Anyone working in IT security knows it’s vitally important to have effective threat management systems to protect systems, networks, and data, but not everyone knows how to be proactive about it. Firewalls such as an intrusion detection system (IDS) or security information and event management (SIEM) system can only work after the threat is detected. 

How do you proactively protect your data and network? Through threat hunting. 

In a recent Simplilearn webinar, Dr. James Stanger, Senior Director of Products at CompTIA, discussed the critical importance of threat hunting and the skills required to become a successful threat hunter.

You can watch the webinar using the link below, or you can keep reading to learn more about threat hunting both as a practice and as a career. 

Threat hunting is an effective strategy for combating cyber attacks on your company’s IT networks and systems.  A survey carried out by Domaintools on the effectiveness of threat hunting revealed that,

  • 74 percent of the respondents cited reduced attack surfaces
  • 59 percent experienced faster speed and accuracy of responses 
  • 52 percent found previously undetected threats in their networks.  

In this article, you will learn the basics of threat hunting, indicators of compromise in your organization's security measures, steps to map essential security controls to your business processes and best practices that help security professionals to restrict potential hacks.

Let’s get started

Threat Hunting: The Basics       

What Is Threat Hunting?

Threat hunting is a security method that helps you find hidden threats that have evaded your other security efforts but have yet to inflict harm.

Who Is a Threat Hunter?

A threat hunter is not only trained for this job but also naturally curious as they actively search for adversaries. They do not wait for alerts from security systems or patch up identified vulnerabilities. Instead, they perform the role of in-house analysts who understand the concept of threats and their organization well enough to ask the right questions and search for answers.

Why Hunt?

Earlier, companies had to worry about automated malware and viruses that could act as potential threats to their IT systems. Today, the threat is not just a virus malware, but also people who are cleverly and persistently posing threats to your systems. The global median time for a security breach to be detected has decreased from 146 days in 2015 to 99 days in 2016. However you still have 99 days of vulnerability to worry about.

When you actively hunt for threats rather than wait for your security programs to give you warnings, you can quickly counteract them to reduce the damage.

What Does a Threat Hunter Do?

A threat hunter is a cyber-detective who finds vulnerabilities in a company’s IT security system. They have an overview of the endpoints on the system such as all the IoT devices, phones, IP addresses and desktops, and they help IT teams use the right tools to detect and mitigate threats. They are familiar with networking best practices and have a clear understanding of how information flows from one system in the network to another because that's what hackers are doing. They are responsible for investigating the network systems or endpoints to look for patterns or indications of compromise and then analyze the situation. They search for security gaps at the intersection of technologies and tools such as instant messaging and email and put biometrics in place to control those gaps. They report threat issues to the security officer or Security Operations Center and then work with management to resolve those vulnerabilities. 

Essential Skills for a Threat Hunter

If you’re interested in a career as a threat hunter, here are the skills you’ll need:

1. Data Analytics 

Threat hunters are expected to monitor their environment, gather data and analyze it comprehensively. This means that a seasoned threat hunter must have an understanding of data science methodologies and data analytics, tools, and techniques. They must be able to use data visualization tools to generate charts and diagrams that can help them identify patterns that provide insight into the best actions to take in carrying out hunting investigations and activities.

2. Pattern Recognition 

Threat hunters must be able to recognize patterns that match the techniques, tactics, strategies, and procedures of hackers, malware, and unusual behaviors. To recognize those patterns, they must first understand normal behavioral patterns on the network so that they can spot any unwarranted activity or transaction. 

3. Good Communication

Threat hunters must have good communication skills, so they can clearly transmit information about threats or, weaknesses management or security team leaders, along with recommended steps of action to counteract this. 

4. Data Forensic Capabilities

A threat hunter needs data forensics skills to be able to analyze new threats and understand how the malware was deployed, its capabilities, and the damage it might have caused. They don’t have to be a data forensics specialist, but they do have to know what to look for when inspecting files. For example, a Trojan virus might take over the Netcat command so, while the system looks like it is behaving normally, it is actually compromised. 

5. Understand How the System Works

As a threat hunter, you must have a deep understanding of how systems work together in your environment. The emphasis here is on practical know-how based on and drawn from comprehensive knowledge of how your own company, and the process of your own business, work. You need to understand how to look around the corner for problems. In other words, threat hunters should be skilled enough to look at a situation and immediately realize the implications of what is happening. They should then collaborate with teams and assist them to help improve security.

How to Become a Master Threat Hunter

If you have these skills or think you can learn them quickly, and you want to learn more about becoming a threat hunter, here are some steps you can take: 

  • Embed yourself in the domain and develop an insatiable desire to learn more. 
  • Explore the latest tools in threat hunting.
  • Develop a "sixth sense" for threat hunting.
  • Develop educated hunches.
  • Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act (OODA).
  • Anticipate what a potential adversary can do.
  • Above all, get trained. There are excellent training programs teaching IT security, such as the Simplilearn CompTIA Security+ Certification training. This course covers the essential principles of network security and risk management and offers hands-on experience performing threat analysis and responding with appropriate mitigation techniques.

Any career in cyber security is likely to be a lucrative one, as job demand for skilled professionals is strong. Working as a threat hunter is only one option among several in this domain, but one that would make for a compelling career option nonetheless.

If you have any questions about threat hunting, please leave them in the comments below.

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