What is Cyber Threat Hunting?

Cyber threat hunting, or threat hunting, is the proactive search for cyber threats or weaknesses which could leave your IT infrastructure vulnerable to attack. Malicious software and viruses used by cyber-criminals these days can lay dormant within the network and go undetected for days by commonplace cybersecurity protocols - leaving your entire system open to ongoing insidious damage from the inside.

Traditionally, the idea of a threat hunting platform relied solely on the skills and time of analytical cybersecurity professionals but those skills are now in high demand due to a pronounced lack of qualified technicians with adequate experience, education, and instincts. This makes threat hunting much more difficult and time-consuming - not to mention the expected human error involved with outsourcing effective analysts.

These days, threat actors are just as sophisticated as those responsible for stopping them - which forces enterprises to evaluate hacker intentions and capabilities while monitoring for vulnerabilities without any of the necessary threat hunting tools or skills to effectively do so. There are open source and commercially available threat hunting tools, which we have discussed in this article.

Why do Organizations Need Threat Hunting?

Cyber-attacks are consistently growing more sophisticated and threat actors don’t rest. Although the majority of your automated cybersecurity in place can securely deal with threats, it’s not a fail-safe solution. This is because cyber-attacks continue to evolve and become smarter and harder to detect, and given enough time and resources, they can break past your automated defense solutions. Attackers often lurk for weeks and months before being discovered. In this team, valuable and confidential information may be accessed and set the stage for a significant data breach.

Effective cyber threat hunting is a means to help organizations shed light on the areas of their cybersecurity that need extra attention. Ultimately, reducing the amount of potential damage that can be done by attackers - which is a lot. In fact, in 2022 IBM’s “Cost of a Data Breach Report” found that the average cost of a data breach was USD 4.35 million. So, your cybersecurity can no longer afford to be reactive. Cyber threat hunting is a proactive approach to identifying vulnerabilities and threats before an attack can cause immense damage.

What Are the Objectives of Threat Hunting?

The best way to determine which cyber threat hunting platform is suited to your business needs is to evaluate the potential attacker’s goals, capabilities, and opportunities:

  • Goals: The type of data you collect and store, the size of your enterprise, and the amount of money that flows through your business daily are indicators of your level of risk and the types of threats your system is vulnerable to. Determining if a cyber-attack will target your customers, and your finances, or hold your business for ransom, will help you hone in on the methods of attack you will likely experience. A formative threat hunting platform solution will prioritize this detection.
  • Capabilities: Staying up to date on the latest cybersecurity trends will help alert your threat hunting platform to understand what attacks might be launched against your network. For example, if you have determined that your most valuable company asset is customer PII, then researching the newest and most successful cyber-attacks aimed at the theft of customer information will give you a head start towards identifying any security gaps in your network.
  • Opportunities: Closing the door on known and unknown vulnerabilities or threats before they can be used against you is an important way of proactively protecting your network from cyber threats - such as ransomware. Falling victim to the same exploits as other well-known companies imply a lack of awareness and professionalism to customers as well as a passive commitment to network security for your brand in general.

How Threat Hunting Works? - 6 Steps

There are specific steps that can be taken in order for the process to work and the actual threat to be found. These steps can be detailed into six simple steps as follows:

6 Steps of cyber Threat Hunting

  • Step One: Form a Hypothesis - This is where threat hunters will establish what type of threat they’re looking for. The hypothesis will be informed by using analysis of previous malware attacks, trends in cybersecurity attacks and the existence of critical areas of attack. Threat hunters must make use of threat intelligent techniques to locate and develop a plan of action.
  • Step Two: Data Collection - No adequate threat hunting can be done without a sufficient amount of data collection first. Information must be centralized and organized in order to critically analyze the data to determine if the hypothesis is benign or not.
  • Step Three: Critical Analysis - This phase of the process is crucial and will provide the information necessary to mitigate any potential threats. Patterns and processes must be carefully monitored for anomalies and suspicious behaviors.
  • Step Four: Critical Response - Time is of the essence when working with threat hunting and a rapid response is necessary to ensure your network’s safety. This could include measures such as disabling users, implementing security patches, blocking IP addresses, updating authorization privileges, altering network configurations or introducing new identification requirements.
  • Step Five: Isolation and Elimination - This step sees the threat is appropriately dealt with in isolation. Using advanced threat detection sandboxing techniques will make sure that suspicious malware is quarantined away from other files - reducing the risk of damage to the server and automatically mitigating the threat.
  • Step Six: Evaluation - This is the last step that involves understanding the techniques and threat hunting practices that are vital to your business and implementing stricter controls over the areas in your network that run a higher risk of cyber-attacks. This allows your IT team to predict and proactively safeguard your network before any damage can be brought about. The best threat hunting tool is preventative measures.

Once these steps are involved, your threat hunting team will be ready to fight off malware, but there are more threat hunting tools and techniques that you can use.

What Tools and Techniques Are Used for Cyber Threat Hunting?

