Threat Intelligence: A Crucial Element of Cyber Security
Cyber threats are constantly evolving. Phishing, social engineering, configuration mistakes, malware, ransomware—there is a new threat trying to break your organization’s defenses.
Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) and defenders are constantly trying to outmaneuver each other in the world of cybersecurity. Threat intelligence is the collection of information about cyberthreats that are happening now or could happen in the future.
Organizations are increasingly recognizing the value of threat intelligence, with 72% planning to increase spending on cyber security intelligence in the near future.
What is threat intelligence?
Threat intelligence is data that is collected, processed, and analyzed in order to understand the motivations, targets, and threat actors’ attack behavior. In the fight against threat actors, threat intelligence enables you to make more informed, faster, data-backed security decisions and shift your behavior from reactive to proactive.
Threat intelligence is evidence-based knowledge (for example, context, mechanisms, indicators, implications, and actionable advice) about existing or emerging threats to assets.
Also known as cyber threat intelligence (CTI), threat intelligence is information that an organization uses to understand the threats that have targeted, will target, or are currently targeting it. The primary goal of threat intelligence is to assist organizations in assessing the risks posed by the most common and severe external threats, such as zero-day threats, advanced persistent threats, and exploits.
Why is threat intelligence important?
Threat intelligence is one of the most important tools in cyber defense. Security intelligence teams are frequently one or two steps behind the attackers in an ever-changing threat landscape. This is not only due to attackers employing new TTPs, but also to environments becoming more complex, which expands attack surfaces and provides attackers with more opportunities.
Cyberthreat intelligence is critical because it collects raw data about emerging and existing threat actors and threats from a variety of sources. This data is then analyzed and filtered to generate cyber intelligence feeds and management reports containing information that automated security control solutions can use.
The following are the reasons why cyber threat intelligence is important:
- Brings to light the unknown, allowing organizations to make better security decisions. Enables cyber security stakeholders by exposing adversarial motivations as well as their tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs).
- Assists security professionals in better comprehending the adversary’s decision-making process.
- Enables business stakeholders such as executive boards, CIOs, CISOs, and CTOs to reduce risk, invest wisely, become more efficient, and make faster decisions.
The lifecycle of threat intelligence
The intelligence lifecycle is the process of transforming raw data into finished cyber intelligence that can be used for decision-making and action. It provides a framework for teams to optimize their resources and respond effectively to today’s cyber threat landscape. This cycle has six steps that culminate in a feedback loop to encourage continuous improvement:
The team will agree on the goals and methodology of their cyber threat intelligence program during this planning stage based on the needs of the stakeholders involved. The team may set out to learn:
- who the attackers are and what motivates them;
- what the attack surface is; and
- what specific actions should be taken to strengthen their defenses against a future attack.
Once the requirements are defined, the team sets out to collect the information needed to meet those objectives. Depending on the goals, the team will typically seek out traffic logs, social media, publicly available data sources, relevant forums, and industry reports.
In this step, raw data points are organized into spreadsheets, files are decrypted, information from foreign sources is translated, and the data is evaluated for relevance and reliability.
The security intelligence team works during the analysis phase to decipher the dataset into action items and valuable recommendations for the stakeholders.
The threat intelligence team must translate their analysis into a digestible format and present the results to the stakeholders during the dissemination phase.
The final stage of the threat intelligence lifecycle entails gathering feedback on the provided report to determine whether any changes are required for future threat intelligence operations.
3 types of threat intelligence
When it comes to cyber threat intelligence, there is a maturity curve represented by the types of threat intelligence listed below. The context and analysis of CTI become deeper and more sophisticated with each level, catering to different audiences and becoming more expensive. There are three types of threat intelligence:
1. Tactical Threat intelligence
Tactical cyber intelligence is future-focused, and technical in nature, and identifies simple indicators of compromise (IOCs) such as bad URLs, IP addresses, file hashes, and known unsafe domain names. This type of cyber security intelligence has the potential to be machine-readable. This means that security products can consume it via feeds or API integration.
