Advanced Threat Hunting: Are You The Hunter Or The Hunted?

Make proactive threat hunting a standard part of your security best practices and not just an element of incident-response measures.

In my travels over the last six months, meeting with customers across many vertical markets, I have heard a growing concern about the inability to make cyber defensive strategies more proactive. The common complaint is the lack of time and skilled talent to be more aggressive and to shift from hunted to hunter, actively looking for threats across the enterprise.       

“Signs of strain within security operations due to workforce shortages are materializing. Configuration mistakes and oversights, for example, were identified by the survey respondents as a material concern. Also, remediation time following system or data compromises is steadily getting longer. The net result is that information security professionals are increasingly cornered into a reactionary role of identifying compromises, recovering from mistakes, and addressing security incidents as they occur rather than proactively mitigating the contributing factors.” [2015 (ISC) Global Information Security Workforce Study, Frost & Sullivan]

This is not idle concern about potential problems. The 2016 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report found that more than 80% of all breach victims learn of a compromise from third-party notifications, not from internal security teams. The advanced threats have often been present in the organization for months prior to being detected, and in most cases the compromised organization is surprised when the breach is discovered.

When I asked executives what their plan of action was given the resource constraints, many said they would have to refine their incident-response practices or invest in additional technologies to improve their security capabilities. I doubt anyone would be surprised by these responses as they seem logical on the surface. However:

“A cautionary note to this type of expenditure was expressed by nearly two-thirds of the respondents. The incremental addition of security technologies without corresponding reduction in existing security platforms, what we term security technology sprawl, is weighing on the security team’s effectiveness and efficiency.” [Frost & Sullivan]

Effective and efficient are critical characteristics of security, but not the words one typically thinks of when describing cybersecurity measures after a breach. It is more like reactive, after-the-fact, who-does-what, organized chaos.

It is time for a call to action. We understand the resource and time constraints, and there is a requirement for fundamental transformation in security operations to affect significant change. Work with your security teams and vendors to find new ways to automate as much of the day-to-day process as possible to create time for more proactive activities. Implement hunting best practices, evaluate hunting tools that integrate with your existing technologies to reduce the usage learning curve, and limit integration challenges that come with new investments. Make proactive threat hunting a standard part of your security best practices and not just an element of incident-response measures. Security operations must adapt to the reality of advanced threats and become the hunter in their environment.

Ned Miller, a 30+ year technology industry veteran, is the Chief Technology Strategist for the Intel Security Public Sector division. Mr. Miller is responsible for working with industry and government thought leaders and worldwide public sector customers to ensure that … View Full Bio

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