What is Cyber Threat Hunting? Methods, Tools, and Tips

4 Minute Read


Organizations can no longer be passive when it comes to security. By the time an active threat is detected, quarantined, and terminated, it’s often already too late. To truly protect and defend their organization, security operations center (SOC) teams must proactively identify and hunt for new risks with cyber threat hunting. And to protect against the most advanced threats, security teams must also proactively hunt for ones that evade current security solutions.

In this article, you’ll learn:

What is Threat Hunting?

Threat hunting is the proactive process of detecting and investigating abnormal activity on devices and endpoints that may be signs of compromise, intrusion, or ex-filtration of data. This method of defense contrasts with those used by other security solutions like firewalls and security information and event management (SIEM) solutions. These solutions typically complete investigations after a security event has been detected or a breach has occurred. With the ever-evolving cybersecurity landscape, having a proactive cyber threat hunting process is particularly critical to ensure organizational protection.

How Threat Hunting Works

For threat hunting to be successful, an organization’s security needs healthy data collection in place. Data is a key element in the threat hunting process. Threat hunters use enriched data to search for cyber threats in all corners of the security environment. Information that’s collected from SIEM tools and UEBA solutions can be a starting point to finding threats and patterns of suspicious activity. The true threats hide in the unknown, though, so hunters rely on human logic to search beyond such tools’ capabilities. 

Proactive cyber threat hunting follows a similar process each time.

  • Trigger: Leading up to the trigger phase, the threat hunter collects insights about the security environment and potential threats. Then, a trigger occurs for the hunter to launch an investigation. Triggers can be informed hypotheses or unusual activity in the organization’s systems and networks.
  • Investigation: As the investigation begins, the goal of the threat hunter is to collect important information to identify if the threat is benign or malicious. There’s a variety of tools that can be used at this stage to assist and speed up the investigation of usual activity. 
  • Resolution: During the resolution phase, collected information is used by security teams and tools to respond to confirmed threats. Data from all investigations is analyzed and stored to enrich future investigations. Automation tools can use this data to improve efficiencies, while security teams can improve security measures and predict possible trends.

Types of Threat Hunting Investigations

There are three main investigation styles threat hunters can take, including:

  • Structured: Structured threat hunting starts with an indicator of attack (IoA) and centers around the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) of the threat actor. With this type, hunts are often structured around the MITRE ATT@CK Framework, which helps hunters identify a threat actor before damage is done.
  • Unstructured: Unstructured threat hunting begins with an indicator of compromise (IoC) or trigger. The hunter then looks for patterns in behavior both pre- and post-detection.
  • Situational and Entity Driven: Situational threat hunting looks at an enterprise’s individual vulnerabilities, such as those found in a risk assessment. Entity-driven hunting uses external attack data to identify trending TTPs of the latest cyber threats. With this information, hunters can look for specific behaviors within an organization’s own environment.

Top Challenges for SOC Teams

Manual threat hunting is time-consuming. Although threat hunting can significantly reduce the chances of attack by exposing vulnerabilities, disparate tools make the process extremely time-consuming. Collecting evidence requires many manual tasks, and evidence must be validated across multiple third-party systems. The need to complete all of these steps significantly limits hunting frequency.

SOC teams receive thousands of alerts from security tools daily, so they’re required to react and focus on current security investigations. While they understand the importance of cyber threat hunting, they are left with little bandwidth for proactive security activities. As a result, only about 1% of critical security alarms are investigated — leaving businesses vulnerable.

Threat Hunting Automation with SOAR

Organizations need to integrate their tools to gain better visibility into their security environments. When enterprises integrate security tools, they improve the threat hunting process completed by team members and also implement automated workflows and playbooks to complete these tasks. Security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR) platforms help organizations integrate their tools into a robust and comprehensive framework. This increases their hunting capabilities, improves response and effectively protects their organization from attacks.

SOAR can be used to create automated workflows that:

  • Continuously look for potential threats throughout the network
  • Automatically investigate alerts
  • Centralize investigation findings for improved security understanding

Related reading: Using SOAR for Threat Hunting.

Benefits of Low-Code Security Automation for Threat Hunting

Implementing automated solutions, like SOAR, not only supports the cyber threat hunting process but also improves overall security operations throughout the organization. Integrating security technologies using low-code security automation allows organizations to take advantage of a centralized view of their security landscape. SecOps teams can then utilize the information to make critical security decisions for the organization and improve IT resiliency with dynamic case management.

Swimlane Turbine helps integrate systems and centralize data to significantly improve incident alert management by:

  • Reducing mean time to resolution (MTTR)
  • Freeing up time for security teams to focus on more critical security tasks
  • Automating time-consuming processes that slow down alert investigation
  • Providing a comprehensive view of organizational security
  • Helping SecOps standardize and scale critical security processes

Threat hunting is a clear way to stay ahead of malicious activity before damage occurs. Low-code security automation gives back valuable time to SOC teams so that analysts can stop threats faster.

A Buyer’s Guide for Modern Security Automation

Enterprise SOC teams recognize the need for automation but often struggle with the automation solutions themselves. Security Orchestration, Automation and Response (SOAR) solutions commonly require extensive scripting. This guide analyzes the wide range of security automation platforms available today, so you can identify the type of solution that fits your needs the best. 

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