; compromising sensitive data or disruption of business operations or sometimes both.
Everyone nowadays is aware of the fact that security breaches happen regularly, and they cause great damage. Security breaches have become so ordinary that they are now being ignored, and this growing number of data breaches makes us question whether we can avoid or prevent them at all.
Detection & Respond
So, what is Threat Hunting exactly?
Threat hunting is, quite simply, the pursuit of abnormal activity on servers and endpoints that may be signs of compromise, intrusion, or exfiltration of data.
The concept of threat hunting is not something new. However, for many organizations the very idea of threat hunting is fresh. The common mindset regarding intrusion is to wait until you discover that threat actors have intruded. With this approach, you will have to wait for approximately 220 days between the intrusion and the first time you would be notified of it, and the notification often comes from a third-party such as law enforcement. Through threat hunting, threats can be detected by relying on human expertise to find evidence instead of sitting back and waiting for technological methods to alert you. Threat hunters do not just sit and wait for an alert or indicators of compromise (IOCs); they are actively looking for threats to prevent them and minimize their damage. In threat hunting, we must look for anomalies — something that deviates from what is normal.
To conduct this procedure effectively, we require tools that give us a granular vision in the procedure, especially in the operating systems of every endpoint and server. Things such as launched processes, opened files, and network communications can be a good source of insight.
Why organizations must include threat hunting in their security strategy?
Threat hunting is executed in organizations with security awareness by some means, usually based on analysts’ hunches. The challenging matter for organizations is to make threat hunting an accessible, continuous, and consistent process, as well as including threat hunting in the workflow in a way that could complement the current security measures.
Security measures of organizations with sufficient security awareness are often seen to be accompanied by threat hunting. However, to thoroughly turn threat hunting to their advantage, organizations require to invest in the security infrastructure that allows threat hunters to execute and deploy threat hunting practices and tools efficiently. The type of security structure required to fully develop threat hunting, includes tools, experts and support, and approval from decision-makers.
The threat hunting team should not be regarded as the measure that comes and fixes everything only when threats happen, instead they should be a permanent part of the security strategy.
Everyone can include threat hunting in their security strategy, but there is a certain acumen required to get good return on investment from it and turn it into a continuous and consistent process. there are various security maturity models available for organizations to audit their security measures.
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