How to Build a Proactive Threat Hunting Strategy

April 14, 2022 | By IANS Faculty

Security teams must work to get in front of cyber threats and provide the organization with the best chance to respond should an attack occur. Your organization is better protected when you actively hunt threats that can slip past initial network defenses. An efficient proactive threat hunting strategy can lower the risk of information security compromises, data breaches and other serious cyberattacks.  

What Is Proactive Threat Hunting? 

Proactive threat hunting is the process of looking for previously unknown or ongoing non-remediated security threats lurking unnoticed within your organization’s network. These threats can sneak past your defenses and go undetected for days, weeks and even months, allowing hackers to discreetly collect confidential data and breach information. 

By being proactive and scanning for undetected threats, threat hunting goes to the next level, digging deep to find anything malicious that may put login credentials, confidential information and other data at risk. 

To stop advanced threats from compromising your organization, your threat hunting program must be implemented within your security strategy to ensure a rapid response to potential risks. 

Benefits of Threat Hunting 

  • Improves response speed - For incident response and management, time is critical. The earlier threats are identified and contained, the less damage they can cause and the faster incident response teams can get to work. 
  • Shortens investigation time – If your security team has extensive data from threat hunting, then security incident investigations can start with enough knowledge to cut your resolution time. 
  • Provides deeper, holistic security knowledge - Threat hunting helps provide a comprehensive view of the organization’s overall security posture, further reducing risks. 
  • Keeps security posture current and improves quality - Building a threat hunting process requires the latest technology tools and certifications. Adding a threat hunter helps your existing staff become more knowledgeable in threat management. 
  • Mitigates organizational risk - Breaches impact the entire organization. Depending on the type of security incident, operational damage can include:  
    • Fraud and financial compromise 
    • Expensive network repairs  
    • Damaged competitiveness and reputation 
    • Costly settlements 
    • Regulatory and compliance fines  

     

READ: Setting Up a Successful Vulnerability Management Program 


Threat Hunting Methodologies/Types 

There are three main threat hunting methodologies.  

Hypothesis-Driven Investigation 

This type of threat hunting is triggered by new threats identified via crowdsourced information on current hacker tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs). Once identified, hypothesis-driven investigations allow threat hunters to look for the presence of specific TTPs, attacker characteristics and behaviors in their own network to uncover unknown threats. 

Known Indicators of Compromise (IoCs) or Attack 

Another approach to threat hunting uses tactical threat intelligence to record known IoCs or attacks linked to new cyber threats. These indicators serve as triggers to discover hidden threats or malicious behavior persisting quietly on the network. 

Machine Learning Investigation 

Threat hunting may also involve the combination of machine learning and advanced data analysis to process huge quantities of data and detect irregular activity. If any anomalies are discovered, they are considered threat hunting leads that must be examined further to confirm the presence of sophisticated threats. 

Threat Hunting Process 

Threat hunting can be one the most effective methods to protect your organization from breaches and compromise, but it requires a strong process. Key steps include. 

1. Trigger 

The trigger identifies a specific network area or system where threat hunters should further investigate possible threats. Advanced detection technology identifies triggers from suspicious behavior throughout the network, including fileless malware, which is one of the most common ways hackers get through existing network security. 

2. Investigation 

Tools like endpoint detection and response technology, malware analysis sandboxes, server logs and more are used during the investigation for a deep analysis of potential security compromises. The threat hunter continues the investigation until the activity is confirmed as benign or an entire analysis of the malicious activity is complete. 

3. Resolution 

The final step in the threat hunting process requires all intelligence on malicious activity to be communicated to security and operational resources. This enables rapid response to the threat, ensuring security risks are mitigated as effectively as possible. Data from the benign and malicious activity may be provided to automated technology to help further protect the network. 

Build An Effective Threat Hunting Strategy 

Although there are several challenges associated with cyber threat hunting, such as budget constraints and a lack of dedicated resources and skills, it's an extremely valuable component of your organization's security strategy. Proactive threat hunting can mean the difference between finding advanced security threats hiding in your network or having to respond to a major security breach. Keep these tips in mind as you build a threat hunting strategy.

  • Before you start threat hunting, you need to budget resources for threat hunting staff and innovative technology to accurately identify, analyze, and record threat investigations. 
  • It's best to build a threat hunting roadmap that lists your critical information assets in order of importance and risk. This allows you to focus threat hunting resources on the most at-risk areas. 
  • Throughout each step of threat hunting - trigger, investigation and resolution - you need the ability to gather large quantities of data and record suspicious activity. Investing in dedicated staff and automation is worthwhile to protect your organization. 

With a comprehensive cyber threat hunting strategy, you can stay in front of hackers and dive deep to discover even the stealthiest threats. Instead of allowing attackers to lurk in the background, collecting sensitive information from your network, proactively hunt them down and mitigate the risks of a full-scale cyberattack. 

Although reasonable efforts will be made to ensure the completeness and accuracy of the information contained in our blog posts, no liability can be accepted by IANS or our Faculty members for the results of any actions taken by individuals or firms in connection with such information, opinions, or advice. 


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