What is Threat Hunting in Cybersecurity?

Wondering “what is threat hunting in cybersecurity?” You’re not alone: cyber attacks are one of the greatest threats that organizations of all sizes face. In order to ward off these intrusions and promptly respond when they occur, businesses need to engage in threat hunting that will repel the most sophisticated attackers.

So what is cyber threat hunting, exactly, and what should companies know about effective threat hunting? Below, we’ll answer the question “What is threat hunting in cybersecurity?” and how to start proactively searching for cyber threats in your IT ecosystem.

What is threat hunting?

With hundreds or thousands of potential cybersecurity threats each day, businesses often use automated security tools to guard against malicious activity in real-time. However, these existing security solutions are often inadequate to detect sophisticated cyber threats that have already bypassed your initial line of defense.

In cybersecurity, threat hunting is the proactive search for cyber threats that are presently undetected in your network. Threat hunting is crucial for a strong cybersecurity posture due to the possibility of advanced persistent threats (APTs). An advanced persistent threat is a sophisticated cyber attacker who quietly infiltrates an IT network and then remains undetected for an extended period, performing surveillance or exfiltrating valuable data.

It’s important to distinguish proactive threat hunting from threat intelligence, which refers to the passive collection of data (e.g., IP addresses, intrusion attempts, etc.) about potentially malicious activity. However, threat intelligence can be a highly useful component of threat hunting, comparing your network activity against known patterns and attackers.

What are examples of cybersecurity threat hunting?

There are many techniques and methods of cybersecurity threat hunting. The possibilities include:

  • Baseline testing: To identify abnormal trends and patterns within an IT environment, threat hunters first must understand what is “normal” for that environment by establishing a solid baseline. For example, threat hunters may wish to collect data about the normal activity levels, usage patterns, and users of a given software application, so that they can better recognize outlier behavior.
  • Hypothesis-driven threat hunting: In hypothesis-driven threat hunting, cyber threat hunters start with a given notion: for example, the hypothesis that a newly identified attack is already present within the network. Threat hunters can then use crowdsourced knowledge about an attacker’s behavior and mannerisms to look for traces within their own IT environment.
  • Machine learning and artificial intelligence: AI and machine learning technologies can rapidly process massive quantities of information, hunting through datasets of network activity that are far too large for human analysts. This enables threat hunters to find trends and suspicious events that would otherwise go unrecognized.

What are the steps involved in threat hunting?

Cyber threat hunters generally agree that there are three to five steps involved in threat hunting:

  1. Hypothesis: First, threat hunters formulate ideas about the potential threats present in the IT environment and how they could be detected. This may include an analysis of a potential attacker’s tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs).
  2. Data collection: Next, threat hunters collect information about the activities in their IT environment. This may include the use of XDR or SIEM software, network discovery tools, or threat intelligence services that catalog known external threats.
  3. Trigger: Cyberthreat hunters designate certain triggers to be worthy of further investigation. When a certain event occurs, threat hunters follow up by examining a particular area in an IT system or network.
  4. Investigation: During this stage, threat hunters look for anomalies and indicators of compromise (IoC) that could reveal the presence of a malicious attacker. This may be done with the help of an MDR or XDR solution that includes tools for intrusion detection, network analysis, etc.
  5. Response: Finally, the IT team must perform incident response to an identified threat, such as deleting malware or patching a security flaw. This step should also include data collection to help teams protect against similar attacks in the future.

What is a threat hunting service?

Many businesses lack the knowledge or budget required to maintain their own in-house cyber threat hunting team. For this reason, many threat hunting services offer partnerships to help companies better protect their IT environments.

A threat hunting service is an IT provider that helps track, isolate, and respond to cyber threats. Threat hunting services use the latest cybersecurity technology, including SIEM, XDR, and threat intelligence tools, to help businesses find and address security flaws and latent threats within their networks and endpoints. As such, threat hunting services are a valuable offering for businesses that need a robust IT security posture but lack the internal security personnel necessary to fully protect themselves.

How to get started with threat hunting in cybersecurity

Getting started with threat hunting in cybersecurity will first require you to reach out to the right managed services provider. This process will likely include a discussion of your requirements and expectations, as well as a thorough security assessment.

UncommonX is a managed detection and response provider with a unified BOSS XDR platform that offers keen cyber insights to improve companies’ IT security. The BOSS platform helps businesses with everything from protecting against threats to responding and recovering after an incident.

Ready to learn more about the benefits of UncommonX’s BOSS cybersecurity platform? Get in touch with our team of cybersecurity experts today for a chat about your business needs and objectives, or to request a demo of the BOSS software.

About the Author

At the center of our U.S.-based Security Operations Center (SOC) is a distinctly skilled team of security architects, engineers, analysts, and data scientists. Each is an expert in their respective field and dedicated to protecting our customers 24/7.