What Is Vulnerability Hunting?

vulnerability hunting

In the race to identify and fix weaknesses in your cyber networks and applications, there is a “hunt.” Most people talk about threat hunting and define it as a proactive approach to cybersecurity. However, that’s not exactly true. The real offensive cyber security is vulnerability hunting.

These terms aren’t the same, and any organization must know the difference. It comes down to being proactive rather than reactive. This post will define vulnerability hunting and its unique characteristics.

What Is Vulnerability Hunting?

Vulnerability hunting comes from the idea that cybercriminals spend much time on reconnaissance. It’s their “job” to know your networks and devices and have knowledge of all your weaknesses, from operating systems to cloud computing to applications to security controls.

In this approach to cybersecurity, you have to accept that hackers have this knowledge. Your team must know it better and use preventative strategies to keep them from ever infiltrating your ecosystem.

It requires a deep assessment of everything in your network, especially user identities and endpoints. It’s the details that matter. Suppose you have a laptop on the network assigned to one employee. However, another user shows up on that device, which is unknown and has access to many other machines. The conclusion is that this anomaly is a hacker attempting to maintain persistence to launch an attack.

This exercise is much different than its reactive counterpart—threat hunting.

What Is Threat Hunting?

What makes threat hunting unlike vulnerability hunting is that it is a reactive strategy. The aim is to look for and catch threat actors who have bypassed your defenses. Examples include things like detection and response platforms, firewalls, intrusion protection systems, and installing anti-virus and anti-malware.

Technical professionals hunt for threats after cyber incidents and reputational and financial harm have already occurred. It’s completely responsive. It’s essential to place this tactic in the response category.

Vulnerability Hunting vs. Threat Hunting

A complete cybersecurity strategy would involve vulnerability and threat hunting. Clear delineation between the two enables you to optimize your approach. That involves understanding the difference between a threat and a vulnerability.

Threat vs. Vulnerability

A threat is a potential danger or actual attack that can cause damage to a network or system. Threat identification is necessary but not always controllable. Threats cause harm as a result of vulnerabilities.

A vulnerability is the state of being susceptible to an attack due to security flaws. Identifying and correcting them mitigates threats.

Another essential distinction is vulnerability hunting vs. vulnerability assessments.

Vulnerability Hunting vs. Vulnerability Assessments

Vulnerability assessments have been a common tactic for organizations to protect against cybersecurity risk. It’s a testing process used to evaluate your network and its assets. The main objective is to locate missing patches or configurations and correct them.

They are part of any offensive security strategy and help meet regulatory requirements for healthcare entities and HIPAA compliance. They can cover three areas:

  • Network-based: This approach reviews geographically distributed applications and machines to determine whether any security gaps exist in networks or communication systems. It also assesses devices on the network, looking for compromised passwords. Finally, it can evaluate your system’s ability to withstand common attacks.
  • Application-based: This exercise focuses on the application layer to find misconfigurations or vulnerabilities. Many organizations conduct these after major updates.
  • Host-based: This approach analyzes the weaknesses of machines. The test appraises workstations, servers, and network hosts. Most often, a manager/agent structure is the framework to determine if the system follows business-wide security standards and protocols.

Vulnerability assessments have set steps and conclude with prioritizing weaknesses by risk. It’s valuable information for any business. Vulnerability hunting amplifies this knowledge.

The hunting part goes a few layers deeper than assessments. It supports the identification of more assets that are unmanaged or undermanaged. This new level of detail clears up blind spots associated with devices, applications, and identities.

Next, let’s look at how to practice vulnerability hunting.

How to Practice Vulnerability Hunting

Consider vulnerability hunting a more detailed assessment. You can collaborate with a cyber firm to perform those evaluations, and they can also conduct the hunt. In this practice, they’ll look at each device with more focus, encompassing everything associated with your network. This includes devices on-premises, remote, or in the cloud. Testers use automation tools for this and manual efforts to ensure no missing pieces of the puzzle.

The exercise should reveal:

  • Gaps in security controls at the device level
  • Issues related to applications
  • Unknown identities

The findings related to these conclusions would prioritize the weaknesses, using the same four classifications used in vulnerability assessments: critical, high, medium, or low/informational. The categorization considers the type of asset, where it lives, users, regulatory risks, and more.

Then comes the remediation plan to address all these risks. It’s not unlike the vulnerability assessment action plans. However, it’s more about the detail of locating a single device and then isolating or updating it. In the realm of unauthorized users, the fix is deactivating the account.

As a part of proactive cybersecurity, you’ll realize much value from adding this approach to your strategy.

