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Quzara LLCJan 18, 20244 min read

Practical Threat Hunting Scenarios with MS Defender for Endpoint


In the rapidly evolving cyber threat landscape, the imperative for proactive and sophisticated threat hunting methodologies has become a cornerstone of robust cybersecurity defenses. Microsoft Defender for Endpoint (MDE), as a premier endpoint detection and response (EDR) solution, offers an extensive array of functionalities for IT professionals to proactively identify, analyze, and mitigate threats. This 2000-word guide aims to equip technical engineers with an exhaustive understanding of MDE's threat hunting capabilities, practical use cases, and advanced techniques for leveraging this potent tool in the battle against cyber threats.

The Critical Role of Proactive Threat Hunting

Proactive threat hunting stands as a bulwark in the cybersecurity domain. This forward-looking strategy involves a methodical search for hidden, often sophisticated, threats that manage to elude conventional detection mechanisms. Its significance lies in its ability to uncover insidious attacks, insider threats, and other elusive dangers, thereby fortifying the overall security infrastructure of an organization.

An Overview of Microsoft Defender for Endpoint

MDE emerges as a sophisticated EDR solution offering a spectrum of capabilities for threat detection, investigation, and response. It harnesses the synergy of behavioral sensors, advanced cloud-based analytics, and comprehensive threat intelligence to provide real-time protection, along with potent post-breach detection mechanisms.

MDE's Threat Hunting Capabilities

  1. Data-Driven Insights and Analytics:
    MDE amasses and scrutinizes vast volumes of data, enabling engineers to detect anomalies and discern patterns that are indicative of malevolent activities.
  2. Advanced Hunting with KQL:
    MDE's support for the Kusto Query Language (KQL) empowers users to craft intricate queries for sifting through extensive datasets. This capability is indispensable for engineers seeking to pinpoint specific threats with precision.
  3. Holistic Cross-Domain Signal Analysis:
    By integrating seamlessly with other solutions in the Microsoft Defender suite, MDE offers a comprehensive view of the security landscape, encompassing endpoints, identities, and cloud applications.

Practical Threat Hunting Scenarios and KQL Queries

  • Scenario: Detecting Unusual Process Executions
    Objective: To identify and analyze atypical process execution patterns that might signal the presence of malware or unauthorized activities within the network.

    KQL Query:

    | where Timestamp > ago(1h)
    | where InitiatingProcessFileName !in~ ("services.exe", "lsass.exe", "svchost.exe", "wininit.exe", "winlogon.exe", "csrss.exe", "smss.exe", "spoolsv.exe", "explorer.exe", "taskhostw.exe", "taskhost.exe", "conhost.exe", "dllhost.exe", "dwm.exe", "fontdrvhost.exe", "logonui.exe", "lsm.exe", "mmc.exe", "msdtc.exe", "msiexec.exe", "notepad.exe", "powershell.exe", "regsvr32.exe", "rundll32.exe", "services.exe", "taskmgr.exe", "winword.exe", "wscript.exe", "xwizard.exe", "winrm.cmd", "winrs.exe", "winrs.cmd", "winrs.exe", "winrm.cmd", "winrs.cmd", "winrm.vbs", "winrmconfig.cmd",  "winrmconfig.vbs", "winrshost.exe", "winrslegacy.cmd", "winrslegacy.vbs", "winrssettings.cmd", "winrssettings.vbs", "winrscmd", "winrslegacy", "winrsrm", "winrssettings", "winrsrm.vbs", "winrsrm.cmd")
    | summarize count() by ActionType, FileName,InitiatingProcessFileName,FolderPath,ProcessCommandLine,AccountName,InitiatingProcessSignatureStatus
    | where count_ > 5

    Explanation: This query is designed to locate instances of specific executables, deemed suspicious, running on devices across the network. It is a vital tool in pinpointing potential security breaches.

  • Scenario: Unmasking Lateral Movement Attempts
    Objective: To uncover attempts to move laterally within the network, a hallmark of sophisticated cyberattacks.

    KQL Query:

    | where Timestamp > ago(1d)
    | where ActionType == 'ConnectionSuccess'
    | where RemotePort == 445 or RemotePort == 3389
    |summarize count() by DeviceName, RemoteIP

    Explanation:This query focuses on successful network connections over ports typically used in lateral movement strategies, such as SMB (445) and RDP (3389), aiding in the identification of potential internal spread of threats.

  • Scenario: Detecting Anomalous Login Patterns
    Objective:To spotlight abnormal login activities that could indicate credential compromise or brute force attacks.

    KQL Query:

    | where Timestamp > ago(1d)
    | where LogonType == 'Network'
    | summarize Count = count() by DeviceName, AccountName,ActionType,Protocol
    | where Count > 10

    Explanation:This query aggregates and analyzes network logon events, bringing attention to devices and accounts exhibiting an unusually high number of logins, which could be symptomatic of compromised credentials.

  • Scenario: Identifying Rare User Agent Strings in HTTP Traffic
    Objective:o find rare or anomalous user agent strings in HTTP connections, potentially indicative of reconnaissance efforts or data exfiltration.

    KQL Query:

    | where Timestamp > ago(1d)
    | where ActionType == 'HttpConnectionInspected'
    | extend user_agent = tostring(AdditionalFields.user_agent)
    | summarize Count = count() by user_agent,DeviceName,RemoteIP
    | where Count < 5

    Explanation: This query aims to identify user agent strings that are infrequently encountered, potentially flagging the use of uncommon or custom-developed tools by attackers for clandestine operations.

  • Scenario: Investigating PowerShell Activity for Malicious Indicators
    Objective: To detect potentially malicious use of PowerShell, commonly exploited for executing attack scripts and system manipulation.

    KQL Query:

    | where Timestamp > ago(1d)
    | where FileName == 'powershell.exe'
    | where ProcessCommandLine contains 'EncodedCommand'
    | project Timestamp, DeviceName, InitiatingProcessCommandLine,InitiatingProcessFileName, ProcessCommandLine,AccountDomain,AccountName,InitiatingProcessAccountName,InitiatingProcessAccountSid

    Explanation: This query is tailored to focus on PowerShell executions employing the ‘EncodedCommand’ parameter, often a telltale sign of obfuscated malicious scripts and underhanded system alterations.


Mastering the art of threat hunting with Microsoft Defender for Endpoint is a continuous journey that melds technical prowess, analytical insight, and perpetual learning.

The scenarios and KQL queries presented in this guide serve as foundational elements for engineers to explore and harness the vast capabilities of MDE.

By judiciously leveraging these tools and staying abreast of the ever-changing threat landscape, cybersecurity professionals can markedly amplify their organization's defensive mechanisms, securing a stronghold in the ongoing battle against cyber threats.

To further bolster your organization’s threat hunting capabilities within Microsoft Defender for Endpoint, Quzara CybertorchTM offers a synergistic solution. Partnering with Quzara’s Managed Extended Detection and Response (MXDR) team can provide an additional layer of expertise and resources. This collaboration empowers teams to not only effectively utilize MDE’s advanced features but also to integrate comprehensive strategies and insights tailored to your unique security needs. For more information on how Quzara CybertorchTM can enhance your MDE threat hunting capabilities, visit Quzara Cybertorch.

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