Know Your Enemy: How to Build a Successful Threat Hunting Program
Advanced threats can evade detection for months — and the longer they spend in the network, the more damage they can do. In fact, the IBM 2018 Threat Hunting Report revealed that detecting advanced, unknown and emerging threats is the most significant challenge facing security operations centers (SOCs) today.
Threat hunting leverages machine analytics and human-led intelligence analysis to proactively search for and find threats before they can cause damage. Although threat hunting has been gaining momentum, it’s still an emerging discipline that is not yet well-understood.
A Bootcamp for Threat Hunters
The new IBM Cyber Threat Hunting Bootcamp is poised to change that. The course is designed to train SOC and fusion center leaders to build a threat hunting program and leverage threat hunting theory, tradecraft and technology to combat the advanced attacks they face daily.
The program is sponsored by i2, a threat hunting solution from IBM Security, and led by Paul Ortiz, senior threat hunter and solution architect at i2, and Sid Pearl, safer planet cyber subject matter expert (SME).
Ortiz has over 16 years of professional experience, including serving as a senior intelligence analyst for the U.S. Intelligence Community and Department of Defense. He has an extensive background using a wide variety of technical analysis tools and data sets, advanced cyber technologies and numerous signals intelligence collection and analysis systems.
Pearl has a broad background in cyber intelligence. He currently serves as chief information security officer (CISO) for the International Association of Certified Information Sharing and Analysis Organizations (ISAOs) to protect U.S. national security and critical infrastructure interests. Previously, he worked as a global security and cyber intelligence executive at Unisys. Pearl is also a 20-year U.S. Navy veteran, having served in special operations, including combat communications and intelligence operations for joint special forces.
The Intelligence Cycle
The intelligence cycle, which includes gathering requirements, collecting data, analyzing information and reporting findings, is a time-tested methodology for hunting bad guys on the battlefield — and it works equally well to find bad guys in the network. Since threat hunting is a human-versus-human approach, it’s critical to know your enemy. This means understanding who is attacking you, what they’re after and how they might try to get it. The intelligence cycle provides a systematic process for asking and answering these questions about adversaries.
Threat information can come from a variety of internal and external sources, including both cyber and noncyber data sources. Fusing network and system information with threat intelligence, including feeds, reports, open source intelligence (OSINT) and darknet data, can provide a holistic view of the internal and external threats your organization faces.
Building a Threat Hunting Platform and Program
The key components of a threat hunting platform include both the data and tools needed to find cyberthreats. A security information and event management (SIEM) system provides critical internal security data, while external threat intelligence helps you understand known indicators of cyberthreat activity that may be affecting your organization. Statistical analysis tools allow threat hunters to leverage machine analytics and anomaly detection to uncover the stealthy and evasive patterns of advanced actors, and intelligence analysis tools help threat hunters organize and collate the data from across the platform for discovery and analysis.
Once the platform is built out, the SOC or fusion center should develop a strategy and determine what resources it requires to carry it out. Then, the team should perform a gap analysis against these requirements and determine what data and tools they need to fill these gaps. Next, SOC leaders should build a team structure and create standard operating procedures (SOPs). Finally, the strategy is operationalized with training, system optimization and continuous program evaluation.
Reducing Event Analysis From Hours to Seconds
One of the key challenges of SOC and fusion analysts is the volume and velocity of data and the difficulty of distinguishing false positives from real danger. To do this, SOC teams must correlate seemingly unrelated low-level events that could be connected to indicate a high-level threat. Without threat hunting tools and technology, this essential task can require tedious manual correlation to connect the dots. One case study focused on a U.S. bank that reduced the time it took to conduct low-level event correlation from hours to seconds by using visual analysis to quickly see the connections.
A Hands-On Threat Hunting Experience
To put all the threat hunting theory and tradecraft to work, IBM developed a hands-on lab to teach attendees how to leverage i2 and other tools to search for and discover cyberthreats that are hiding in the noise.
According to the bootcamp’s SMEs, a good threat hunter has a solid understanding of information technology, networking and the threat landscape, including adversary tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs). Experience working with threat intelligence and intelligence analysis is also advantageous.