recommended reading

4 Skills Every Threat Hunter Should Have



By Carl Manion January 3, 2017

recent posts

Carl Manion is a managing principal of Raytheon Foreground Security.

Targeted attack campaigns by advanced cyber adversaries have become a mainstay that most—if not all—organizations now need to be concerned about. This type of threat may stay hidden on your network, undetected for long periods of time, laterally moving across your systems as the attackers try to find the valuable information they’re interested in stealing.

Although such targeted attacks are difficult to detect, there are proven techniques and best practices, such as threat hunting, that can be implemented to significantly improve your chances of finding clues that serve as indicators of ongoing attacks. As such, it’s highly critical for enterprises to incorporate best practices into their security operations to mitigate the risks that targeted attacks pose.

» Get the best federal technology news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.

Implementing a threat-hunting capability, along with standard IT security controls and monitoring systems, can improve an organization’s ability to detect and respond to threats. Because threat hunting is primarily a human-based activity, it takes skilled threat-hunting experts to implement an effective program.

So what makes a threat hunter successful? Here’s a list of four critical skills:

1. Pattern Recognition/Deductive Reasoning: Attackers are constantly finding new, creative ways to exploit weaknesses in popular operating systems and applications. Unforeseen zero-day exploits with no existing signatures are nearly an everyday occurrence, therefore, threat hunters need to look for patterns that match the tactics, techniques and procedures of known threat actors, advanced malware and unusual behaviors. To detect such patterns, a skilled threat hunter must also understand what normal behavior and patterns look like on their network. They must also be able to formulate and develop logical theories on how to access a network or exploit a system to gain access to specific critical information. Once they’ve developed their theory, they need to be able to work backward, using deductive reasoning, to look for likely clues and traces that would be left behind by attackers within those scenarios.

2. Data Analytics: Threat hunters rely on technology to monitor environments and collect logs and other data to perform data analytics. As such, threat hunters must have a solid understanding of data analytics and data science approaches, tools and techniques. Leveraging best practices such as the use of data visualization tools to create charts and diagrams significantly helps threat hunters identify patterns so they can determine the best actions to take in conducting threat-hunting activities and related investigations.

3. Malware Analysis/Data Forensics: When threat hunters find new threats, they often have to analyze and reverse engineer newly discovered malware and data forensics activities to understand how the malware was initially deployed, what its capabilities are and the extent of any damage or exposure it may have caused.

4. Communication: Once a threat hunter detects a threat, vulnerability, or weakness within the target network, they must effectively communicate to the appropriate stakeholders and staff members so the issue can be addressed and mitigated. If threats and related risks aren’t properly communicated to the right stakeholders, attackers will continue to have the upper hand. 

As cyber adversaries continue to evolve, skilled threat analysts are needed to help defend our networks. Fortunately, a recent survey conducted by the National Cyber Security Alliance found 37 percent of young adults say they’re more likely to consider a cyber career than they were a year ago. Young adults also said they’re interested in career opportunities that will allow them to use their problem-solving, data analysis and communication skills. Threat hunting is an opportunity for them to use all of those skills.


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.