Cyber threat hunting involves proactively searching for hackers or malware lurking in your network and possibly going unnoticed. Cyber threat hunting is not like normal hunting. It requires professionals with exceptional patience, creativity and critical thinking. They may be listening quietly for sensitive information, siphoning data or trying to gain access to important data that could help them access vital information or assets.

Each organization requires additional cyber protections beyond the commercial cybersecurity solutions. Because no system can be 100% protected, this is a necessity. There is always a possibility that advanced threats could get through the layers of protection, no matter how sophisticated technology may be. Many threats can be stopped by basic hygiene and the proper implementation of firewalls as well as other augmented security system. Many threats can be stopped by basic hygiene and proper implementation of a firewalls and other augmented security systems.

Most organizations have had a security culture that is dependent on the security solution being implemented to protect their systems. This is dangerous because protection is often signature-based. Signature-based protection detects patterns based upon known threats. It is more difficult to detect new malware that has unique code.

What’s a Threat Hunter?

A threat hunter, a security professional who works in a Managed Security Service Providers (MSSP), or at the company’s Security Operations Center. Threat analysts are also known as threat hunters. use both manual and software techniques to detect potential incidents and ongoing threats to systems.

It is difficult and time-consuming to hunt for threats. This requires both a skilled professional in cybersecurity and enterprise operations. This requires knowledge of the business. It may be as easy as noticing traffic drop or increase in an unusual area of a network.

Advanced threats can be delicate because some (such exfiltration techniques), use covert channels and encryption methods. DNS Tunnelling is an example of this. Data is encoded in DNS queries and responses. It is almost identical to a normal connection. An experienced threat hunter will be able to spot anomalies like fluctuations in DNS traffic per domain, or large requests and responses.

Threat Hunter: Hunting Tools

Hunting for threats is very complicated and involves a lot of work. Without proper tools, even the most experienced hunter could fail. These are the essential items.

  • Baselines This is an indicator that should be set up before the detection process begins. These are extremely valuable. A baseline is a way to determine what traffic can pass through a network. Baselines allow you to easily identify anomalies that need investigation.
  • Data Every hacker needs to have access to the logins for devices in a network’s systems. Endpoints, servers, or databases are all examples of devices that can be considered important. These devices contain important data. A central point is one way to organize the data for analysis. It is essential to collect, correlate, and standardize data from all data points. Common tools for data collection include a Security Information and Event Management device (SIEM). A SIEM device can be a powerful weapon for threat hunters.
  • Threat intelligence Cybercriminals often cooperate by sharing malicious artifacts and codes. A rise in similar attacks means that there is a rise in companies identifying them. A threat intelligence system that is effective should be able to gather actionable information from multiple sources about the environment.

A hunter can spot signs of compromise and indicators of attacks (IOAs), within a network, with an efficient Intel system. This gives them ample time to take action.

What to look for during the Hunt

Every threat hunting process starts with the identification of prioritized intelligence needs (PIRs). Answers to PIR questions lead to appropriate response actions. Here are some examples:

Where does a threat originate?

Do daily alerts and a lot of logs that are being dealt with every day indicate an undetected cyber threat

What assets are most valuable to the company? How can hackers gain access to them?

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This type of high-level questioning will make it easy for threat hunters to find answers to specific information gaps. Other questions could include:

How many low-level alerts are connected to a specific threat?

Is there any deviation from logs for the past 30-60 days, as per current threat intelligence information?

Do you see any anomalies, such as strange commands being used?

Threat hunters should therefore look for data and analyze it as per the available tool. This will allow them to identify abnormalities and determine the best way to deal with active threats.

What Does Threat Hunting Look Like?

Threat hunting is an addition to the traditional process of identifying threats and reacting to them. While traditional methods analyze raw data to generate warnings and alerts, threat hunting uses specific queries and automation to extract leads from that data.

The extracted leads are then analyzed by human threat hunters. Professionals must be skilled at identifying signs that indicate malicious activity. All indicators identified are managed through the same pipeline.

