The principles of Active cyber threat hunting

You’re here because you want to know more about active cyber threat hunting. How can it help your security? Is it necessary when you already have threat detection?


No worries, we’ll answer all of those questions.

So, keep reading and learn what active cyber threat hunting is, what are its characteristics, and more.

What Is Active Threat Hunting?

Active threat hunting is a very necessary “just in case” precaution companies use to detect potential breaches in their cyber security.

To be precise, cyber threat hunting is an active search for malicious activities on networks, endpoints, and datasets.

The first important thing to differentiate is that threat hunting isn’t the same as threat detection.

Security teams can never assume that their systems are unbreachable. It would be too dangerous. So, instead of waiting for the next attack, why not start searching for potential trouble-makers? That’s how threat hunting came to be.

Threat detection is a more passive approach to dealing with attacks. It relies on monitoring data and systems for possible security breaches or issues. Though it may seem a step behind hunting, threat detection is still a valuable asset to the overall security. In fact, it can help threat hunters with their work.

Types of Threat Hunting

Once they realize a potential security breach, the hunters let themselves into a deeper search.

Those searches can be:

  • Structured hunting
  • Unstructured hunting

Structured Hunting

A structured hunt is based on an indicator of attack (IoA). And since all searches are aligned and based on the actors’ tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), so is this one.

So the hunter can recognize the threat actor and prevent the attack before any damage is caused to the environment.

Unstructured Hunting

This type of hunt is initiated by an indicator of compromise (IoC), called a trigger. Unstructured hunting looks for pre and post-detection patterns. 

In this case, a hunter can research only as far as the data retention and previously associated offenses allow. This research decides the approach to the hunt.

Threat Hunting Step-By-Step

Step 1: Hypothesis

The hypothesis is the first step of all threat hunts. It’s the hunter’s statement on what they assume the threats will look like and how to find them. The hunters use all the information, knowledge, and threat intelligence to produce a valuable hypothesis. The hypothesis includes the TTPs.

Step 2: Collect and Process Intelligence and Data

Before any hunt begins, you are required to have high-quality intelligence and data on your side. Therefore, a plan for collecting and analyzing data is needed. There is software such as Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) that can investigate the activities of an IT environment.

Step 3: Trigger

In certain situations, the hypothesis can act as a trigger. This happens when the set-up detection tools point the hunters towards a specific area to investigate.

Step 4: Investigation

Further investigation of the system is necessary to determine whether the threat is benign or malicious. This is accomplished by investigative technologies such as Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR).

Step 5: Response/Resolution

Once the data is collected and confirmed malicious, a proper response is required. Depending on the type of threat, a resolution may be as simple as removing malware files or something on the lines of restoring files to their original state, updating the security rules, or changing system configurations.

And by resolving this issue, hunters can prepare for future attacks of similar nature.

Why Threat Hunting Is Important

Even though automated security tools should cover roughly 80% of all threats to your systems, there are still causes for concern. The remaining 20% are capable of causing the most damage to the company.

They usually include more sophisticated threats that are harder to recognize and stop by the automated security tools. Likewise, these types of threats can cause real damage to the systems and will be more difficult to detect even for the hunters.

Usually, a high-level threat remains undetected for up to 280 days. Proper threat hunting can improve the effectiveness of the hunt, shorten the time required to locate the risk, and lower the damages done before threat removal.

The patience of the attackers makes it even harder for the threats to be discovered. Quite often, the threat will hide for an extended period, collecting confidential information and credentials that will allow it to cause more significant breaches.

How significant can those breaches be? According to the “Cost of a Data Breach Report 2020,” a company loses $4 million on average for every data breach. And, the longer it took for the violation to be recognized, the higher the cost.

Key Threat Hunting Characteristics

Large enterprises aren’t the only ones that can benefit from active threat hunting. Any organization can take advantage of this practice by prioritizing the key characteristics of a threat hunt:

  • Don’t wait

Try being proactive instead of waiting for an alert that something has gone wrong or that your data is compromised. Threat hunting requires some investigative work before an issue is detected.

  • Don’t follow the rules.

Relying too heavily on alerts from tools that may or may not be of any help won’t get you far with hunting for cyber threats. Instead, the best hunters rely on their gut, listen to clues, and decide on the spot where a potential threat may be hiding.

  • Follow the trace

The fact that you are hunting requires assuming that a breach was made and the attackers left traces that you’ll be able to follow. Therefore, following any possible trails is crucial to a successful threat hunt.

  • Be creative

There are rules that you should follow to get the best results. However, with threat hunting being creative may be more important than following the guidelines. Attackers are constantly thinking of different approaches to breach your security. So, relying on the past won’t be enough to stop them.


Active cyber threat hunting can lower the cost of any breaches your company’s systems may have and shorten the time attackers can spend hiding on your network. If you wish to keep your data safe, investing in a cyber hunter seems like the right move.

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