Revving Up Threat Hunting with Query Tuning

Threat hunting, an integral component of modern cybersecurity operations, necessitates an exceptional level of skill, keen intuition, and advanced analytical ability. Yet, the ever-evolving landscape of cybersecurity threats often challenges threat hunters to sharpen their toolsets further, fostering a need for mastery in a multitude of techniques. One such essential skill is query tuning, an art that often defines the success of threat hunting initiatives. In this article, we delve deeper into the process of query tuning and why it’s a game-changer in threat hunting operations.

A Broad Overview

In the words of Scott Poley, a seasoned threat hunter from Cyborg Security, query tuning is more than mere adjustments to narrow down your search results. At its core, query tuning involves refining your search queries to identify specific events or behaviors based on your hypothesis. Unlike detection engineering, which is more focused on identifying an event or correlated events, threat hunting leverages query tuning to identify events of interest.

The Art of Crafting Hypotheses

Scott emphasizes that crafting an effective hypothesis is at the heart of query tuning. A good hypothesis should strike a balance between being broad enough to cover a range of similar threats and being specific enough to identify unique behaviors. This craft, although intricate, improves with experience and deep knowledge.

To illustrate, let’s consider an example revolving around the use of PowerShell, a tool often employed by administrators within a managed domain. If threat intel reports frequently highlight this tool, it can be challenging to formulate a hypothesis without adequate context. However, refining the hypothesis to focus on the behavior of PowerShell—such as its use for executing encoded commands—can provide a more specific, yet broad enough perspective. This refined hypothesis, in turn, enhances the query tuning process.

Targeting the Right Set in Query Tuning

Once a robust hypothesis is in place, the next step in query tuning is defining your target set—deciding on what to include or exclude in your hunt. This involves identifying specific hosts, processes, users, or applications that might be central to the perceived behavior. For instance, post-exploitation behavior that resembles admin activity across the network may not be characteristic of your public-facing web servers. This insight can help narrow your hunt significantly. Similarly, knowledge of your environment aids in making effective exclusions, such as ignoring certain normal activities or scheduled tasks that mirror the behavior under investigation.

The Power of Aggregation in Query Tuning

In threat hunting, aggregation is a powerful technique that turns your results into meaningful data, making it easier to analyze large volumes of information. With a well-defined hypothesis, aggregations allow you to view your data from different perspectives and compare events that might initially seem benign. Aggregations essentially harness the power of rarity, assisting in the assessment of potential threats.

The Payoff: Enhanced Threat Hunting

The true payoff of effective query tuning in threat hunting comes to the fore when dealing with complex cybersecurity scenarios. For instance, understanding the origin of an execution can lead you to discern if it was a result of phishing, an exploit, or something completely normal. This can help you quickly identify uncharacteristic behaviors, such as a CEO running a script. Likewise, understanding the uniqueness of a specific host’s behavior, or identifying a series of events in quick succession, can provide valuable insights into potential threats.

Concluding Thoughts

In the realm of threat hunting, query tuning is an indispensable tool. It requires a nuanced understanding of the threat landscape, a sharp intuition to construct effective hypotheses, and a keen eye for discerning patterns and anomalies. As Scott Poley aptly puts it, query tuning is part craft, part science. With experience and knowledge, this skill can drastically enhance your threat hunting capabilities, equipping you with the expertise needed.

If this fast-paced journey through the world of threat hunting query tuning sparks your curiosity, or if you’re interested in learning more, we invite you to take it to the next level. Cyborg Security’s latest webinar, ‘Threat Hunting: Shifting Gears in Query Tuning,’ is an excellent place to continue exploring. In the webinar, Scott Poley shares in-depth insights from his experience on the frontlines of threat hunting, offering detailed discussions on everything from forming a hypothesis to achieving meaningful data aggregations.

Remember, threat hunting is not just about having the latest tools in your arsenal. It’s about mastering the craft, always learning, and never resting on your laurels. To continue evolving your threat hunting prowess, remember to check out Cyborg Security’s latest webinar, ‘Threat Hunting: Shifting Gears in Query Tuning’. The journey never stops, and every bit of knowledge pushes you a step closer to becoming a more proficient threat hunter. Happy hunting!

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