Threat Detection and Response: Technologies and Best Practices

Threat Detection and Response: Technologies and Best Practices

What Is Threat Detection, Investigation, and Response? 

Threat detection and response, often abbreviated as TDR, refers to a collection of cybersecurity processes and solutions aimed at identifying, analyzing, and responding to security threats. If you add the increasingly common “I” for “investigation” into the acronym, you have the modern acronym, TDIR. In either case, it’s not just about finding threats, but also about understanding them and devising effective ways to mitigate their impact.

The primary objective of TDIR is to protect an organization’s digital assets from potential cyberthreats. This goal is achieved by deploying a combination of technologies and methodologies designed to detect, investigate, and neutralize threats. The TDIR framework provides organizations with the tools and procedures they need to stay one step ahead of cyberattackers.

It’s also important to note that TDIR isn’t a one-time process. It’s a continuous cycle of detection, response, and improvement. This dynamic approach allows organizations to adapt their defenses to the ever-evolving threat landscape.

This is part of a series of articles about Next-Gen SIEM.

The Process of Threat Detection, Investigation, and Response 

Proactive Threat Hunting

The first stage in the TDIR process is proactive threat hunting. This involves actively looking for potential threats that could jeopardize your organization’s digital assets. Unlike traditional security measures that react to threats, proactive threat hunting seeks to identify threats before they cause damage.

Threat hunting requires acquiring and maintaining a deep understanding of the organization’s infrastructure, systems, and typical network behaviors. By knowing what’s normal, security teams can quickly spot any anomalies that could indicate a potential threat. It also involves staying updated on the latest threat intelligence externally, especially specific to your industry and geography, to anticipate new types of attacks. TDIR solutions can help automate threat hunting and help security teams search for relevant security events. 

Detection of Threats and Anomalies

This step is where advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) come into play. Using these technologies, organizations can automate the detection process and identify threats at scale.

Detection isn’t just about identifying known threats; it also involves spotting anomalies that could indicate a previously unknown threat, including zero-day exploits. The ability to detect these unknown threats is key to a successful TDIR strategy. This is achieved by security tools employing AI to detect threats through pattern matching or signature-based detection, (separate but important essentials under the larger AI umbrella) as well as by vendors employing ML analytics to determine anomalies and new patterns or changes.

Investigation: Prioritization and Analysis of Threats

Once threats and anomalies have been detected, the next step is to prioritize and analyze them. Not all threats pose the same level of risk in terms of affect or impact to the organization, so it’s important to determine which ones need immediate attention.

Prioritization involves assessing the potential impact of the threat on the organization’s operations and data. Analysis involves understanding the nature of the threat, its origin, its current reach and scope, andits potential trajectory. This step is crucial for devising an effective response strategy. Having information mapping IP addresses to users to system names and functions can be a crucial part, and speed the investigation stage.

Response and Remediation

Once a threat has been analyzed and understood, it’s time to respond through mitigation or neutralization. The response could involve forcing an MFA check, shutting down a credential, isolating affected systems, blocking malicious IP addresses, or removing malware from the network.

Remediation involves repairing any damage caused by the threat and restoring systems to their normal state. This could involve tasks like rotating passwords, patching vulnerabilities, recovering lost data, or reinstalling compromised software. In situations where a material breach may have occurred, analysts need clarity and precision in their communication to upper management, and must describe every step of the attack and actions taken for auditing purposes.

Recovery and Learning

Once the immediate threat has been dealt with, it’s time to learn from the experience and improve the organization’s defenses. This can also involve bringing in new security and system logs to get a wider view of the use case, or improving coverage in visibility or rule sets and anomaly detection to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Recovery involves restoring business operations to normal and addressing any residual effects of the threat. Learning, on the other hand, involves conducting a post-incident analysis to understand what went wrong and how to prevent similar incidents in the future through process, technology and tools, and improved procedures.

Learn more: Read our guide to TDIR for Public Cloud.

Tools and Technologies Used in Threat Detection, Investigation, and Response 

Here are some of the main tools used to achieve TDIR in modern organizations.

Security Information and Event Management (SIEM)

SIEM solutions area key tool in the arsenal of any cybersecurity professional. They collect and aggregate log data generated across the IT environment, can identify deviations from the norm, and help security teams take appropriate action to mitigate the threat. SIEM solutions are usually capable of providing near-real-time analysis of security alerts, making them a vital component in the threat detection process. The best SIEM solutions on the market combine security log management, user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA), and automation/orchestration capabilities.

