In today’s digital age, cyber threats are an ever-present danger to organizations of all sizes. From ransomware attacks to data breaches, the consequences of a successful cyberattack can be devastating. That’s why it’s essential for businesses to adopt a proactive approach to cybersecurity – and that means embracing Proactive Threat Hunting. But what exactly is Proactive Threat Hunting? And how can it help keep your organization safe from malicious actors? In this article, we’ll explore these questions and more, giving you the knowledge needed to stay ahead of the curve in today’s rapidly evolving cybersecurity landscape.
Defining Proactive Threat Hunting
Proactive Threat Hunting is the process of identifying potential security threats before they have a chance to do damage. It’s a precaution measure that can help you thwart attacks and protect your data. In other words, it is the act of proactively searching a network for cyber threats that may have slipped past your initial endpoint security defenses. This can be done manually or with the help of special tools and software.
Threat hunting is a relatively new concept in the cybersecurity world, but it’s one that is gaining popularity. Organizations often lack the advanced detection capabilities necessary to stop advanced persistent threats from remaining in their networks once the threat actor has been successful in evading detection and an attack has penetrated defenses. An APT can remain in a network undetected for months while collecting data, looking for confidential material, or obtaining login credentials that will allow them to move laterally around the system.
If you’re looking to beef up your organization’s cybersecurity posture, Proactive Threat Hunting is a great place to start. Many organizations are now incorporating this approach to threat-hunting into their overall security strategy.
How Does Proactive Threat Hunting Work?
There are three common methods used in threat-hunting:
- Hypothesis-Driven Investigations
An organization’s digital environment can be searched for possible attackers using this method. A pool of crowdsourced data available online makes it possible to identify the tactics, techniques, and procedures through which attackers gain access. Threat hunters then utilize this information to scan their own environments and identify malicious entities.
- Locating IoCs
Proactive Threat-Hunting is essentially a process of looking for indicators of compromise (IOCs) and trying to find the root cause of an attack. This can be done by manually reviewing log files or using automation tools to help speed up the process. IOCs can be found by looking for anomalies in system activity, such as unexpected traffic patterns or user behavior. Once an IOC is found, it can be investigated further to determine if it’s actually malicious or not. If it is determined to be malicious, then steps can be taken to mitigate the threat and prevent it from happening again in the future.
- AI Driven Investigations
The third method leverages advances in AI technology to identify threats within a network before an attack occurs. Threat hunters are able to identify irregularities that point to possible threats by sifting through massive amounts of information using machine learning and data.
Reactive vs. Proactive Threat Hunting
Reactive Threat Hunting is the process of identifying and responding to threats that have already been detected. This can be done through a variety of means, such as analyzing system logs, reviewing intrusion detection system (IDS) alerts, or looking for anomalies in network traffic.
Proactive Threat Hunting, on the other hand, is all about taking a proactive approach to security. Rather than waiting for threats to be detected, you’re actively searching for them. This might involve looking for indicators of compromise (IOCs), conducting penetration tests, or using threat intelligence feeds.
So which approach is better? Reactive Threat Hunting is often less time-consuming and resource-intensive, since you’re only dealing with threats that have already been detected. Proactive Threat Hunting can be more effective at identifying new and emerging threats, but it requires a greater investment of time and resources. Some significant differences between the two also include:
- Scope of Investigation: A known attack limits the scope of the investigation, as some links in the attack chain are known and the analyst needs to work forward and backward from there. Due to the fact that threat hunting involves looking into completely unknown potential threats, it can cover a much broader scope of investigation.
- Applying Threat Intelligence: Both reactive and proactive investigations use threat intelligence, but they use this data in different ways. A reactive threat analysis can identify incoming or ongoing threats, whereas a proactive approach can determine which threats an organization may face and how to detect them.
- Depth of Investigation: Incident response investigations only need to verify the threat and collect information for remediation. Threat hunting, on the other hand, needs to prove or disprove a theory.
- Duration of Impact: The goal of incident response is to eliminate the present threat. Threat hunting can not only help remediate past attacks, but also close visibility gaps and improve future defenses.
Ultimately, the best approach is to use both reactive and proactive threat hunting in your security strategy. By combining the two approaches, you can get the best of both worlds: identify new threats quickly while also staying on top of existing ones.
Benefits of Using Proactive Threat Hunting
As we already established, with Proactive Threat Hunting, you can be one step ahead of the attackers by constantly monitoring your systems for signs of suspicious activity. By doing this, you can quickly identify and investigate any potential threats before they have a chance to do any damage.
There are many benefits to using Proactive Threat Hunting as part of your cybersecurity strategy.
- Firstly, it helps you to identify potential threats early on, before they have a chance to cause any damage. This means that you can take steps to mitigate the threat and reduce the chances of an attack happening in the first place.
