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:

  • It’s Time for the Federal Government to Embrace Wireless and Mobility

    The United States has turned a corner on the adoption of mobile phones, tablets and other smart devices, outpacing traditional desktop and laptop sales by a wide margin. This issue brief discusses the state of wireless and mobility in federal government and outlines why now is the time to embrace these technologies in government.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.


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