Determining the Ideal Hunting Maturity Level

The following key factors are used to classify threat hunting programs into levels.

  1. The threat hunter must have the right experience and skills
  2. Quality of the information collected.
  3. Methods and tools used to collect and analyze data.

The initial maturity level has little or no data collection routine. Automated alerting is the only way to go for this organization. Alert resolution is the focus of human effort. This stage is when the organization is not capable of threat hunting even with an experienced hunter.

It takes work to attain a higher level, and there is a substantial difference in the results between different levels. An organization can, for example, use modified procedures to collect data at its procedural maturity level, making threat hunting possible.

HMM 0 Initial

  • Automated alerting is the mainstay of automated alerting.
  • There is very little or no routine data collection

HMM 1 Minimal

  • Searchers for threat intelligence indicators that incorporate threat intelligence
  • Moderate to high routine data collection

HMM 4 Leading

  • Automates most of the data analysis processes that are successful
  • High- or very high levels of routine data collection

HMM 3 Innovative

  • New data analysis methods are created
  • High- or very high levels of routine data collection

HMM 2 Procedural

Data analysis procedures that have been created by others are -followed

– Very high or extremely high levels of routine data collection

Despite the differences in hunting results between the different levels, it is important to determine the right level for a threat-hunting programme.

Most organizations conduct threat hunting after an event occurs. This is called reactive threat hunting. Mature threat hunting demands proactive hunts to eliminate any threats that might or may not exist. A lack of apparent threats means that there is no clear starting point, ending point or route through the hunt.

Threat-hunting process

Threat hunting is a multistage process that occurs in a cyclic fashion. As the hunt is proactive, the hunter doesn’t know what to look out for. The first step is to define the threat hunting goal. Next is analysis. The last step is remediation and response in order to eliminate the threat from your system. Here is a list of all the stages.

1. Definition of the hunt

The first stage of hunting is to determine why you are doing it. This stage is where you explain the reasons you are hunting. Undirected hunting is more likely to fail because there are many potential threats and data. It is better to have smaller segments of a directed hunt rather than one big undirected hunt.

A proactive threat hunt is one that is not triggered by a specific threat. It is therefore difficult to define the hunt. There are two options for defining a hunt: data driven hunting or target-driven hunting.

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– Target-driven hunt

Target-driven hunts determine if there is a threat within a network at a given time. Examples include:

An persistent and advanced threat is described by tools, techniques, or procedures (TTP).

Indicators for compromise in undetected attacks

MITRE ATT&CK Framework provides specific attack vectors.

A target is a point of reference before you go on the hunt. This helps you to focus your streams towards the specific data that you are looking for. You may find evidence of a threat, or other important information during the hunt. This could lead to a shift in your focus.

– Data-driven hunt

The hunt starts by collecting the data. Then, an extensive analysis of all data collected is done to see if any anomalies are present. These anomalies are a starting point to a more detailed and specific hunt.

It is important to take into account the attack life cycle when choosing the data set you will use to start your hunt. It is better to choose a data set that can detect one or more threats.

2. Data collection

Good threat hunting is an indicator of the quality of the data collected. The hunt will only give a false sense security if it is based on insufficient data. During the hunt, the threat hunter should be re-examined several times.

It may appear that more data leads to a better hunt. This might not be true due to the following reasons.

Volume: A collection with more data means more data can be processed. A larger number of data might mean that more work is required depending on the hunt’s situation.

Visibility– The network has enhanced adversaries that are more likely to detect and evade data collection efforts.

Processing Some techniques work better with smaller data sets than those with larger data sets such as stack counting and grouping.

When hunting for threats, it is better to concentrate on the information needed to answer the core question. Hunting should be a continuous process. Past hunts should serve as the motivation and base for future hunts.

3. Analyse of data

Data analysis is one of the most difficult tasks because there are so many data points to analyze at high accuracy. Advanced techniques like encryption and encoding are used by some data logs to keep their contents hidden even after they have been collected. To thoroughly inspect every piece of information, asset or data collected, a hunter must be alert and remove any logs that have split the attack payload into smaller packets.

