Traits of a Successful Threat Hunter


Roger O’FarrilThreat hunting is all about being proactive and looking for signs of compromise that other systems may have missed. As defenders, we want to cut down the time it takes to detect attackers. To accomplish this, we assume the bad guys have penetrated our defenses, and then proceed to look for traces that their activities have left behind.

Putting aside the technical details, it is extremely important to consider the person, or perhaps the team, who is doing the hunting. I describe a good threat hunter as a person with a wide skill set who has “been there and done that” in multiples areas of IT and security. There are four main dimensions that help shape a good hunter:

Curiosity
A threat hunter needs to be patient, highly motivated, and driven by a desire to know more. The person needs to start asking questions such as why in order to understand whatever activity may be under analysis. In order to be able to answer the why, the drive to go deep into the rabbit hole is essential.

Critical thinking
Being able to analyze and solve problems also is important. The hunter must always keep an open mind and be able to consider alternative solutions to the problem. Thinking like an attacker usually helps frame an investigation from a different angle and could be the key to uncovering evil within your systems.

Technical expertise
A wide array of technical knowledge is essential. A person who is an expert in network and knows very little about other disciplines such as forensics, applications, databases, etc., may not be able to see the big picture. Ideally, the hunter has cross-discipline knowledge and knows who to reach out to when more in-depth analysis is required.

Ability to connect the dots
This is one of the most important aspects. Many analysts struggle when presented with multiple sets of information and therefore are unable to connect the dots and put together the puzzle. An efficient hunter should be able to understand the data and its business context, perform the appropriate correlations, and reach conclusions.

Professionals with this sort of talent and skill are scarce. Remember that in many cases it makes perfect sense to develop hunting talent in-house. An employee who has worked in a few IT or information security disciplines who knows your business brings great value to the table. Look around and see who is up to the challenge.

Editor’s note: Roger O’Farril will be presenting further insights on this topic at ISACA’s CSX North America conference, to take place 15-17 October in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.

Roger O’Farril, Information Security Team Lead, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago

[ISACA Now Blog]

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