SecurityBrief New Zealand logo
New Zealand's leading source of cybersecurity and cyber-attack news
Story image

Blurred lines: How counterinsurgent strategies apply to threat hunting

By Kai Ping Lew
Wed 15 Aug 2018
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Article by Carbon Black chief cybersecurity officer Tom Kellermann and Carbon Black security strategist Rick McElroy

In Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy, he introduces a military tactic called Iron Rain that can be defined as a mass invasion tactic.

In the real world, Iron Rain has a parallel - as destructive attacks surge, integrity attacks become the nightmare scenario for multinational corporations.

System integrity is paramount.

Successful counterinsurgency operations depend on thoroughly understanding the environments in which they are being conducted.

In most counterinsurgency operations where foreign forces participate, insurgents hold a distinct advantage in their level of local knowledge.

They speak the language, move easily within the society and are more likely to understand the population’s interests.

From a cyber perspective, ‘culture’ lies within network topology, netflow and user behaviour analytics.

Understanding the operational environment allows a counterinsurgent to identify the conditions which impact prerequisites for an insurgency and the root causes driving the population to accept the insurgency.

Only through understanding the operational environment can the counterinsurgent plan and execute successful operations to offset the conditions that allow the insurgency to exist.

Updated network topology diagrams coupled with regular penetration tests and the use of endpoint detection and response give defenders greater situational awareness of the operational environment.                                         

Intelligence drives operations                                  

Effective counterinsurgency operations are shaped by timely, relevant, tailored, predictive, accurate and reliable intelligence, gathered and analysed at the lowest possible level and disseminated throughout the force.

Without accurate and predictive intelligence, it is often better to not act rather than react.

Gaining situational understanding before action is often essential in avoiding long-term damage to objectives.

In environments where commanders do not have situational understanding, the first action they should take is to use forces to gain that understanding or drive to a known state. 

Security experts today are dealing with data fatigue.

How do we improve the contextual accuracy of intelligence?

Intelligence can help focus a team’s efforts on what matters while assessing the bigger picture.

Having the right intel can focus a team on the right threats to help better craft their defensive posture.                            

Human interpretation of data is fundamental.

Reporting by tactical ‘hunt teams’ and IT teams is often more important than reporting by specialised assets.

Learn and adapt                         

An effective counterinsurgency force lies within an organisation that is constantly learning.

Insurgents connected with other organisations constantly exchange information about their enemy’s vulnerabilities—even with insurgents in distant areas.

However, skilful counterinsurgency forces can adapt at least as fast as insurgents.

Every unit needs to be able to make observations, draw and apply lessons and assess results.

Leaders must develop an effective system to circulate best practices throughout their organisation.

They might also need to seek new policies that authorise or resource necessary changes.

Insurgents shift their locations looking for weak links, so widespread competence is required throughout the counterinsurgency force.

In cyberspace, establishing hunt teams is fundamental to countering a cyber insurgency.

The hunt teams must first develop a threat profile, which helps a hunter know where to prioritise hunting (and ultimately where to start hunting).

Applying streaming analytics to unfiltered data will allow hunters to sort information faster and enable tools to do the team’s target acquisition.

This results in a force multiplier for the threat hunters.

Analytics will predict future attacks via attack origin to survey the attacks’ root cause.

As a result, teams can anticipate and focus on the organisation’s defensive weaknesses.

As the team gels, they should develop rapid-response protocols.

Deciding when to reveal oneself is critical as counterincident response measures and destructive attacks are becoming the norm.

  • Assess threat intel from IPs, domains and hashes applied to historical data.
  • Query similar threads that are not identical matches in historical data.
  • Anomaly detection – requires continuous analysis of unfiltered data from the endpoint.

Threat hunting is most effective when employing both active measures (agents deployed to endpoints), as well as passive measures (netflow, packet capture appliances).

User-entity behaviour analytics must be employed as it is critical to baseline ‘normal’ network and host behaviour in a threat hunt; contextualising normal behaviour is the most effective way of determining where an adversary might lie in wait. 

Hunters must position themselves on the high ground, as defined by greater situational awareness.

Specifically, the hunter must analyse threat intel from customer IPs, domains and hashes applied to historical data.

From that vantage, one must search for similar threads that are not identical matches in historical data.

Successful anomaly detection requires continuous analysis of unfiltered data from the endpoint.     

On the battlefield, especially when operating in an environment where insurgency exists, communications will break down.

Time will be a factor.

Individual team members need to be empowered with the right data to make the right decision at the right time.

Ground truth is imperative. 

