As the cybersecurity threat landscape evolves, attack vectors are becoming more sophisticated and widespread. Cybercriminals are also constantly improving their tradecraft. To guard against these sophisticated and malicious adversaries, you must actively seek out and mitigate cyber threats before they can cause too much damage.

This is where threat intelligence comes in.

Threat intelligence – also known as cyber threat intelligence, or “CTI” – is real-time, contextual data that can help you understand an adversary’s motives, targets, and attack behaviors. CTI helps you to create an up-to-date picture of your threat landscape, which then allows you to make more informed decisions about threat response and mitigation strategies.

Threat intelligence is not the same as threat analysis. In fact, threat analysis is only one part of the threat intelligence lifecycle. To succeed in today’s security landscape, you must gather, process, and analyze threat information to get true value out of it.

Threat intelligence should be a crucial element in your enterprise cybersecurity program. This article will show you why.

What Is Cyber Threat Intelligence?

Research firm Gartner defines threat intelligence as “evidence-based knowledge, including context, mechanisms, indicators, implications and actionable advice, about an existing or emerging menace to assets that can be used to inform decisions regarding the subject’s response to that menace or hazard.”

CTI provides crucial insights into Indicators of Compromise (IoCs), Indicators of Attack (IoAs) and attackers’ Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs). These insights enable organizations to focus their detection and mitigation efforts in the right areas.

Threat intelligence helps security teams better understand adversaries’ decision-making process. Those teams can then implement robust security controls and measures to protect the organization from criminals armed with sophisticated attack weapons.

The Importance of Cyber Threat Intelligence

Raw threat data provides a good starting point to evaluate threats, but it isn’t terribly useful to create a full, current picture of your threat landscape. These various dots must be connected in a structured way to prepare and plan for future attacks. And to do so, security teams must understand the context and relevancy of each piece of threat data. That’s why they need cyber threat intelligence.

Threat data is basic, raw, and unstructured without relevant context or structure. CTI is contextual and structured information. It includes threat indicators, supporting evidence, and practical recommendations to guide actions that reduce the risk to the business.

CTI is more than collecting, gathering, processing, or filtering threat data. A TI feed involves the automation of all these processes. It also involves human analysis and requires expertise to:

  • Evaluate the data for accuracy, relevancy, and timeliness
  • Contextualize the data based on the organization or industry
  • Tell a meaningful, usable, and actionable story of the enterprise threat landscape
  • Provide direction and focus for threat detection and mitigation activities
  • Enable more informed, data-backed security decisions

CTI should be part of your organization’s cybersecurity program because it can improve your threat detection and incident response capabilities. Ultimately, it can help the organization evolve from a reactive to a proactive stance in fighting threats and threat actors.

Who Benefits from Cyber Threat Intelligence?

Any organization can leverage CTI to strengthen multiple security functions.

Threat intelligence feeds integrate with existing security solutions to improve alert quality and reduce the need to manually investigate alerts. With CTI, security teams can automatically triage, filter, and respond to alerts. Since CTI provides actionable insights and detailed context, it becomes easier to prioritize the most important threats and vulnerabilities that may result in a cyberattack or data breach.

Security Operations Centers (SOCs), also known as a cybersecurity operations team, use CTI to prioritize threat mitigation and incident response based on risk and impact.

CTI also enables all these entities to identify, analyze, and respond to threats:

  • Vulnerability management team
  • Computer security incident response team (CSIRT)
  • Fraud prevention team
  • Risk analysis team

Timely and contextual TI also helps the board, the CISO, and other C-Suite leaders to understand and assess the risk landscape, explore options to address threats, and develop an actionable security roadmap to keep threat actors out of the enterprise IT ecosystem.

The Cyber Threat Intelligence Process

The CTI process transforms raw threat data into finished CTI that supports threat response and mitigation and guides security decision-making. It consists of six ongoing and inter-related steps:

Step 1. Gather requirements

During this first phase, you will determine the organization’s attack surface and TI needs; that information, in turn, will help to determine the CTI program’s methodology and goals. The goals should align with the organization’s core values and the needs of the stakeholders. (That is, the people who will consume and benefit from the finished TI.)