Two results are expected at the end of the analysis

  • It’s okay if the hypothesis doesn’t match your definition of the hunt. This means that there is no evidence to support the existence of an attacker in the system. This should be reported and closed. Next set of data or PIR requests should then be analyzed.
  • If the hypothesis is true, and if enough information is available to support it, the hunter should immediately assess the nature, extent, as well as the effect of the attack on system. The hunter must also be able and willing to devise an effective countermeasure to the threat.

4. Response to an attack

The hunter, in collaboration with the rest of the hunting team, must devise the best possible response to the threat. The hunter must clearly define the short-term and long term response measures to stop the attack. The main purpose of the response is to stop the ongoing attack, protect the system from damage by a perceived threat and eliminate any chance of it happening again. Protecting the host, as well as any other gadgets, servers, or systems, is the response.

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5. Learn from the attack

Once the hunter has gathered enough evidence to prove that there was an attack, he should use this information to prevent future attacks. This is a way to avoid pointing fingers at one threat and introduce a blameless approach.

The nature of human beings is to be imperfect. Therefore, it is important that security professionals learn from their mistakes and improve the process. Black-hats can target the human factor as a major threat. Failure to install a security patch could lead to intrusion in a system. Fireing the individual involved in the intrusion would not solve the problem or eliminate the threat. A better solution would be to implement a patching process throughout the workplace.

How to efficiently hunt

It is impossible to guarantee 100% security, so many organizations and companies have to deal with the consequences of data breaches and revenue loss. Companies expect that their threat-hunting program will be successful at every stage of a hunt. However, do they always achieve this? Do they have any hidden threat agents in their systems? What are the most successful hunting techniques?

Here’s a quick overview of some effective threat hunting tips that you can use to respond to cyber-attacks.

1. A near-perfect understanding of your environment

Threat hunting is a process that identifies and removes abnormal activity that could negatively affect a network server. Understanding your environment and regular activities is essential for understanding abnormal activity. If an individual is able to understand the normal operations, any abnormal activity must be obvious and immediately noticed.

2. You can think out of the attackers’ perspective.

A hunter’s primary job is to anticipate potential adversaries and minimize damage or impact to the system. Good hunters should anticipate an attacker’s next move. Threat hunters should keep this in mind and set up alarms immediately when an attacker makes the expected moves.

3. Use an OODA strategy

The OODA strategy can be compared to a military tactic in combat operations. ODDA stands for Observer, Orient, Decide, Act.

Observe – involves routine data collection.

Orient – Combining collected data to make sense

Decide – After the analysis, create an incident response plan to counter the identified course.

Act – This is the final phase and involves putting an end the intrusion and adjusting the company’s security posture.

4. Make sure you have enough resources

Threat hunting is one of the most effective security measures currently. To be productive in a threat hunt, you will need competent personnel, up-to-date tools, and adequate systems.

5. All endpoints must be protected

Opponents could find loopholes if they ignore certain endpoints. In this instance, endpoints include all network devices and their activities, authorization, as well as the software they run.

Some other tips are:

  • Understanding the attack patterns and activities in detail
  • When hunting, always consider the human element.
  • Keep a log of all your hunts
  • Don’t forget that even the most powerful weapon can rust if it isn’t taken care of.
  • Be aware of the current threats

Conclusion

Threat hunting has the practical benefit of allowing security teams to actively investigate cyber environments to identify threats and vectors that are not easily detected using traditional methods.

It is difficult to implement a successful threat hunt. This is why it is important to have a formalized process. The right combination of skilled personnel, data collection techniques and an extensive response structure can make a hunt a successful one.

You must remember that there is no perfect environment and that any threat can leave a trail. It is sufficient to select the right threat hunters to produce the appropriate response. It’s a smart move to invest in threat hunting for a company. This is also an important move to protect the organization from ever-changing cybercrime.

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Evangeline Christina is a Cyber Security Enthusiast, Security Blogger, Technical Editor, Certified Ethical Hacker, Author at Cyberspecial.net. Previously, he worked as a security news reporter in a reputed news agency.

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