In order to achieve it, everyone on the team must be empowered.

The security team and IT teams must know their environment, know their intel sources and make decisions in the best interest of the organisation.

Often, system administrators and security teams will have the best grasp of their situations, but they require access to, or control of, the resources needed to produce timely intelligence, conduct effective tactical operations and manage intelligence and civil-military operations.

Within a network, system administrators must be empowered to make tactical security decisions.

They must receive cybersecurity training.

Effective counter insurgency operations are decentralised, and leaders owe it to their teams to push as many capabilities as possible down to their levels.

However, this must be balanced by ensuring that tactical leaders have the situational intel to make rapid decisions.

Related stories
Top stories
Story image
Tech job moves
Tech job moves - Adatree, Brother, Databricks, Nutanix & Rubrik
We round up all job appointments from May 20-26, 2022, in one place to keep you updated with the latest from across the tech industries.
Story image
Could New Zealanders initiate a cyber attack from within?
The threat landscape is significantly increasing worldwide, and the opportunities it presents are a growing concern in Aotearoa.
Story image
The path to bolstering supply chain security in New Zealand
A significant amount of today's business and leisure activity relies on IT supply chains. From complex international freight trades to local small business distribution channels, any supply chain that involves IT infrastructure serves as a crucial tool in our daily lives. 
Story image
Microsoft NZ and TupuToa to boost diversity in cybersecurity sector
Microsoft NZ has teamed up with TupuToa to co-develop a cyber security employment programme specifically aimed at creating more diversity in Aotearoa's cybersecurity sector.
Story image
Infosec unveils role-guided cybersecurity training roadmaps
Infosec Skills Roles maps hands-on training and certifications to the 12 most in-demand cybersecurity roles to maximise training efficiency.
Story image
Tech job moves - Forcepoint, Malwarebytes, SolarWinds & VMware
We round up all job appointments from May 13-20, 2022, in one place to keep you updated with the latest from across the tech industries.
Story image
BYOD / Bring Your Own Device
How zero trust can lead the battle against ransomware
SecOps teams champion a zero trust strategy to support the fight against the escalating risk of cybercrime and help monitor threat actors across a network.
Story image
Employees on the frontline of cyber defense - report
In the first quarter of 2022, employees found themselves more than ever at the frontline of cyber defense, according to a new report from Kroll. 
Story image
Fortinet introduces self-learning AI in latest offering
Fortinet is introducing self-learning AI capabilities in its new network detection and response offering, FortiNDR.
Story image
Asia Pacific plagued by sophisticated bad bots - report
The three most common bot attacks were account takeover, content or price scraping, and scalping to obtain limited-availability items.
Story image
CERT NZ releases first Cyber Security Insights for 2022
CERT NZ has released Quarter One: Cyber Security Insights 2022, which offers an overview of reports about cybersecurity incidents affecting New Zealanders.
Threat actors are exploiting weaknesses in interconnected IT/OT ecosystems. Darktrace illuminates your entire business and takes targeted action to stop emerging attacks.
Link image
Story image
Comcast to use ThreatQuotient for cybersecurity operations
Comcast, the parent company of NBC Universal and SKY Group, has chosen ThreatQ Platform and ThreatQ Investigations to meet their cybersecurity needs.
Story image
Maintaining secure systems with expectations of flexible work
Most office workers feel they've proved they can work successfully from home, and as much as employers try, things aren't going back to the way they were anytime soon.
Story image
APAC ranks third-highest region targeted by ransomware
Asia Pacific has ranked the third-highest region globally to be targeted by ransomware, according to cybersecurity firm Group-IB.
Story image
'Alarming' rise in ransomware threats - Verizon report
As criminals look to leverage increasingly sophisticated forms of malware, it is ransomware that continues to prove particularly successful.
Story image
i-PRO releases smallest AI-based surveillance camera on the market
The new i-PRO mini network camera is now available, with a pocket-sized form factor and full AI analytics functionality.
Story image
Identity and Access Management
The post-pandemic workforce requires secure IAM capabilities
HID Global discusses what identity and access management means for organisations in today's convoluted digital world.
Story image
WhatsApp and QR codes the next scam threat - report
KnowBe4 has warned it expects to see an increase in QR Codes and the WhatsApp chat platform being used for phishing and other scams. 
Story image
Silver Peak
The path to an adaptive, modern network
Managing and securing the network looks different than it did just two years ago—especially given that most of these networks are made up of multi-generations of infrastructure stitched together over time.
Story image
Trojan cyber attacks hitting SMBs harder than ever - Kaspersky
