Threat hunting isn’t new, but the importance of its practical use in countering cyberthreats is recent.
We’ve seen that companies’ awareness of threat hunting is increasing over time. However, a lack of attention given to cyberthreats—whether due to budget, expertise and staffing constraints—has led to an increase in the number of successful malware attacks. Hence, countering them has become more and more challenging.
What is Threat Hunting?
In cybersecurity, threat hunting is a systematic process for detecting advanced threats in an organization’s network. In simple terms, the goal is to detect any intruders that may be lurking in the network. On average, intruders have access to networks for more than 220 days before being detected. Often, the ones notifying the organizations about them are credit card companies or law enforcement agencies. Threat hunting is about proactively seeking out these lurkers, instead of taking a passive approach that only alerts an organization about them. The proactive nature of threat hunting is what sets it apart from threat detection. Threat detection occurs when a threat becomes visible independently, such as by triggering an alert in security software. Threat hunting, on the other hand, involves searching for suspected or potential threats that are not already visible.
Why Is it Important, and Why Should I Use It?
An attacker’s goal is typically something such as stealing valid login credentials for a privileged account. Attackers use stolen credentials to carry out search-and-steal or search-and-destroy missions using tools and techniques that end users don’t use. This enables them to go undetected and cause tremendous damage to intellectual property.
Threat hunting is necessary to counter the sophisticated techniques that cybercriminals use to evade detection by conventional means. Today’s malware can often escape detection by antivirus software. Attackers are innovating at an alarming rate, creating new forms of attack. Organizations can’t afford to wait weeks or months to learn about incidents. From the moment of intrusion, the cost, damage and impact of an attack grows by the hour.
Threat hunting is human-driven, iterative and systematic. Hence, it effectively reduces damage and overall risk to an organization, as its proactive nature enables security professionals to respond to incidents more rapidly than would otherwise be possible. It reduces the probability of an attacker being able to cause damage to an organization, its systems and its data. This is vital to ensure that confidential data isn’t misused or accessed by unauthorized individuals.
The combination of dynamic intelligence, analytics and situational awareness tools, and perpetual data monitoring with an analyst’s finesse in testing and evaluating data, brings about a reduction in false positives and wasted time throughout the security operations center.
Threat hunting has demonstrated itself to be very effective and is gaining momentum, as companies look for ways to improve security and eliminate threats. As zero-days and advanced persistent threats (APT) continue to challenge security staff, analysts are adopting threat hunting platforms to uncover attacks more rapidly. Given the impossibility of 100% detection rates, as well as the inability of traditional tools such as IDSs to address completely the security needs of modern organizations, there is a dire need to establish security teams who can actively “hunt” for threats targeting their organizations. The adoption of threat hunting thus signals a transition from reactive strategies to proactive ones, with companies looking for ways to tackle problems in a more timely and efficient way.