At this point, you should also try to discover attackers’ TTPs and motivations. Also think about the actions required to strengthen enterprise defenses against existing and emerging threats.

Step 2. Collect raw data

After setting TI goals and objectives, start collecting data to satisfy those requirements. Seek out as many data sources as possible, both internal and external, including:

  • Network traffic logs, event and application logs, firewall logs, DNS logs
  • Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) platforms
  • Records of past incident responses
  • Open-source intelligence and publicly available intelligence sources, such as:
    • Social media
    • Forums
    • News reports
    • Blogs
    • Public block lists
    • Dark web

The collected data may consist of lists of IoCs such as bad IP addresses, malicious domain names, or file hashes. It may also contain vulnerability information such as personally identifiable information (PII) and raw code from paste sites.

Step 3. Process data

After collecting data, process and convert it into a format suitable for analysis by:

  • Organizing data into spreadsheets
  • Adding metadata tags to data points
  • Decrypting encrypted files
  • Filtering out false positives, false negatives, and redundant information

Depending on the size of the threat landscape, you may collect vast quantities of threat data. It’s impossible for human analysts manually to review and act on millions of log events and indicators every day. Simplify the effort by automating data collection and processing.

Automated solutions powered by machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP) collect and process threat data from a wide range of data sources, enabling analysts to analyze and prioritize the most serious risks and protect the organization’s assets and sensitive information.

Step 4. Analyze data

Analyze the processed threat data to find potential security issues and fulfill the intelligence objectives and goals outlined in Step 1. Clarify the action items and recommendations for stakeholders.

Step 5. Disseminate information

The finished CTI must be presented in a format that stakeholders will understand. It should also be actionable and support the organization’s threat mitigation and incident response processes.

For example, executive decision-makers require strategic threat intelligence. This CTI presents a high-level, risk-based viewpoint that supports business decision-making.

But SOC analysts need tactical threat intelligence. It should contain detailed information about the threat actor’s TTPs and enable the analyst to identify IOCs or perform malware analysis.

Similarly, for threat hunters and incident response teams, the CTI must contain actionable information about a specific threat or upcoming attack. This type of intel is known as operational threat intelligence.

Step 6. Collect feedback

The threat intelligence process is not a one-time or linear effort. It’s an ongoing intelligence cycle. That’s why this last phase is important. During this step, stakeholders will review the finished TI and determine whether the intelligence satisfies their objectives. Ask for feedback and make the necessary adjustments for future TI operations.

What Does a Cyber Threat Intelligence Analyst Do?

A CTI analyst is a vital element of any threat intelligence program. These skilled professionals analyze CTI to identify security vulnerabilities and determine, assess, and counter the threat posed by threat actors. They also look for IOCs that may signify phishing attempts, malware or ransomware attacks, or attacks from external hosts.

CTI analysts perform penetration testing to identify vulnerable systems before adversaries can exploit them. They disseminate the collected and processed threat intel to stakeholders and recommend actions to mitigate potential threats. Their detailed reports enable decision-makers to prepare for security incidents that could harm the organization’s business continuity, financial stability, or reputation.

Analysts may work with security teams to develop and enforce security policies and standards. They may also monitor and audit security systems and deliver cybersecurity awareness training to employees.

Reciprocity ROAR Can Enhance Your Cyber Threat Intelligence

Make smarter, more informed security decisions with cyber threat intelligence and Reciprocity ROAR. This intuitive solution reveals security risk across your entire business. See where risks exist and where they are changing to improve risk management and monitoring.

Reciprocity ROAR offers a single source of truth, a pre-loaded content library, and built-in automation to help you stay ahead of ever-evolving security threats. Schedule a demo to know more about ROAR.