The increasing rate of global connectivity and cloud services to save sensitive data and share personal information have increased the need for cybersecurity. Simple firewalls and antivirus software once served as the sole security measures used by organizations. Unfortunately, the increase in sophisticated cybercriminals’ activities puts every organization at the risk of cyber-attack or data breaches. Since data attack compromises data integrity and breeds distrust in any organization, there is the need to employ technical measures to monitor third-party risk and defend computing systems from malicious attacks. Threat Hunting and other penetration testing activities are at the forefront of this.
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What is Cyber Threat Hunting?
Cyber threat hunting is a prescient or proactive search for malicious attackers lurking within a network through manual and machine-assisted techniques. It digs thoroughly to search for malware that has slipped past the initial security defenses. As a predictive element that works on the assumption of a breach, threat hunting uses new threat intelligence to check collected data to identify potential cyber threats.
Why use Cyber Threat Hunting?
With the increasing rate of cybercrimes, security personnel believes that no security system is impenetrable. In many cases, attackers have been found quietly collecting data, login credentials, and confidential materials in a network for months without the network detecting.
Therefore, cyber threat hunting is established as a layered security strategy to develop and validate hypotheses through an active network search. Cyber hunting vehemently assumes that a breach in the network has or will occur and works till every threat has been killed. With the influence of machine learning and user/entity behavior analytics (UEBA), skilled security professionals use threat hunting to effectively improve the detection threats and respond to potential attacks on a network or computing system.
No doubt, threat hunting is an effective way of improving an organization’s security. It is crucial to have the specialized skills, knowledge of the cyber terrain, and the correct data to effectively hunt threats and find hidden malicious activity in the network.
Cyber Threat Hunting Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures
When it comes to threat hunting, there’s a whole range of procedures that one can follow. Below we examine the various tactics, techniques, and procedures to follow when carrying out cyber threat hunting.
In cybersecurity, tactics are the steps and actions taken to carry out threat hunting, below are just a few options of different approaches.
- Understand the network’s routines and architecture
- Know the threats by performing threats modelling
- Automated dark web scanning
- Monitor the activities and access of endpoints
- Enhance network visibility through the use of monitoring solutions like Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS)
- Perform internal reconnaissance
Over the years, various techniques have been put in place to identify the threats in a system. We’ve outlined the most common threat hunting techniques.
Searching is the simplest threat hunting technique. It involves the query of data for specific artifacts through the use of carefully defined search criteria. Using this technique requires high accuracy as an extensive search for general artifacts may produce numerous results of little use. In contrast, a particular one may produce few results that aren’t sufficient to conclude. In essence, a security professional who uses the search technique must make reasonable determinations to know where to begin their search. This reasonable determination can be generated from the correlative results of environmental data sources like flow records, alerts, logs, digital images, memory dumps, and system events.
The clustering technique functions as unsupervised machine learning that uses advanced search techniques to make correlations within a vast data set. This technique operates as an analyst and compiles a report based on the parameters that have been set out. It finds patterns and seemingly unrelated correlations, then compiles them together to form a starting point for cyber threat hunting. In essence, it is a measurement technique that focuses on isolating groups (clusters) of similar information based on some specific features drawn out of a larger set of information. By utilizing machine learning, this technique manages and analyses a set of data that does not explicitly share behavioral statistics. Security professionals usually use this technique because it helps find aggregate behaviors like common occurrences within a network.
This technique runs several unique artifacts through a series of elimination filters and then sees the one that appears together. This technique gives the professional a clue about the relationship between the artifacts and the possibility of interoperability between them. Although clustering and grouping seem similar, they are different. While grouping operates based on specific criteria, clustering operates on available information. Clustering uses several data to identify the information set that needs to be investigated with the grouping technique.
This technique involves an inspection of an information set of similar values with the hope of discovering similar details in the information provided. The effectiveness of this technique diminishes when a large data set is involved, while its effectiveness is highly seen when the input has been carefully filtered.
The procedure is the approach carried out to fulfill threat hunting. Below is the most practical procedural approach. This is more the scientific approach and methodologies than the actual step-by-step tactics. Each tactic can house within it all of the following steps.
- Hypotheses: Cyber threat hunting begins with the threat hunter’s assumption of the threat and the proposed technique needed to find them. Most times, hunters use environmental knowledge, threat intelligence, and personal experience of malware to develop a logical path to detecting the activity of the malware in the system.
- Data Processing: At this stage, the threat hunter creates a plan to collect, centralise and process the required data. Software like the Security Information and Event Management can be used to provide insight and also track the record of activities.
- Triggering: Advanced detection tools point the hunters to investigate a specific area of the network when the hypotheses function as a trigger.
- Investigation: Hunters use technologies like Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) to dig into the potential malware in a system and ultimately confirm them as malicious or not.
- Resolution: Information gathered from the investigation is sent to the security technology for resolution. The security technology may remove the malware files, restore the deleted files, update firewall rules and change system configurations.
Cyber Threat Hunting is a proactive approach towards identifying cyber threats in a network through advanced detection technology. It’s a practice incorporated to stop the influence of malicious actors in the network. To effectively employ this defense strategy, threat hunters must incorporate result-enabling tactics, techniques, and procedures while ensuring that the network is safe and secured.