In 2022 the number of Trojan-PSW detections increased by almost a quarter compared to the same period in 2021 to reach 4,003,323.
Story image
Vectra AI
Understanding the weight on security leader’s shoulders, and how to shift it
Millions of dollars of government funding and internal budgets are being funnelled into cybersecurity to build resilience against sophisticated threats, indicating how serious this issue has become.
Story image
Data Protection
Information management capabilities to meet privacy requirements
Organisations with customers or operations across more than one country face a spate of new and proposed privacy and data protection laws.
Story image
Cybersecurity prompts upgrade for 1.3 billion electricity meters
ABI Research finds Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) and cybersecurity concerns are prompting the upgrade of 1.3 billion electricity meters by 2027.
Story image
Ponemon Institute
Email revealed to be riskiest channel for data loss
More than half (60%) of organisations experienced data loss or exfiltration caused by an employee mistake on email in the last 12 months.
Story image
Artificial Intelligence
Gartner reveals top three tech trends for banks this year
Gartner says generative artificial intelligence, autonomic systems and privacy-enhancing computation are gaining traction in banking and investment services.
Story image
Sysdig unveils new Kubernetes troubleshooting and cloud innovations
Sysdig has introduced two new innovations that look to help bolster cloud services and simplify Kubernetes troubleshooting.
Story image
ChildFund launches new campaign to protect children online
ChildFund says WEB Safe & Wise aims to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse online while also empowering them to become digitally savvy. 
Story image
New Relic
New Relic launches vulnerability management platform
New Relic has introduced New Relic Vulnerability Management to help organisations find and address security risks faster and with greater precision.
Story image
Let’s clear the cloud visibility haze with app awareness
Increasingly, organisations are heading for the cloud, initiating new born-in-the-cloud architectures and migrating existing applications via ‘lift and shift’ or refactoring.
Story image
Remote Working
Successful digital transformation in the hybrid work era is about embracing shifting goalposts
As organisations embraced remote working, many discovered they lacked the infrastructure needed to support history’s first global load test of remote work capabilities.
Story image
What every CISO must answer to enable a best-in-class security operations program
It has been widely reported recently that South Australian government employees have been the victims of a cyberattack.
Story image
Check Point
Check Point and CCTV expert join forces to boost protection
The partnership will involve Check Point Quantum IoT Protect Nano Agent being embedded in Provision-ISR’s CCTV cameras for on-device runtime protection.
Story image
Data Protection
Barracuda launches new capabilities for API Protection
"Every business needs this type of critical protection against API vulnerabilities and automated bot attacks," Barracuda says.
Story image
The ups and downs and runarounds of catching cybercriminals in NZ
We're becoming more and more aware of cybercrimes but how many criminals actually get caught? The New Zealand police explain why the answer is complicated.
Story image
Managed service provider
Barracuda MSP Day 2022 highlights MSP opportunities
Barracuda Networks has released a report showing global services-related MSP revenue is set to increase by more than a third in 2022 compared to 2021.
Story image
Third-party automotive apps bear significant privacy risks
Mobile applications for connected cars provide various features to make life easier for motorists, but they can also be a source of risk.
Story image
Elevation of Privilege the top 2021 Microsoft vulnerability
BeyondTrust has released its 2022 Microsoft Vulnerabilities Report, finding that Elevation of Privilege is the top vulnerability category for the second consecutive year.
Story image
Amazon Web Services / AWS
RedShield leverages AWS to scale cybersecurity services
"Working with AWS gives RedShield the ability to mitigate significant application layer DDoS attacks, helping leaders adopt best practices and security architectures."
Story image
Customer experience
Gartner recognises Okta for abilities in Access Management
Okta has announced it has been recognised as a Customers' Choice for the fourth time in a row in the Gartner Peer Insights "Voice of the Customer" report.
Story image
Accenture - a collective security approach a driving factor for cyber resilience
With the approaching Davos World Economic Forum upon us, it is even more imperative to discuss the impact of cybersecurity on business operations leading into the future.
Story image
Cyber attacks
Devastating cyber attacks expected to hit energy sector
Energy executives anticipate life, property, and environment-compromising cyber attacks on the sector within the next two years.
Story image
More than 40% of banks worried about cloud security - report
Publicis Sapient's new report finds security and the lack of cloud skills and internal understanding of business benefits are big obstacles for banks moving to the cloud.
Story image
APAC organisations fail to disclose ransomware breaches
85% of organisations in APAC were breached by ransomware at least once in the past five years, but only 28% publicly disclosed the incident.