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

Publication date: May 10, 2024

Last Published: May 10, 2024

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Read Time : 6 minutes

The cybersecurity landscape is constantly evolving, with attackers developing ever-more sophisticated tactics to bypass traditional security measures. For organizations of all sizes, passively relying on firewalls and antivirus software is no longer enough. 

Instead, organizations must do whatever it takes to stay one step ahead of potential attacks. This is where threat detection and threat hunting come into play. While both practices aim to unmask hidden threats, they differ in their approach. 

What Is Threat Detection in Cybersecurity?

Threat detection is the process of identifying and alerting security teams to potential security threats within an organization’s network. A threat is any event or activity that has the potential to cause harm or disrupt an organization’s operations, systems, or data. Threats can come in many forms, including:

  • Malware: Malicious software designed to gain unauthorized access to a system or disrupt its operations. Examples include viruses, worms, ransomware, and spyware.
  • PhishingSocial engineering attacks that use email or other messaging platforms to trick users into divulging sensitive information or clicking on malicious links.
  • Network attacks: Attempts to gain unauthorized access to a network or disrupt its operations, such as denial-of-service (DoS) attacks or man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks.
  • Insider threatsThreats posed by employees, contractors, or other authorized users who intentionally or unintentionally cause harm to an organization’s systems or data.
  • SQL injection: This is a type of cyberattack that targets the data-driven applications, where malicious SQL statements are inserted into an entry field for execution (e.g., to dump the database content to the attacker). 

The varied nature of threats that can be detected necessitates the use of effective threat detection tools. These tools are designed to continuously monitor an organization’s network and systems for signs of suspicious or malicious activity. Some common threat detection tools include:

  • Antivirus and anti-malware software: These are among the most foundational security tools that scan computer systems for known threats. Modern antivirus software goes beyond basic virus detection to address a wider range of malware, including spyware, ransomware, and adware.
  • Intrusion detection systems (IDS): IDS tools monitor network traffic for suspicious activity and known attack patterns. IDS tools can be signature-based, which detect known threat patterns, or anomaly-based, which look for deviations from normal operations that might indicate malicious activity.
  • Security information and event management (SIEM) Systems: SIEMs collect and aggregate log data generated throughout the organization’s technology infrastructure, from host systems and applications to network and security devices. They then analyze this data to identify potential security incidents.

While threat detection tools are essential for identifying and responding to known threats, they have limitations. For example, they may struggle to identify novel threats or zero-day attacks that haven’t been documented yet. That’s where threat hunting comes in. 

What Is Threat Hunting in Cybersecurity? 

You can think of threat hunting as the cybersecurity equivalent of a police detective’s work. Just as detectives proactively search for clues and evidence to solve crimes and apprehend criminals, threat hunters actively seek out hidden threats and malicious activities within an organization’s network to prevent or mitigate cyberattacks.

One reason why the threat-hunting market is expected to grow at a staggering CAGR of 18.6% between 2023 and 2033 is because of how effective the practice is as a defense against advanced persistent threats (APTs) that evade existing security solutions. Examples of APTs include:

  • The Stuxnet worm, which was allegedly developed by the US and Israel to target Iran’s nuclear program. Stuxnet was designed to specifically target industrial control systems and was able to spread undetected for months before being discovered.
  • In a massive and sophisticated supply chain attack on SolarWinds, state-sponsored actors believed to be from Russia compromised the software updates of SolarWinds’ Orion platform, used by numerous US government agencies and top enterprises.
  • In March 2024, a critical backdoor vulnerability (CVE-2024-3094) was discovered in the widely used open-source library XZ Utils. This backdoor was cleverly hidden by a malicious actor who gained maintainer access over time. 

As you can see, APTs are sophisticated, targeted attacks that are often carried out by well-resourced and highly skilled threat actors, such as nation-states or organized cybercriminal groups. 

Because APTs rely on novel approaches and advanced techniques to infiltrate and remain hidden within target networks, standard threat detection systems alone often don’t suffice. Threat hunting addresses this gap with an active, hypothesis-driven process that does not wait for alerts. 

While there are several different approaches to threat hunting (structured hunting, unstructured hunting, situational hunting), the core process generally follows these three key steps:

  1. Data collection and analysis: The first step in threat hunting is to collect and analyze data from various sources within the organization’s network, including firewalls, intrusion detection systems, endpoint protection software, and other security tools. The goal is to identify patterns and anomalies that may indicate the presence of a hidden threat.
  2. Investigation: Once potential threats have been identified through data collection and analysis, the next step is to investigate them further and determine whether they pose a real threat to the organization. 
  3. Response: If the investigation confirms a real threat, then the final step in threat hunting is to respond to contain and neutralize it. The response might involve isolating affected systems, patching vulnerabilities, or implementing additional security measures to prevent future breaches. 

Due to the high degree of manual work involved, threat hunting can be a time-consuming and resource-intensive process. That’s why it’s necessary to know if the investment in threat hunting is justified.

Is Threat Hunting Worth the Extra Step Beyond Detection?

As we’ve explained, threat detection is a defensive approach that relies predominantly on automated tools to identify and alert security teams of potential threats, while threat hunting is an offensive approach that involves actively searching for hidden threats that may have already bypassed existing security measures.

While threat detection is essential for all organizations, threat hunting isn’t necessary for everyone. 

Only organizations that possess a high-value target or have a high-risk tolerance should consider implementing threat hunting as an additional layer of security. These organizations may include political organizations, activists, financial institutions, and other high-profile entities that are more likely to be targeted by APTs.

Regular small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), are much less likely to be targeted by APTs, but they still need to be vigilant about cybersecurity and periodically evaluate their security posture to determine whether additional security measures are necessary.


Both threat detection and threat hunting are important components of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy. Threat detection forms the foundation, continuously monitoring for known threats. Threat hunting adds an extra layer of security for high-risk organizations by proactively searching for hidden threats. 

If you’re still not sure which approach is right for your organization, then you can contact OSIbeyond today and we will help you evaluate your cybersecurity needs and develop a plan to keep your data safe.

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