Benefits of Vulnerability Hunting

If you add anything to your cyber defenses, you want to know the benefits. You can expect these with vulnerability hunting:

  • Reducing work for internal technical teams: With every new technique, there’s a need for human resources. Your staff already has more than they can handle, so anything you implement must consider this. Vulnerability hunting doesn’t need to burden them further, as your cyber firm partner takes the reins here. Then, they share the results to prompt remediation efforts and work as an extension of your people.
  • Decreasing hacker dwell time: The longer a hacker is in your system, the more opportunity you have to deploy malware or ransomware. As a preventative measure, hunting vulnerabilities can stop this before it ever happens. If cybercriminals cannot infiltrate, they may move on to other targets.
  • Practicing hunting is more cost-effective than the impact of a cyber incident: Cybersecurity budgets are never big enough, so be prudent about your investments. Consider the tactics that have the greatest impact on security, and protect against financial fallouts of breaches. Ensuring that vulnerability hunting and assessments get proper funding is crucial.
  • Strengthening cyber resilience: Achieving greater cyber resiliency helps you mitigate risk. Its objective is to keep your business operating in the face of a cyberattack or natural disaster. The more you know about vulnerabilities, the more precise you can be with your actions to resolve them.
  • Supporting your vulnerability management program: Establishing and maintaining vulnerability management is another benefit of hunting. It supports the four pillars of a program: identification, classification, remediation, and monitoring.

These benefits are critical for any organization’s ability to be proactive in cybersecurity. Vulnerability hunting also ties in with another offensive strategy—pen tests.

Vulnerability Hunting Complements Pen Testing, Too

Since pen tests simulate cyber-attacks, they naturally align with how to inform threat hunting. They also serve as an excellent complement to vulnerability hunting. 

There are many methods and types of pen tests, and each can benefit from hunting.

Web Application Pen Tests

Web application pen tests assess the overall security and risks of all the applications on your network. They often center around broken authentication and other errors. Using the intelligence from vulnerability hunting, these pen tests can either validate the weaknesses found or assess their security after remediation.

You can fix a weakness, but it’s not guaranteed this will remain the state of the asset. For example, if an application lacks an update, it’s vulnerable, so you initiate the upgrade. It will need further ones as hackers learn to circumvent its security.

Network Security Pen Tests

These exercises involve ethical hackers finding exploitable issues related to network switches, routers, or hosts. In these tests, misconfiguration of assets is the target to attempt a breach. These asset issues are also the focus of vulnerability hunting, offering a more complete picture.

Cloud Security Pen Tests

A pen tester executing a cloud pen test evaluates all the possible entry points for hackers. The cloud is where applications live and devices connect, so it’s a pivotal part of the vulnerability ecosystem. Hunting allows you to know more precisely the landscape of devices and cloud security risks.

IoT Security Pen Tests

IoT devices are a unique concern for organizations. They deliver much data to networks that support various operational efficiency needs. They are also a favorite breach method for hackers, so vigilance around weakness identification and remediation is crucial. Combining vulnerability hunting and pen testing gives you the best chance to do so.

Vulnerability Hunting Adds Another Layer to Your Offensive Cyber Strategy

Vulnerability hunting is another technique to add to your offense. It offers deeper insight into assets and users. This information, along with vulnerability assessments and pen tests, clarifies the actual risk landscape. While you can’t eliminate all risks, you can use proactive measures to minimize them.

Build a stronger offensive strategy with the help of our team. We are experts in the field and a partner of choice for many. Request a discovery session to learn how we can work together.

Vulnerability Hunting FAQs

Please schedule a 30-minute Discovery Session with us so we can best understand your objectives.

Vulnerability hunting is proactive, focusing on uncovering and mitigating potential security weaknesses before they can be exploited. In contrast, threat hunting is reactive, aimed at detecting and responding to active threats that have already penetrated an organization's defenses.

Vulnerability hunting involves systematically examining an organization's digital infrastructure to identify vulnerabilities. Tools used include automated scanners like Nessus for broad sweeps and manual techniques for deeper dives into specific areas, supported by threat intelligence platforms to prioritize findings.

The primary goal is to enhance an organization's security posture by proactively identifying and addressing vulnerabilities. This reduces the attack surface, making it more difficult for attackers to exploit systems.

Frequency depends on several factors, including the organization's size, the sensitivity of the data it handles, and its exposure to threats. Best practices suggest at least quarterly, with continuous monitoring for high-risk environments.

Benefits include strengthened defenses against cyber threats, reduced risk of data breaches and compliance violations, enhanced understanding of the organization's security posture, and improved resilience against attacks.

While automation can identify known vulnerabilities, effective hunting often requires manual expertise to uncover complex or previously unknown issues. A combination of both approaches is typically the most effective.

It complements other cybersecurity measures by adding a proactive layer of defense, identifying vulnerabilities before they can be exploited, and ensuring other security practices are effectively mitigating risks.

Challenges include the need for skilled personnel, the potential for overwhelming amounts of data, integrating findings into existing security processes, and ensuring continuous improvement in the face of evolving threats.

By proactively identifying and addressing vulnerabilities, organizations can avoid breaches that may lead to non-compliance with regulations like GDPR, HIPAA, or PCI DSS, potentially avoiding fines and reputational damage.

Key skills include a deep understanding of network and system security, proficiency with vulnerability scanning tools and techniques, the ability to analyze and prioritize findings, and creativity in anticipating potential attack vectors.

Blog Search

Social Media