2. Operational Threat Intelligence
Every attack has a “who,” a “why,” and a “how.” The “who” is referred to as attribution. The “why” is referred to as motivation or intent. The “how” is made up of the threat actor’s TTPs. When you look at all of these things together, you get a sense of context, and context helps you understand how enemies plan, carry out and keep up major operations and campaigns. This insight is referred to as “operational intelligence.”
3. Strategic Threat Intelligence
Strategic intelligence assists decision-makers in understanding the threats that cyber threats pose to their organizations. With this knowledge, they can make cybersecurity investments that protect their organizations while also aligning with their strategic priorities.
Threat Intelligence: Use Cases
Some of the most effective applications of a threat intelligence solution are listed below:
Enhancing Other Security Technologies with Threat Intelligence
Most security technology verticals, including security information and event management (SIEM), intrusion detection and prevention, firewalls and unified threat management systems, secure email gateways and secure web gateways, web application protection, endpoint protection, distributed denial of service, vulnerability management, security orchestration, and others, have recently begun to incorporate threat intelligence.
Prioritization of Vulnerabilities
One of the most effective uses of threat intelligence is to collect data and perform analysis to assist your organization in developing a simple metric for evaluating vulnerabilities.
A threat intelligence solution will monitor open channels, particularly social media. Identifying threats in this arena is a skill in and of itself, necessitating knowledge of your organization’s brand and the various ways a threat actor may attempt to exploit it.
The investigation, Enrichment, and Response to Threat Indicators
Threat intelligence solutions can help you improve the speed and accuracy of your incident response by shifting your focus away from prevention and toward a more balanced approach that includes both detection and response equally.
Tools Used in Threat Intelligence
Cyber threat intelligence tools assist you in gathering and analyzing threat information from a variety of external sources in order to protect your enterprise from current vulnerabilities and prepare for future ones.
The following are some commonly employed threat intelligence tools:
Threat detection teams are increasingly using SIEM (Security Information and Event Management) for network monitoring. A SIEM (such as ArcSight, QRadar, RSA NetWitness, or Splunk) is an effective tool that analysts can use to oversee their organization’s network traffic in real time. This allows incident response teams to respond to incoming threats.
Threat Intelligence Provider
Many organizations prefer to have internal teams focus on threat intelligence collection requirements, and excellent threat intelligence tools for this purpose exist, for example, Recorded Future.
With a team of analysts continuously updating their platform data, Recorded Future provides access to this information to their customers’ analysts while also providing analysts with a suite of powerful search functionalities that allow an internal intel team to customize and automate searches.
Reverse engineering malware is a process that incident response teams can use to determine how malicious a threat is and how to defend against similar attacks in the future. There are numerous excellent disassemblers available, such as IDA Pro, which explores binary programs and generates maps of a malicious file’s execution.
Threat intelligence tools, such as analyzing inbound traffic in a secure environment and preventing infection when a user visits a website that may contain malicious content.
Threat Intelligence: The Path Ahead
The right type of threat intelligence platform for an organization that fits into its existing social networking frameworks can help them benefit quickly from the exchange of information in ways that benefit their organization.
Improved Threat Intelligence Through Machine Learning
Today, data processing occurs at such a scale that comprehensive automation is required. Combine data points from a variety of sources, including open, dark, and technical sources, to create the most complete picture possible.
1. Divide data into entities and events.
2. Use natural language processing to structure text in multiple languages.
3. Classify events and entities in order to assist human analysts in prioritizing alerts.
4. Predicting events and entity properties using predictive models
An adequate threat intelligence platform should have the following qualities:
The availability of information and the means by which users can obtain that information contribute to the openness of cyber threat intelligence sharing.
Given the variety of information and its dynamic nature, as a threat intelligence consumer, you should have access to the most comprehensive, high-fidelity, and up-to-date content possible.
Aside from the information itself, there is also the platform through which users obtain and share that cyber intelligence information, allowing for social collaboration.
