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5 Types of Cyber Threat Hunting That Help Stop Breaches

Modern businesses largely depend on technology to provide and perform services and face a significant range of potential dangers to their tech. These days,it seems to be the cost of doing business. Anytime you’re handling a customer’s or client’s personal data, any time you’re transmitting that information, you’re potentially putting both your business and them at risk.

Still, regular business operations shouldn’t pose excessive financial or reputational costs—and that’s the very real risk of a data breach. Thankfully, proactive measures, like cyber threat hunting, can help protect you, your data, your business, and your clients.

What Is Threat Hunting in Cybersecurity?

As the old saying goes, “the best defense is a good offense” and that means being proactive. Cyber threat hunting is just the kind of proactive effort IT and security teams should be making to insure the security and integrity of your network.

Cyber threat hunting is the act of scanning, monitoring, identifying, and, potentially, neutralizing any existing threats or vulnerabilities before they can cause damage. The truth of the current IT security landscape is that malicious actors are constantly learning from previous attempts and developing ways to circumvent and infiltrate systems. The only true way to defend your network is to stay one step ahead. 

How Cyber Threat Hunting Works

One of the things cyber attackers rely on and hope for is that you have weak network security and haven’t updated in a while. This makes it easier for them to exploit vulnerabilities. Firms and businesses hoping to employ cyber threat hunting tactics must have a cybersecurity system in place that is actively monitoring access attempts, traffic, and activity. This data provides threat hunters with a foundation for their work and the data they need to proceed.

What makes that data so valuable is that it provides known information. Threat hunters work with the unknown, seeking out areas missed by automated monitoring solutions. In other words, cyber threat hunters are looking for patterns of activity or hidden malware in areas of your network that may be missed by run-of-the-mill threat detection efforts.

While automated threat detection is valuable, the human element of threat hunting adds an invaluable advantage as programs only look where we tell them to look. Humans, on the other hand, are more likely to think like other humans and seek out the shadowy areas where vulnerabilities exist and attackers hide.

Common Threat Hunting Types

One of the advantages to working with cyber security experts to hunt cyber threats is that they’re trained to think like attackers. In looking at your system, they’re able to quickly identify where they need to be looking based on the accumulated information or data, such as a deviation from a standard pattern, or another trigger that suggests malicious activity. Threat hunting falls into three types.

1. Structured Threat Hunting

Structured hunting relies upon a threat hunter’s ability to identify the indicators of an attack (IoA). Indicators reveal the pathway an attacker used or is using to infiltrate your system. Structure hunts analyze the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) of the attacker. 

As such, they’re not as concerned with the mechanism, such as malware or ransomware, and are instead focused on the strategy. This type of hunt utilizes the MITRE Adversary Tactics Techniques and Common Knowledge (ATT&CK) framework which is a knowledge base providing information about strategies and tactics.

2. Unstructured Threat Hunting

Unstructured cyber threat hunts rely on a specific trigger, such as data, a footprint, or evidence left behind in a network to indicate a compromise (IoC). Once observing the footprint, the threat hunter can backtrack through the malicious actor’s footsteps and identify and resolve the vulnerability that opened the door.

3. Situational Threat Hunting

A strong security posture includes, as mentioned, both automated and human security interventions.When your security scans indicate there may be a threat, or a risk assessment by security or IT teams notices potential vulnerabilities, a situation threat hunt may be triggered. This allows the threat hunter to search for any potential exploitation of the vulnerability.

4 Common Cyber Threat Hunting Models

With those types of hunting come three different approaches or models that help determine the methodology and strategies used by threat hunters to identify the actual threat.

1. Intelligence-Driven Threat Hunting

This is a useful, but sometimes time-consuming method of threat hunting. It begins with your security team or experts monitoring intelligence feeds and sources to learn about potential and emerging threats. The monitoring process, of course, can be automated, and then trigger your team’s response if the IoC, hash values, IP addresses, or more are identified within your network. 

However, it may mean your team spends time reacting to threats that may not impact your organization.

2. Entity-Driven Threat Hunting

As suggested above, one of the biggest challenges to improving security is knowing how and when to allocate resources, particularly human resources. Entity-driven hunting is a framework for prioritizing your threat hunt. 

In other words, your organization would identify high-value targets, users, or assets that would be attractive to cyberattackers. Targets might include valuable personal information, users with high-level clearance or access to important data, high-value intellectual property, and more.
Once these assets are identified, threat hunting is targeted around these entities to ensure their security.

3. TTP-Driven Threat Hunting

One incredibly strong tactic, used in sports, war, and more, is to steal your enemy’s playbook. TTP (tactics, techniques, procedures) threat hunting utilizes that same strategy.

Thankfully, we have a fairly good understanding of attacker TTP due to the constraints of the operating systems in which most of them work. Attackers must work within that framework or else develop something wholly new and different—which takes significant time and resources. It’s far easier to use the existing tools than develop a whole new one, which really works in the favor of threat hunters.

TTP-driven threat hunting, then, relies upon the threat hunter’s existing knowledge and understanding of cyber threats based on previous attacks and ongoing efforts by attackers to infiltrate systems and networks. Leveraging that knowledge, threat hunters know:

  • Who to look for 
  • Where to look for them
  • What tools they’re likely to use
  • What assets are valuable to them
  • Where their frequently-used entry points are
  • How they achieve their goals

As such, they’re far better prepared to neutralize a threat.

4. Data-Driven Threat Hunting

As noted earlier, a truly comprehensive security stance incorporates automated security services, scans, and applications. These applications provide information like proxy logs and DNS data that can be the first indicator of a problem. If your security team notices suspicious behavior here, the hunt is on. 

5. The Hybrid Model

Last, but most certainly not least is the hybrid model of cyber threat hunting. Much like combining automated and human security strategies, employing more than one threat hunting model may be the best protection. For example, you may notice suspicious behavior in security logs and recognize, via either TTP or cyber intelligence, that the tactic being used indicates a specific threat to a specific asset via a specific method with a specific goal.

The hybrid model can help leverage the strengths and benefits of each methodology and allow you to build the strongest security stance possible in a world with evolving cyber threats.

How to Get Started with Cyber Threat Hunting

Cyber threats are only increasing. Malicious actors are arming themselves with evolving tactics and techniques designed to catch organizations off-guard and many are, in fact, unprepared. These days, it’s not enough to install software and hope for the best. Hope is wonderful, but it isn’t security.

To get started on your cyber threat hunting efforts: 

  • Start with the right tools including:
    • Network security monitoring
    • Encryption tools
    • Web scanning tools
    • Antivirus software
    • Firewalls
    • Intrusion detection systems (IDS)
    • Packet analyzers
    • Penetration testing
    • Data governance and security protocols and practices
    • IT security training for your organization
    • Bring your own device (BYOD) policies and work from home policies
    • End point security systems
  • Build the right team
    • Whether you build a team in-house or outsource your efforts, you want IT and security experts on your side.

If you’re concerned about cyber attacks, cyber espionage, cyber theft, and more, it likely means your business and its assets have value and protecting that value is crucial. For many businesses and organizations, IT is an essential part of their business, but their business isn’t IT. Ours is. 

Whether you’re looking for full support or additional support with security, network infrastructure and hardware, or help desk teams, Converged Technology is here. We let you focus on your business because we pride ourselves on focusing on ours. If you’re ready to talk about how we can free up your IT resources and save you time, effort, and money while you focus on growth, reach out to our team today.

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