Cybersecurity experts use critical thinking, manual forensic investigation, and automated threat hunting tools in order to protect enterprises. Threat hunters are responsible for seeking out insider threats and outsider attack surfaces in order to hunt down potential attackers or vulnerabilities before they can become a problem - executing a well-rehearsed incident response (IR) plan. A few critical elements of any cyber threat hunting mission are:

  • Data analytics & reporting
  • OS & network knowledge
  • Information security experience

Threat Hunting Techniques and Methodologies, Evolved

Today’s cyber threat hunting has evolved from more traditional and manual methods. Thanks to advancements in technology, we are able to threat hunt in a more effective and efficient manner. Coupled with advances in automation, machine learning and behavior analytics, cyber threat hunting is imperative in an organization’s modern cybersecurity strategy. Here are some core techniques used today:

  • Baselining. In its name, this technique helps threat hunters understand what a normal IT operation looks like within their organization. Ie. The normal acts as a baseline for comparison. Baselining is critical as it helps establish a clear difference between malicious and non-malicious events to identify anomalies.
  • Attack-Specific Hunts. Compared to baselining, where we look at the overall environment, this technique instead looks at and tracks specific malicious activity faster by focusing on a threat actor or threat itself. It is often used in conjunction with baselining to get better results as on its own, it can be limiting.
  • Time Sensitivity. All threat hunting is constrained by time. Time is valuable when protecting against malicious attacks. Hunters should validate their baseline terms periodically.
  • Getting Help with Third-Party Sources. Threat hunting can be overwhelming as there is so much to look at and protect from. Having some help can mean your organization is better protected and can produce more successful hunt results. These third-party sources can help with things like geolocation, encrypted traffic metadata and ruling out false positive leads.

Different types of Threat Hunting 

Different types of Threat Hunting

Threat hunting will differ from organizations, industries and environments, but many of the techniques and core threat hunting strategies remain mostly the same. The three types include: 

  • Structured threat hunting: This type of threat hunting is more organized. It is based on an indicator of attack and tactics, techniques and procedures of an attacker. It aims to gain a better understanding of the techniques that could be used by attackers. Structured threat hunting is usually based on previous methods of attacks found, so it is more driven by a particular technique. 
  • Unstructured threat hunting: An unstructured hunt is primarily based on indicators of compromise, initiated based on a trigger. This trigger will let threat hunting programs look for pre- and post-detection behavior. 
  • Situational threat hunting: A situational threat hunt comes from an internal risk assessment of vulnerabilities of an organization, unique to its IT environment. This type involves uniquely generated data from previous attack assessments to check if a similar situation might repeat itself. 

Professional Threat Hunting

Professional threat hunting platforms and vendors are the most reliant when it comes to protecting your business from cyber-threats. These expert threat hunting capabilities provide encompassing protection from stable and secure vendors who make it their priority to ensure your data is safe.

Sangfor’s Cyber Command is real-time threat intelligence, detection and response platform designed with the singular purpose of improving enterprise IT security and risk posture and presents several advantages when considering a threat hunting platform solution for your enterprise.

  • Cyber Command is a fully integrative system. Having the capacity to integrate with your existing software and multiple cybersecurity and cloud compatible products allow Cyber Command to be accessible and easy to deploy within your network.
  • Secure Access. While most open-source threat hunting tools can be deemed sketchy and unstable, Cyber Command provides reliable and secure protection for your data from a professional perspective and gives you ease of mind knowing your cybersecurity is in good hands.
  • Ease of Operation. The Cyber Command platform offers simplified operation and a holistic view of your entire network through an easily navigable dashboard as well as expert teams on-hand for every support need you might have.
  • Cost Efficient. Lastly, we know that the main reason open-source threat hunting is looked at before professional vendors is the implied cost of an expert threat hunting platform. Sangfor can easily mitigate those worries as they pride themselves on providing the most advanced and encompassing cybersecurity without breaking the bank.

Challenges in Threat Hunting

As threat hunting is a proactive activity, and one that not many may be familiar with to do optimally, it may come with challenges. Here are some common challenges:

  1. Not finding skilled hunters. Although threat hunting platforms have evolved, there is still some part that requires humans. Hiring the best and most skilled cyber threat hunters will mean they use the tools, techniques and software better.
  2. Gathering wrong or poor data. To properly identify hidden cyber threats and scope your organization out, it is critical to have the right security data in the first place. Having poor data will waste time and resources, leading to inefficient result.
  3. Using outdated threat intelligence. Threat hunters must be equipped with the most accurate attack tactics, techniques and procedures. It is therefore vital to generate an effective threat hunting hypothesis model and threat intelligence to enable them to analyze attack trends and better protect your organization.

Sangfor Cyber Command

Sangfor Cyber Command addresses all of the elements critical to threat hunting, and goes well beyond any open-source tools available on the market. Cyber Command is used by customers world-wide to significantly improve threat detection and response by automatically monitoring all internal network traffic See the Sangfor Cyber Command Platform and its encompassing hunting capabilities in action through the stories of our esteemed clients such as J&T ExpressSmartCar Hardware Vendor and Zotye Auto, who have all experienced first-hand the advanced security capabilities of Cyber Command.

Watch this video about what the Sangfor Cyber Command Platform actually is and how it works to provide elite and advanced threat detection and cybersecurity for your enterprise.


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