Infosec professionals these days believe that cyber risks always have a way of getting inside a network. And more often than not, threats come from within an organization. Rather than passively waiting for threat alerts, today’s new cybersecurity model focuses on catching threats before they can do some real damage.
Here’s where threat hunting comes in. As the term implies, the activity is concerned with proactively searching for threats within a network and defending against them. Read on to learn more about threat hunting and the strategies it entails.
What is Cyber Threat Hunting?
Threat hunting involves using advanced security solutions, including the exploit kits (i.e., sets of working exploits or malicious codes for known vulnerabilities) used that cybercriminals employ, to reverse-engineer attacks and detect ongoing intrusions within a network.
It primarily aims to look for signs of APTs (advanced persistent threats), rather than garden-variety malware. These signs often pertain to indicators of compromise (IoCs)—i.e., malicious emails, URLs, and files or abnormalities in network traffic.
What is an Advanced Persistent Threat?
APTs refer to sophisticated threats that can slip past firewalls and threat prevention technologies, as well as the actors that instigate them. Advanced Persistent Threats exploit network, application, or communication protocol vulnerabilities. They also employ social engineering tactics such as spear phishing to gain unauthorized access to a target network.
APTs can go undetected for months. And by the time they are exposed, their perpetrators have already siphoned off a significant number of login credentials and sensitive records. That explains why looking for APTs is a high priority among threat hunters.
Watch this video to learn more about the motivation behind threat hunting.
What do You Need for Threat Hunting?
To begin a threat hunting program, cybersecurity professionals need many tools, including:
- Endpoint monitoring and protection tools (these tools monitor and protect end-user devices like mobile devices, desktops, and laptops), firewalls, and antitheft and antimalware solutions
- Security incident and event management (SIEM) solutions for gathering and analyzing all types of log data, which includes authentication logs, identity information, access locations, network logs, and device logs
- Knowledge bases, such as threat intelligence databases, data feeds, and lookup tools
- Debugging tools and interactive disassemblers (IDAs), which deconstruct unknown file formats into a simple language
- Forensic and memory dump analysis tools, which enable threat hunters to examine a processor’s memory, restore deleted files, and other tasks
- Virtual machines (VMs), which let users run Windows programs on a Mac OS and vice-versa
In most cases, threat hunters use virtual labs where they can analyze temporarily inactive malware or simulate attacks. Being able to monitor and control all device activities is particularly crucial during threat hunting exercises for accuracy. Having the right tools is essential to filter noise (i.e., low-level threat alerts) in a lab environment.
What are the Techniques Used?
There are various ways to go about threat hunting. Here are two tasks that are usually present in an analyst’s daily workload:
- Static analysis: This refers to examining an application or a malicious code in a non-runtime or inactive environment. Here, the program is stopped and “taken apart” for closer inspection of its inputs and outputs. Debugging or disassembly tools obtain the assembly language’s source code (i.e., the low-level or human-readable programming language) of the program for assessment.
- Dynamic analysis: This is the exact opposite of static analysis. In it, analysts observe a piece of malware’s or an application’s behavior in a real-time or runtime environment. It allows threat hunters to assess the behavior’s impact, uncover other vulnerabilities, and effectively come up with a mitigation plan.
Who Among IT Staff Members is Responsible for Threat Hunting?
Job titles may vary, but generally speaking, IT security specialists are in charge of threat hunting strategies inside an organization. They may be called “cyber threat hunters” per se, penetration testers, white-hat or ethical hackers, or just security analysts. They may work as part of a security operations center (SOC) or an incident response team.