The established concept of controlling with whom we share which pieces of information is an essential aspect of any collaborative platform. Building specific constructs for the curation and organization of information for security use cases can further extend an existing capability.
Threat intelligence sharing should eventually lead to tactical actions that assist organizations in further protecting their users and infrastructure.
1. What is the difference between strategic intelligence and tactical intelligence?
Strategic intelligence informs a company’s defense strategy and overall cybersecurity posture. This includes the tools required to defend against the capabilities of any cyber threat. When incidents or issues arise, an organization can respond tactically by utilizing strategic intelligence.
Tactical intelligence, on the other hand, informs ‘what’ an organization should focus on when responding to incidents with the tools at its disposal. This type of threat intelligence includes indicators like domains, IP addresses, and hashes that an organization is likely to come across. Tactical cyber security intelligence is much more temporal than strategic intelligence, and its utility can fade quickly.
2. Is threat intelligence a subset of security intelligence?
Cyber threat intelligence is a subset of information security intelligence. Threat intelligence is evidence-based knowledge about an existing or emerging threat or hazard to assets, including context, mechanisms, indicators, implications, and actionable advice, that can be used to inform decisions about the subject’s response to that threat or hazard.
This information has been curated to assist you in making better decisions about how to protect yourself and your business from cyber-based threats. Threat intelligence can provide answers to questions such as:
- Organization’s adversaries and how might they attack
- How attack vectors impact a company’s security
- What should security operations teams be on the lookout for
- How to reduce the likelihood of a cyber-attack on a company?
3. How do you implement cyber threat intelligence successfully?
If you approach cyber security intelligence feeds correctly, your cyber security teams will be able to gain actionable insights that are tailored and relevant to your business. A solid cyber threat intelligence process should include the following five steps:
- Consolidate: Gather intelligence that is relevant to achieve a single view of the threat landscape;
- Contextualize: Understand the threats and the risk they pose to your organization;
- Priorities: Focus on the threats that require the most attention;
- Use: Turn prioritized threats into actions that mitigate the risk; and
- Enhance: Keep your threat intelligence up to date to stay ahead of cybercriminals.
4. What are some of the benefits of threat intelligence?
CTI will provide you with a comprehensive analysis of any cyber threat. Its advantages are as follows:
If you are slow to respond to a data breach, you may end up losing more money. Data breaches can be avoided with the help of cyber threat intelligence.
Increase the effectiveness of your Security intelligence team
CTI can assist your security team in detecting new security threats.
CTI will give you proper visibility, assisting you in identifying new vulnerabilities.
Preventing data breaches
A CTI system will assist you in avoiding data breaches by examining all suspicious domains or IP addresses that attempt to communicate with your system.
Cyber threat intelligence provides your organization with critical cybersecurity practices and information.
5. What are the common indicators that security has been compromised?
Here are some more common signs of compromise to keep in mind:
Exceptional outbound network traffic
Unusual outbound network traffic may be detected when an intruder attempts to extract data from your network.
Activity from unusual geographical areas
Monitoring IP addresses on the network and where they originate is a simple way to detect a cyber threat before it can cause serious damage to your organization.
Unusual behavior by privileged user accounts
When security intelligence personnel observe suspicious behavior from privileged user accounts, it may indicate an internal or external attack on the organization’s systems and data.
Significant increase in database read volume
When the attacker attempts to extract the entire credit card database, it generates a massive amount of read volume, far greater than what you would normally see for reads on the credit card tables.
Numerous authentication failures
A high rate of authentication attempts could indicate that someone has stolen credentials and is attempting to locate an account that grants network access.
Unusual configuration changes
You might not realize it, but changing configurations on files, servers, and devices can provide an attacker with a second backdoor into the network.
DDoS attack indicators (Distributed Denial of Service)
DDoS attacks, in addition to overloading mainstream services, are not uncommon in overwhelming security reporting systems, such as IPS/IDS or SIEM solutions. This opens up new avenues for cybercriminals to spread malware or steal sensitive data. As a result, any DDoS attack should be investigated for cyberthreats and data breach activity.
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