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What Is Detection Engineering?

Detection engineering is the process of designing and implementing systems, tools, and processes — for example, security information and event management (SIEM) systems, network detection and response (NDR) systems, behavior analytics, and machine learning algorithms — to detect security threats in computer networks, software systems, and/or other digital environments but also to respond to incidents before they can cause significant harm.  

How is detection engineering different from threat hunting? 

Detection engineering and threat hunting are both essential components of any comprehensive cybersecurity strategy as they each proactively identify and respond to security incidents. However, while related and complementary, they are distinct and different practices. 

Detection engineering focuses on identifying anomalies, unusual behavior, or indicators of compromise (IoCs) that could indicate an ongoing security breach or a potential attack by developing systems and tools to detect threats. It’s a systematic approach, perpetually building up cyber defenses and ways to detect ever-evolving threats to ever-evolving infrastructures. There’s plenty of work to do. 

Threat hunting, on the other hand, is a more hands-on approach that involves actively searching for potential threats by analyzing network traffic, logs, and other data sources to identify potential security risks and investigate suspicious activities within an organization’s systems and networks. Moreover, threat hunters respond to whatever they discover. 

 

So, a detection engineer and a threat hunter aren’t the same thing? 

Nope. 

A threat hunter is like a security guard and detective rolled into one. Threat hunters patrol the premises to catch any suspicious activity and use all the fancy tools in their arsenal to monitor the network and detect any potential threats. At the same time, they are always on the lookout for clues and evidence of potential security breaches. They sift through mountains of data, analyze patterns, and follow leads to uncover any lurking threats. 

More often than not, threat hunters are security and operations center (SOC) analysts. Not only are they responsible for monitoring computer networks, systems, and applications for threats and vulnerabilities but also for proactively searching for and investigating suspicious activity and potential security threats.

So, they:

  1. Implement measures to prevent and protect against cyberthreats using a range of tools, techniques, and technologies
  2. Search for security threats
  3. Identify and analyze security events
  4. Investigate and respond to security incidents

To succeed, they typically need a deep understanding of cyberthreats and attack techniques as well as the ability to analyze and interpret large volumes of data.  

And detection engineers? Consider them the architects of the whole security system. They design and build the technology and processes to detect and respond to security threats. They’re like the mastermind behind the scenes, making sure everything is in place to catch any bad guys who try to sneak in. 

In more specific terms, detection engineers focus on designing and implementing systems and processes to detect security threats in computer networks and software systems. They use a combination of technical and non-technical skills, including expertise in data analysis, threat intelligence, and computer programming, to develop and deploy technologies like NDR and SIEM systems to collect data and identify IoCs or other anomalies. 

 

Are both roles key to having a robust security posture? 

The more you know, the more proactive and secure you can be. So, absolutely, detection engineering and threat hunting are both key to having situational awareness and a robust security posture. Additionally, they are proactive cyber defense roles that can both benefit from and enhance automated moving target defense (AMTD) technologies, which ultimately, should be a part of a cybersecurity mesh architecture (CSMA) that enables a more flexible, scalable, and resilient security ecosystem. 

 

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