SIEM systems can also correlate related events, helping security teams to understand the full scope of an attack. Additionally, SIEM tools can automate responses to certain types of threats, freeing up security personnel to focus on more complex issues.

Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) and Extended Detection and Response (XDR)

EDR tools provide real-time monitoring and collection of endpoint data, allowing security teams to detect, investigate, and prevent potential threats. They are capable of identifying and analyzing suspicious activities on endpoints such as laptops, workstations, and mobile devices.

XDR, on the other hand, extends these capabilities by integrating multiple security products into a cohesive security incident detection and response platform. Native XDR combines the capabilities of EDR, especially combined with the same vendor’s network traffic analysis and other security tools to provide a holistic view of an organization’s security posture. This comprehensive visibility greatly aids in the detection and remediation of threats across an organization’s network.

Intrusion Detection and Prevention Systems (IDS/IPS)

Intrusion detection and prevention systems are critical components of a robust threat detection and response strategy. They monitor network traffic for suspicious activities and policy violations. Intrusion detection systems (IDS) analyze network traffic to detect potential threats and alert security teams, while intrusion prevention systems (IPS) go a step further by sending a signal to firewalls/proxies to automatically block or mitigate detected threats.

Next Generation Firewall (NGFW) and Web Application Firewalls (WAF)

NGFWs are sophisticated versions of traditional firewalls, equipped with advanced features like deep packet inspection, intrusion prevention systems, some anti virus hash matching, and the ability to incorporate external threat intelligence. They provide enhanced visibility and control over network traffic, helping organizations better detect and respond to threats.

Web Application Firewalls (WAFs) protect web applications by monitoring and filtering HTTP traffic between a web application and the Internet. They help detect and prevent web-based attacks such as cross-site scripting (XSS), SQL injection, and other threats such as those listed in the OWASP Top 10.

Cloud Detection and Response Tools

Cloud detection and response (CDR) tools extend threat detection and response capabilities to cloud environments. They monitor and analyze access and other activities across various cloud services and infrastructure to detect potential security threats. They help in detecting misconfigurations, unauthorized access, and other threats specific to the cloud environment, and can often be part of the authentication and authorization for cloud services.

By integrating with other security tools, CDRs provide a unified view of an organization’s security status across both on-premises and cloud environments.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are transforming the face of threat detection and response. These technologies can analyze huge volumes of data at high speed, detecting patterns and anomalies that might indicate a cyberthreat. Pattern-matching, fact-based detections, and other signature-oriented tools have been part of security’s arsenal for decades, and this area of AI is starting to combine with ML and natural language processing (NLP) tasks to help speed threat analysis and response.

AI and ML can automate the process of identifying threats, reducing the time it takes to detect an attack and increasing the efficiency of the response. They can also predict future attacks based on past patterns, helping organizations to be proactive by suggesting improvements in coverage, rules, use case visualizations, and new sources of security data in both security stack and response tools.

Threat Intelligence Platforms

Threat intelligence platforms (TIPs) are another key technology in threat detection and response. They collect, aggregate, and analyze data from a variety of sources to provide actionable intelligence about current and potential threats. TIPs can help organizations to understand the threat landscape, identify trends, and prioritize their security efforts.

These platforms can also facilitate information sharing between organizations, promoting a collaborative approach to cybersecurity. With a TIP, organizations can stay one step ahead of cybercriminals, proactively mitigating threats before they can cause harm. The best SIEM solutions already come with TIP feeds to enrich context data for attacks and events, helping prioritize known bad domains, IPs, and patterns.

Best Practices for Effective Threat Detection and Response or TDIR

Conduct Regular Vulnerability Assessments and Penetration Testing

Regular vulnerability assessments can help organizations identify weaknesses in their security posture before a threat actor can exploit them. These assessments should be comprehensive, covering all aspects of the organization’s systems, applications, and networks.

Similarly, penetration testing (also known as ethical hacking) and application security testing (as well as software composition analysis tools) can help to uncover vulnerabilities that might not be visible during a vulnerability assessment. Penetration tests simulate real-world attacks, testing the organization’s defenses and providing insights into how well they can withstand an actual attack. Managing those critical and high findings in software and hardware alike consumes many resources for an organization, and it keeps security people in a job watching in the areas where an organization cannot yet patch effectively at speed.

Implement a Comprehensive Incident Response Plan

An incident response plan is a set of instructions that help organizations respond to a security incident swiftly and effectively. This plan should outline the roles and responsibilities of all team members, detail the procedures for ingestion and troubleshooting, then responding to different types of incidents. It should provide guidelines for communicating with stakeholders during and after an incident, including lessons learned and process improvement along with potential tooling enhancement.

