Threat Hunting vs. Threat Detection: What’s the Difference?

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Increasingly, companies are becoming aware of the importance of building threat detection and hunting capabilities that avoid putting their businesses at risk. Now more than ever, when it comes to both protecting enterprise cybersecurity and delivering effective IT security solutions and services, organizations and MSPs can no longer simply act when cyberattacks occur but take action long before they even pose a threat.

Carlos Arnal Cardenal, Product Marketing Manager, WatchGuard Technologies
Author: Carlos Arnal Cardenal, product marketing manager, WatchGuard Technologies

State-of-the-art cyberattacks are designed to get around the protection provided by traditional security solutions. These attacks are becoming more frequent and more sophisticated as hackers become more professionalized and use advanced techniques like fileless attacks. These fileless attacks are behind 75% of successfully executed attacks and make identifying their origin much more complex when using specific files. This is because, first, their detection implies total visibility and second, we need to be able to look back in time and see what actions were in the past.

A threat can remain for months without being discovered in corporates' networks. In fact, a significant amount of cyberattacks go unnoticed. The time taken by firms to detect and contain a data breach is 280 days on average (Ponemon Institute research). That means that the telemetry that underpins the visibility of activity should be available for at least a year to allow us to "go back in time" and investigate threats that may have remained hidden.

A proactive approach to unmasking these kinds of attacks in the early stages or before they even happen is critical for modern enterprises to prevent known threats while allowing cyber professionals to study the new tactics of cybercriminals who intend to put your clients’ security at risk. This means that traditional threat detection is joined by proactive threat hunting as an increasingly necessary trend in enterprise cybersecurity.

While prevention is the best response to cyberattacks, early detection of attacks and rapid response are critical to reducing the number of potential successful cyberattacks.

Threat Hunting and Threat Detection: Four Main Differences

There are plenty of threat hunting and threat detection definitions in the market. Sometimes, this generates confusion or noise about what your customers think they need to improve their security posture. So, let's try to clarify the differences between threat hunting and threat detection and see how they can benefit your customers.

Threat hunting is the process of seeking out adversaries before they can successfully execute an attack. Threat hunting is an early-stage component of threat detection focused on identifying threats at the earliest possible phase of an attack or compromise. Threat detection as a broader term refers to the complete set of processes focused on identifying threats, whether before, during, or after a compromise has occurred. Threat hunting tools analyze endpoints, applications, data, and user behavior for anomalous activity indicative of a threat.

Below we have listed the main differences between them:

  1. Threat hunting is a proactive technique that combines security tools, analytics, and threat intelligence with human analysis and instinct. Threat hunters do not wait for an alert about a known pattern; instead, they try to find clues before a data breach occurs or before an unknown or malicious binary is detected on the endpoints.
  2. Threat hunting is "inspired" by suspicions and the formulation of new hypotheses. The hunt is to follow clues and ideas rather than to verify known rules.
  3. Only analysts specialized in the search for attack patterns in this type of data - the threat hunters - can provide this service. Threat hunters rely on their knowledge, experience, and mindset aligned with the hacker's way of acting, knowing at all times that the client's security is being compromised, focusing on locating any clue that allows identifying the attacker in the network without an alert of detection of a known rule or malicious binary.
  4. Threat detection is a process that is automated and oriented to detect known threats in most cases. In contrast, threat hunting is a creative process with a flexible methodology focused on hunting the hacker.

Customers worried about cybersecurity or looking for an extra security layer want and need these capabilities to prevent any kind of malware, or malwareless and fileless attacks so they can focus on their business. But many struggle to find the right solutions, which is why the MSP market is growing so rapidly. By selecting solutions that enable MSPs with the ability to provide additional protection and services to their customers, they can ensure they're delivering cutting-edge technologies that drive profitability and reduce resource burdens.

Carlos Arnal Cardenal is product marketing manager at WatchGuard Technologies. Read more WatchGuard guest blogs hereRegularly contributed guest blogs are part of MSSP Alert’s sponsorship program.