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Threat hunting is one of the few IT terms I've come across that probably sounds cool to people who aren't engineers. But cyber threat hunting is more than just an industry buzzword—or an edgy-sounding skill to add to your resume. It's also an important facet of a mature cybersecurity strategy.
Threat hunting is the act of looking for signs of cybersecurity attacks to prevent them before they occur or do too much damage. It's a proactive strategy that protects your organization's IT assets and data through continuous monitoring and analysis. Threat hunting often involves thinking like an attacker and spotting weak points before they're compromised.
In a world where hackers launch attacks every 39 seconds and the average cost of a data breach is nearly $4 million, you don't want your organization playing defense. Instead, you'll want to be ahead of attacks before they happen. If securing and monitoring your network is a priority for your organization, threat hunting must be a part of your IT security processes.
So how should your organization get started with an effective threat hunting strategy?
Below, I’ve outlined threat hunting best practices along with a few tools that you and your team should keep in mind when securing your network.
Threat hunters should follow a few basic best practices to detect and prevent potential attacks. Below, I've outlined a number of ways you can start hunting for threats effectively.
If you don't know what "normal" looks like in your IT environment, you won't be able to detect differences and anomalies that signal suspicious behavior. Gaining an in-depth understanding of your environment's routine and architecture will help you more quickly detect when something is off. This process is called baselining.
For example, do you know the baseline balance between internal and external traffic? Which IP addresses should and should not be accessing your network? What your network normally looks like on a Sunday morning versus mid-afternoon on a Wednesday? Suspicious traffic patterns are often the first indicator of a network incident, but they cannot be detected without knowing what your network’s starting point is.
When you're taking a proactive approach to threat detection—which is a sign of a mature security strategy—you need to get in the heads of cybercriminals. By looking at your system like an attacker would, you can better understand where your vulnerabilities and weak points are.
Threat modeling exercises—where you safely simulate an attack on your system to see how it behaves—are extremely helpful tools. Picking parts of your environment to target will help you view it through an attacker's eyes. Analyzing how your team and your environment responds will help you:
It's time to go undercover. Creep onto the dark web to stay on top of activity happening in forums where attackers and cybercriminals hang out and plot their next moves (this guide will help you do so safely). Tapping into these illicit networks helps you do the research to better understand attackers. It also helps you gain a better understanding of who these attackers are and what might motivate them to attack your business. It could even give you the chance to see—and prevent—an attack in real time.
Establishing effective endpoint security is step number one in protecting your network. Especially as more employees work from home, accessing your network from various places and devices, endpoint security is even more critical for overall network protection.
Making sure these primary entry points are secure—and receiving immediate alerts when they've been compromised—can help you stay on top of threat detection.
Armed with all your knowledge of your own network and the cybercriminal underworld, you're well prepared to fend off attacks. But without network visibility, you'll still just be shooting into the dark. Shed some light on what's happening in your network with network monitoring and network security solutions.
Over one third of data breaches involve internal actors. Whether these internal incidents are intentional or caused by carelessness or ignorance, it's critical that your colleagues understand basic cybersecurity practices. Ensuring everyone on staff knows not to send sensitive information via email or open document attachments they're not expecting can go a long way to prevent attacks. Installing and monitoring basic cybersecurity and threat detection tools can also help you track suspicious internal behaviors.
When you bring your colleagues on as fellow threat hunters by providing them with basic cybersecurity knowledge, you'll be more likely to prevent, detect, and deflect attacks, wherever they're aimed.
Cybercriminals will always be on the lookout for the next best way to attack vulnerable IT environments. You should be, too.
To be an effective threat hunter, you should stay on top of attack trends and constantly learn about modern attack methods. You'll be better prepared for the next big threat when you understand its origins and what it can do to your network.
Before you go out into the cyber wilderness, suit up with the right threat hunting equipment. Below are a few basic tools every threat hunter should have on hand—and know how to use.
Most of the best practices discussed above involve the amount of effort you and your team personally put into threat hunting. Gaining a deep understanding of your IT environment, getting into the mindset of an attacker, and educating colleagues about security risks takes lots of time and energy.
However, one of the best practices that doesn't rely solely on your efforts—and one that's relatively quick to implement—is establishing network visibility. Using the right suite of network visibility tools, you can gain peace of mind knowing you always have eyes on your network.
More than any other tool, you need comprehensive access to your data. Digging into the data in your logs can help you start to see patterns. And understand what standard performance looks like based on your historical data will help you see, by contrast, what suspicious, malicious, or anomalous activity could look like in your specific IT environment.
You can think of these tools like a burglar alarm system for your IT environment. You might be able to see or detect a threat yourself. But alerting systems can sound the alarm and deter security breaches—or at least put an obstacle in the way of potential intruders.
Here are a few systems you should look into:
Network incidents happen. When they do, your team’s response time matters.
That means that there needs to be expectations around when and how often you'll collect and analyze data. Establish a schedule to set aside time for preventative exercises, such as threat modeling, to detect and deter breaches.
Looking to deploy a threat hunting solution, but not sure how to integrate network visibility? Our team is your team! Join us for a brief network Design-IT consultation or demo. No obligation - it’s what we love to do.
Jason Drewniak is the Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at Garland Technology in the Buffalo, New York office. His experience building brands and delighting customers covers a variety of tech-forward products like computers, toys, and beer. At Garland he is responsible for educating network stakeholders about the "Garland Difference!"