Having a comprehensive incident response plan in place can significantly reduce the time it takes to respond to a security incident, minimizing the damage and disruption it can cause. It can also help to ensure that all team members know what to do in the event of an attack, boosting the organization’s overall security posture.

Determine a Clear Escalation Path

Establishing a clear escalation path is crucial for efficient threat response. When a potential threat is detected, the relevant information should be quickly escalated to the right personnel or team for further analysis and remediation. The escalation path may vary depending on the severity of the threat, its potential impact, and the skills required to handle it. Some types of threat, if they are high-level in terms of potential impact for media or external awareness, should have an executive sponsor or contact for informing at speed.

A clear and well-documented escalation and communication path can speed up the response process and ensure threats are handled by the appropriate expertise.

Automate Threat Response

Automating threat response can help organizations quickly and effectively neutralize threats. This can involve using automated scripts to block malicious IP addresses, isolate affected systems, or execute other predefined response actions. Automation can also extend to the remediation process, such as automatically patching known vulnerabilities. 

Advanced tools such as next-generation SIEM, New-Scale SIEMTM, and XDR systems can integrate with other security systems like UEBA and security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR) to automatically react to threats and anomalies they identify. For example, when an email security system detects a malicious IP used to send spam emails, they can automatically change firewall rules to block traffic to and from that IP.

Implement Continuous Monitoring

Continuous monitoring is crucial for effective threat detection and response. Organizations should monitor their systems and networks 24/7, using tools like SIEM and EDR to detect suspicious activities as soon as they occur.

Moreover, organizations should regularly review and update their security measures, taking into account the evolving threat landscape. They should also carry out regular audits of their security posture, identifying areas for improvement and implementing the necessary changes.

Train Employees and Promote Security Awareness

Last but not least, employee training and awareness are vital for effective threat detection and response. Employees are often the weakest link in an organization’s security chain, and a lack of awareness can lead to inadvertent breaches.

Organizations should provide regular training to their employees, educating them about the latest threats and teaching them how to recognize and respond to them. Such training can significantly reduce the risk of a security incident, enhancing the organization’s overall security posture.

Threat Detection, Investigation, and Response with Exabeam

Exabeam expands on threat detection, and response by including investigation, a key element of the security operations workflow that can be most resource and time exhaustive. With Exabeam Fusion or Exabeam Security Investigation, you can automate and modernize the entire TDIR workflow to gain a complete picture of a threat, reduce manual routines, and simplify complex work. 

Exabeam Security Investigation allows organizations to enhance their SIEM tool or data lake to enable advanced threat detection and outcomes-focused TDIR. Exabeam Security Investigation offers prescriptive threat investigations using pre-built integrations with third-party security tools, as well as automation and market-leading behavioral analytics that combine weak signals from multiple products to detect, investigate, and respond to complex threats missed by other tools.

Exabeam Security Investigation is built on UEBA that establishes a baseline of normal activity for all users and entities, visualizing all notable events within contextualized, automated Smart TimelinesTM. Analysts can see user and entity contextual data to identify malicious behavior and reduce attacker dwell time within an environment. Security operations center (SOC) automation ensures consistent, repeatable results, scaling operations and accelerating investigations while reducing response times.

Exabeam Security Investigation includes prepackaged detection content along use cases like compromised insiders, malicious insiders, and external threats, with prescribed workflows for compromised credentials, privileged access, and phishing, including checklists that offer guidance for responding to specific threat types to achieve successful TDIR outcomes. Analysts can run workflows from a single control plane that automates manual tasks like alert triage, incident investigation, and incident response, including SOAR operation.

Exabeam Fusion combines cloud-native security log management with the behavioral analytics, and automated investigations available in Exabeam Security Investigation to comprise an outcome-focused solution for TDIR. Exabeam Fusion combines UEBA with modern search across hundreds of prepackaged integrations to answer complex questions in seconds. Exabeam Fusion analyzes the weak signals from multiple products to uncover complex threats like credential-based attacks that are often missed by other tools — and helps teams prioritize anomalies to get the complete picture faster.

Exabeam Fusion and Exabeam Security Investigation accelerate and streamline security operations by helping analysts standardize around best practices, including prescribed workflows and prepackaged content that focuses on specific threat types to achieve more successful TDIR outcomes. This enables security operations to run end-to-end TDIR workflows from a single control panel that performs automation of manual tasks involved at each phase.