- Secondly, by investigating potential threats immediately, you can minimize the amount of data that is compromised in an attack. This is important because it can help to limit the damage caused by an attack and minimize the disruption to your business operations.
- Proactive Threat Hunting can also help you to improve your overall security posture by providing visibility into areas where your defenses may be weak. By identifying and addressing these vulnerabilities, you can make your systems more secure and less likely to be successfully attacked in the future.
Best Practices for Implementing a Proactive Cybersecurity Strategy
In order to be truly effective, a threat hunting program must be tailored to the specific needs of the organization and its unique risk profile.
There are a number of best practices that can help organizations implement an effective Proactive Threat Hunting program:
- Define the scope and objectives of the program.
- Establish metrics for success.
- Create a dedicated threat hunting team.
- Make use of data analytics and automation.
- Conduct regular training and exercises.
You can identify irregularities within your ecosystem more easily if you know your network like the back of your hand. Furthermore, to ease into proactive threat hunting, establish a baseline and make it known to your team.
Threat Hunting Steps
Cyber threat hunting typically involves three steps: a trigger, an investigation, and a resolution. A cyber threat hunter gathers as much information about an attacker’s actions, methods, and goals as possible during this process. Additionally, they analyze collected data to determine trends in the security environment, eliminate current vulnerabilities, and make predictions about how to improve security in the future.
Step 1: The Trigger
Advanced detection tools may identify unusual actions that indicate malicious activity and trigger threat hunters to investigate a specific system or area of the network further. It is not uncommon for security teams to search for advanced threats using tools such as fileless malware to evade existing defenses based on a hypothesis about a new threat.
Step 2: Investigation
An investigation phase entails taking a deep dive into potential malicious compromise of a system using technology such as EDR (Endpoint Detection and Response). Until the activity is deemed benign or a complete picture of the malicious behavior has been formed, the investigation continues.
Step 3: Resolution
In order to respond to the incident and mitigate threats, operations and security teams must receive relevant malicious activity intelligence during the resolution phase. It is possible to improve automated technology’s effectiveness without further human intervention by feeding data collected about both malicious and benign activity.
Tools and Techniques Used in Proactive Threat Hunting
In Proactive Threat Hunting, analysts use a combination of tools and techniques to proactively seek out signs of malicious activity. Because threat hunters need to develop their own hypotheses and guide their own investigations, they require different tools and data sources than incident responders.
Rather than retracing the path of a known intrusion from initial access to final objective, threat hunters need an investigative portal designed to detect the TTPs of known threats within an organization’s systems.
These techniques can be divided into three broad categories:
Data collection and analysis: In order to hunt for threats, analysts need access to data. This data can come from a variety of sources, including network traffic data, system logs, and user activity data. Once this data is collected, it needs to be analyzed in order to look for signs of suspicious activity.
Threat modeling: In order to know what to look for in the data, analysts need to have a good understanding of the types of threats they are facing. This involves creating models of how these threats might manifest themselves in the data.
Investigation and response: Once a possible threat has been identified, it needs to be investigated further to confirm that it is actually malicious. If it is found to be malicious, then the appropriate response needs to be initiated in order to contain and mitigate the threat.
When it comes to threat hunting tools, there are plenty of free threat-hunting tools online that IT security analysts or those looking at security threats on their network can use to stay protected. You can read our colleague`s article on 10 Free & Open-Source Threat-Hunting Tools for 2023, for a more insightful approach.
Identifying and automating low and medium-level jobs is one of the most important steps in building your very first threat hunting framework. This includes data collection, alerting, encoding standardization, reporting, and collaboration; how better to do this than with a platform that can leverage powerful reporting features, advanced threat intelligence, and digital forensics. This leads us to the next chapter of our article:
Revolutionizing Threat-Hunting with Heimdal®
The Threat-Hunting and Action Center is a revolutionary platform that is fully integrated with the Heimdal solution suite. It is specifically designed to provide security teams with an advanced threat-centric view of their IT landscape, the solution employs granular telemetry to enable swift decision-making, using built-in hunting, remediation, and actioning capabilities – all managed from the Heimdal Unified Security Platform.
The Heimdal suite and Threat-Hunting and Action Centre enable you to envision, hunt, and act from a single unified and integrated platform. The platform eliminates the need for a multitude of solutions which create a slow and inefficient environment, by merging everything in one unified, integrated, and AI-driven tool that will change the way you look at cybersecurity forever.
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To sum up, Proactive Threat Hunting is an important element of any cybersecurity strategy. It helps to detect and defend against sophisticated attackers who may have already infiltrated your systems. Proactive Threat Hunting requires advanced skills and technology that can identify suspicious activities in your environment such as unauthorized access or lateral movement. By looking out for suspicious activity, you will be able to stay one step ahead of the bad guys and protect your business from potential attacks.
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