Hypothesis-driven threat hunting is a tailored, proactive, and deeply analytical approach to cybersecurity. It leverages the acumen of seasoned security experts to predict and pre-empt potential attack vectors, delivering a dynamic and robust defense against the sophisticated threats that modern enterprises face.
What Is Hypothesis-Driven Threat Hunting?
Hypothesis-driven threat hunting is a proactive cybersecurity program that actively seeks out and identifies emerging and concealed threats by analyzing current intelligence and envisioning potential adversary behaviors. Hypothesis-driven threat hunting starts by forming a premise based on current threats or new vulnerabilities, using this information to predict potential methods an adversary might employ to breach a system. This method relies heavily on the expertise of security analysts who craft these hypotheses based on a deep understanding of the threat landscape.
Hypothesis-driven threat hunting takes a proactive approach that requires constant vigilance and the ability to rapidly adapt to the changing tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) attackers use. The process involves continuous research and monitoring to stay up-to-date on the ever-evolving techniques threat actors use. As new threats emerge or familiar ones evolve, analysts adapt strategies to hunt for signs of these specific behaviors in an environment.
Customization is a cornerstone of hypothesis-driven threat hunting. Each hunt is tailored to the client’s industry, specific threats they face, and tools they utilize. This bespoke service goes beyond the one-size-fits-all, Indicator of Compromise (IOC) based models, providing a nuanced and responsive defense mechanism that aligns with the unique profile of each client.
The methodology extends to malware reverse engineering and analyzing new vulnerabilities. When a new exploit surfaces, analysts deconstruct it, run it in a controlled environment, and observe the outcomes. The insights gleaned from these exercises are then translated into finely tuned queries, applied to the customer’s environment to uncover any traces of threat actors’ activities.
Hypothesis-Driven Threat Hunting vs. the Standard Approach
Hypothesis-driven threat hunting is a specialized service that transcends the limitations of standard, foundational threat hunting. While foundational hunting relies on recognized indicators of compromise (IOCs) and is often automated, hypothesis-driven hunting is an active, analytical process.
Many Managed Detection and Response (MDR) providers claim to conduct threat hunting, but often, it’s not truly hypothesis-driven. Instead, they offer foundational threat hunting that, while valuable, operates on a more general level, scanning for known IOCs across the board. This automated checking lacks the depth and customization of a hypothesis-driven approach, which considers the latest threat landscape changes and client-specific nuances in its queries.
The distinction becomes clear in the customization process. Hypothesis-driven threat hunting is not a one-size-fits-all solution. This level of personalization requires a hands-on approach, extensive knowledge of current threats, and the flexibility to adjust hunts to the client’s technology stack and business operations.
Driving the Ultimate Value of MDR
In the realm of Managed Detection and Response (MDR), hypothesis-driven threat hunting is the keystone that drives its ultimate value. The advanced method enhances MDR by actively seeking out and identifying threats that evade standard detection, offering a more nuanced and predictive approach to cybersecurity. It’s a tailored, intelligent process that not only reacts to the current threat environment but also anticipates future risks based on evolving attacker behaviors and techniques.
Hypothesis-driven threat hunting enriches the MDR service by creating a cycle of continuous improvement and bespoke adaptation. When a new detection is developed from a threat hunt, it’s not only applied to the targeted client but can also be shared across the service base. This communal benefit is a hallmark of the MDR value proposition, ensuring that all clients benefit from the most cutting-edge defense strategies, even if they are not directly targeted by a particular threat.
However, not all detections are created equal. While some can be rolled out broadly, others require fine-tuning to reduce false positives that could otherwise overwhelm the client’s security team. Nuanced detections demonstrate the need for a human touch and analysis, affirming the hypothesis-driven model’s emphasis on tailored, behavior-based threat hunting over automated, indicator-based approaches.
A unique aspect of advanced threat hunting is its feedback loop into detection engineering. This process involves refining and adjusting the hunting queries to fit seamlessly into the broader client environment. By transforming reactive alerts into proactive hunts, MDR providers ensure that the defenses not only respond to current threats but evolve in anticipation of what’s on the horizon.
The full circle of threat hunting is complete when the intelligence gained is looped back in, informing future hunts and detections. This iterative process creates a dynamic defense posture that is constantly updated with the latest intelligence, ensuring that MDR services offer not just a response to threats, but a robust defense mechanism that is always one step ahead.
Real-World Example: Hunting with Binary Defense
In a real-world setting, the collaboration between Binary Defense and our clients during hypothesis-driven threat hunts is a testament to the value of personalized security services. Collaboration begins with a tailored communication channel established for each client, forming the foundation for a responsive and interactive partnership. Here, clients can prompt the threat hunting team with specific concerns, whether they arise from industry news or new threats that catch their attention. In response, Binary Defense’s experts prioritize these concerns, conducting in-depth research and developing or confirming protective measures.
The depth of collaboration is evident in how Binary Defense not only conducts hunts but also educates the clients. Providing overviews of hypotheses and threats enhances the clients’ understanding and enables them to make informed decisions. This knowledge transfer is a critical part of the process, sometimes leading clients to conduct their supplementary investigations or request further exploration by the Binary Defense team.
On the occasion that a hunt leads to a discovery, whether it’s potentially unwanted applications or connections to command and control servers, clients are promptly informed with actionable intelligence. The Binary Defense team provides a detailed account of the findings, including the scope of the threat and recommended next steps, whether it’s a simple SOC-level review or escalation to an Incident Response (IR) team.
To close the loop on this collaborative process, Binary Defense compiles a comprehensive monthly report for each client. This report encapsulates all the threat hunts conducted, summarizes the threats investigated, and includes the corresponding queries developed. It’s a documentation of the month’s efforts, serving as a resource for the client’s management and a record of the proactive defenses put in place. This level of detail and transparency exemplifies the ultimate value of a dedicated hypothesis-driven threat hunting service.