Threat intelligence refers to a collection of security tools and techniques to process, analyze, and disseminate information regarding cyber attackers. This data helps cybersecurity teams better understand attackers while responding more swiftly to incidents and anticipating potential threats in advance.
Threat intelligence comes in four distinct varieties, each serving a different purpose and audience.
Threat intelligence equips cybersecurity professionals with early warning of cyber attacks so they can establish stronger defenses to guard their organizations against potential risks in the future. Furthermore, threat intelligence helps reduce costs by mitigating damage caused by security breaches or cyberattacks.
To successfully collect threat intelligence, a comprehensive program with clearly stated goals and requirements must guide a team from start to finish. This involves identifying which information needs to be collected and its analysis process. Ideally, such a program would align with enterprise objectives for wiser investments, improved risk mitigation, and faster decision-making processes.
The next step in gathering intelligence is collecting it - this may include both finished intelligence (from vendors and experts) and raw data such as malware signatures, leaked credentials, and threat detection logs. After collecting all this intelligence, it must then be processed (correlated, ranked, deconflicted, and checked) to be useful to an organization - analysis may then take place using various tools like machine learning or data mining techniques.
Once analysis is complete, intelligence must be disseminated effectively and useful to stakeholders. This could involve sending reports about threats directly to executive boards or providing the latest threat trends directly to security teams - depending on the needs of each team when planning how best to share that intelligence.
As cyber-attacks become an increasing risk in our digital society, having intelligence systems that can identify potential threats is imperative for avoiding potential problems and taking appropriate measures to combat them.
Threat Intelligence Lifecycle
Threat intelligence serves as a way for organizations to access relevant, actionable information that will assist them in protecting themselves against cyberattacks and safeguarding valuable assets. This can be accomplished by monitoring the threat landscape, detecting, validating, and responding appropriately to potential threats and attacks. By collecting, processing, and disseminating threat intelligence information effectively, organizations can enhance their security posture, increase operational efficiency, and comply with regulatory requirements more easily.
Cyber attackers always adapt their strategies, techniques, and procedures (TTP) to bypass security teams. Cyber threat intelligence seeks to identify these TTPs by studying past cyberattacks and drawing inferences about their intent, timing, and sophistication.
Detection: The detection phase of the threat intelligence lifecycle involves recognizing indicators of compromise in your network, such as IP addresses, domains, URLs, and malicious files. OSINT sources like search engines, web services, open-source intelligence websites, and email footers collect this data, which human analysts need to corroborate, rank, deconflicted, and verify to create actionable intelligence for later use.
Collection: In the collection stage of threat intelligence lifecycle development, raw data is converted into usable intelligence, such as malware signatures or leaked credentials, using various collection methods and analytical frameworks such as MITRE ATT&CK for analysis.
Analysis: At this stage of the threat intelligence lifecycle, processed data becomes intelligence that informs decision-making. Such decisions include whether to investigate an identified threat, what immediate steps an organization must take to stop an attack, and whether additional security resources are warranted investments.
Once intelligence has been analyzed and shared with stakeholders through dashboards, alerts, and reports - from the CISO and board of directors through to employees and their families that may be affected by attacks against an organization - it should be disseminated as soon as possible to allow these key players to help mitigate its effects in case of cyber attacks.
Types of Threat Intelligence
Threat intelligence takes four forms - strategic, tactical, operational, and technical. Each offers something special for an organization.
Strategic Threat Intelligence provides long-term business risk analysis of cyberattacks and their possible impact on operations, helping decision-makers invest in tools and processes that ensure best-in-class protection of businesses while aligning cybersecurity objectives with overall company objectives.
Tactical threat intelligence focuses on specific threats facing an organization. It is typically shared among IT teams through open source and free data feeds that aggregate known indicators of compromise (IOCs), such as phishing attacks, malicious domain names, suspicious log-in red flags, and more. While this type of intelligence is quick and easy for IT and security teams to utilize quickly and easily, its lifespan may only last hours before becoming outdated or irrelevant again.
Operational threat intelligence provides:
- Powerful insights into attacks' nature and timing.
- Providing an edge for SOC security analysts.
- DFIR professionals.
- Malware and vulnerability management experts.
Intel gleaned from hacker chat rooms, antivirus logs, past events, or hacker chat rooms is used by security incident response teams to alter configuration controls -- such as firewall rules, event detection policies, or access controls -- to anticipate future attacks.
Technical threat intelligence (TTI) is a valuable asset for security and network professionals. TTI combines human analysis with processed data from multiple sources to give insights into the identity, scope, and intent of attacks - helping teams quickly locate answers by finding optimal methods to search, gather and interpret the necessary information quickly. TTI may include live videos, slide decks, or formal reports as it gives invaluable intelligence information that supports decision-making processes.
What does Threat Intelligence do?
Cyber threats are constantly shifting and difficult to predict. Threat intelligence enables organizations to understand better what threats are threatening them and prepare for and defend against attacks more efficiently, quickly making security decisions backed by data while shifting away from reactive to proactive responses during an attack.
At the outset of any program, an organization must establish what resources it requires to protect its assets and assess the effects of any potential breaches on its business. Depending on its goals, this could involve understanding past attacks by attackers, anticipating what they might try next, and understanding risks to critical assets and whether additional resources would be required to safeguard them.
Once the requirements have been established, a team can gather the necessary information to meet those objectives. This can involve collecting from internal sources like network logs and past incidents as well as external ones like open-source intelligence (OSINT) communities, forums, and websites, as well as private feeds or commercial threat intelligence repositories.
Data collected is processed, analyzed, and turned into intelligence that organizations can use to defend themselves better. This may involve identifying vulnerabilities, understanding how an attack works, and pinpointing likely targets; additionally, it may involve searching for indicators of compromise, such as malware hashes, URLs, or IP addresses as potential indicators of compromise (IOCs).
Once an analysis has been completed, its findings must be shared with relevant stakeholders through email, report, or brief, consumable slides. Furthermore, gathering feedback from these parties is vital to refine and enhance intelligence for future use.
Why is Threat Intelligence important?
Threat intelligence provides your cybersecurity team with valuable data that can aid their decisions to prevent cyberattacks from ever taking place, protecting both data breaches and reputation from malicious activities such as phishing, malware, or DDoS attacks. Threat intelligence can also be used to recognize an attack in progress and mitigate it effectively.
Threat intelligence's primary goal is to help you gain a clearer picture of the activities and motivations of attackers - what they're up to, why they do it, and their plans for changing tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) going forward. This distinguishes it from simply compiling data about past cyberattacks or types of malware used.
Tactical threat intelligence (TTI) is designed for IT teams with sufficient technical know-how, helping them quickly identify and block specific threats based on indicators of compromise (IOCs) such as bad IP addresses, known malicious domain names, unusual traffic spikes, or login red flags. Tactical TTI typically requires less processing power and has a shorter lifespan than strategic threat intelligence.
Operational threat intelligence is more involved, designed to answer the three Ws and Hs of cyberattacks by studying previous attacks and drawing inferences about attackers' intentions, timing, and sophistication. Unfortunately, this type of intelligence can often be difficult to gather manually as threat actors usually communicate via encrypted chat channels or marketplaces in ambiguous language, making it hard for cybersecurity analysts to extract relevant information.
Strategic threat intelligence programs can be invaluable in informing non-technical business stakeholders of cyber threats that could impact their organization. Such intelligence can educate employees and align security practices with your company's objectives.