What is Cyber Threat Intelligence?

In the last couple of years, cybercrime has skyrocketed. Nearly one billion emails were exposed in a single year, affecting one in five internet users. Data breaches cost businesses an average of $4.35 million in 2022, and around 236.1 million ransomware attacks occurred globally in just the first half of that year. These numbers are expected to continue rising due to various factors, including geopolitical tensions and the COVID-19 pandemic, which have led to changes in the workplace and an increase in remote work​1​.

Given these alarming statistics, it is evident that cyber threat intelligence is not just a luxury but a necessity for organizations of all sizes. It provides the necessary knowledge and tools to understand, prevent, and mitigate these growing threats. By staying informed about the latest threats, organizations can develop effective strategies to safeguard their assets, thereby ensuring their survival and success in this digital era.

What is Threat Intelligence in Cyber Security?

Cyber Threat Intelligence (CTI) refers to cyber threat analysis that involves the collection, analysis, and dissemination of information about emerging or existing cyber threats and hazards.

Cyber threat intelligence serves as a forward-thinking strategy organizations employ to grasp the potential dangers linked to their digital landscape. This allows them to anticipate threats, rather than simply reacting to them, and to take preventive measures to safeguard their systems and data.

What Does Cyber Threat Intelligence Do?

Cyber Threat Intelligence provides valuable insights about potential threats, predictive capabilities to foresee future attacks, tailored intelligence for efficient resource utilization, and continuous updates to maintain robust defenses. These features provide significant advantages and benefits, equipping organizations to mitigate risks effectively, protect their assets, and ensure business continuity.

There are 4 key elements of Cyber Threat Intelligence working, namely:

  • Collection and Analysis of Cyber Threat Information
  • Predictive Capabilities
  • Tailored Threat Intelligence
  • Continuous updates

Collection and Analysis of Cyber Threat Information

Cyber Threat Intelligence (CTI) involves the gathering of information about potential threats and threat actors. This includes specifics about different types of cyber attacks, malicious software, vulnerabilities, and strategies employed by cyber criminals. The data is analyzed and filtered to understand patterns, motives, and potential targets.

Benefit: This extensive information collection and analysis process allows organizations to understand the threat landscape better and anticipate the types of attacks they may face. This proactive knowledge is crucial for developing effective defense strategies that are aligned with the organization’s unique threat profile, thereby reducing the risk of successful attacks and the potential financial and reputational damages they can cause.

Predictive Threat Intel Capabilities

CTI isn’t just about understanding current threats; it also involves predicting future threats based on trends, threat actor behaviors, and technological advancements. The power of predictive threat intelligence and analysis can uncover emerging vulnerabilities and potential future tactics that threat actors might adopt.

Benefit: By predicting future threats, organizations can be steps ahead of potential attackers. This foresight allows them to preemptively strengthen their cyber defenses and patch potential vulnerabilities before they can be exploited, leading to improved security posture and minimized exposure to future cyber threats.

Tailored Threat Intelligence

Every organization has its unique set of cybersecurity risks, depending on its industry, size, geography, and various other factors. CTI can be customized to suit these specific needs, offering insights that are particularly relevant to the organization.

Benefit: Tailored threat intelligence means the defense strategies and resources are utilized most efficiently, as they are specifically targeted towards the threats that the organization is most likely to face. This leads to cost-effective cybersecurity, as resources aren’t wasted on generic threats that might not apply to the organization.

Continuous Updates

The cyber threat landscape is ever-changing, with new threats and vulnerabilities emerging daily. CTI offers continuous updates and insights about these evolving threats to keep the organizations informed.

Benefit: Continuous updates mean organizations can adapt their cybersecurity strategies as needed in real-time, thereby maintaining robust defenses and reducing the window of opportunity for attackers. It also helps the organization to remain in compliance with any regulatory changes or new standards in cybersecurity.

Cyber Threat Intelligence (CTI) performs several key functions in a cybersecurity framework:

  1. Data Gathering: The initial phase of CTI, which is the collection of raw data about potential threats from multiple sources, is called Cyber Threat Intelligence Data Gathering. This stage is fundamental to the CTI process as it lays the groundwork for further analysis and actions. These sources can include open-source intelligence, social media intelligence, human intelligence, technical intelligence, and intelligence from the deep and dark web.
  2. Analysis and Interpretation: Once data is gathered, CTI involves the processing and analysis of this data to identify patterns, trends, and actionable information. This can involve correlating different pieces of data, using machine learning algorithms to identify anomalies, and interpreting the results in the context of the organization’s specific risk profile.
  3. Threat Identification: Through its analysis, CTI identifies potential threats to an organization. These could be known threats (such as known malicious IP addresses or malware signatures) or unknown threats (such as new malware variants or zero-day exploits).
  4. Threat Assessment: CTI assesses the potential impact of identified threats, taking into account factors such as the organization’s vulnerabilities, the potential damage the threat could cause, and the likelihood of the threat materializing. This helps in prioritizing threats.
  5. Dissemination of Intelligence: CTI disseminates the analyzed and interpreted information to relevant stakeholders in a format that’s understandable and actionable. This could be in the form of reports, dashboards, or real-time alerts.
  6. Supporting Proactive Defense Measures: By providing insights into potential threats and vulnerabilities, CTI enables organizations to take proactive measures to defend their networks. This could include patching vulnerable software, adjusting security policies, or even engaging in active defense measures like threat hunting.
  7. Informing Incident Response: Cyber Threat Intelligence (CTI) plays a pivotal role during security incidents. It not only helps in identifying the nature of the attack but also guides the incident response process. CTI provides valuable context and insights which can significantly speed up the incident response process, minimize damage, and help recover faster. It can provide information about the likely source of the attack, the methods used by the attackers, and potential mitigation strategies.
  8. Continuous Learning and Adaptation: CTI involves an ongoing process of learning and adaptation. As new threats emerge and old ones evolve, CTI processes must be continually updated to stay relevant. This can involve adjusting data collection strategies, refining analysis techniques, or updating threat assessment methodologies.

The ultimate aim of Cyber Threat Intelligence is to generate insights that are specifically adapted to meet the unique security needs of the organization. This involves understanding the organization’s specific risk profile, which includes its industry, size, geography, and digital footprint. By customizing the intelligence to suit an organization’s particular requirements, Cyber Threat Intelligence can offer practical insights that not only aid in averting cyber threats, but also mitigate the effects of any incidents that may still transpire.

What are examples of Cyber Threat Intelligence?

Through the lens of cyber threat intelligence, we acquire vital insights which a business or organization leverages to comprehend the threats that have previously, are presently, or may potentially target the organization in the future. This knowledge helps the organization to prepare, prevent, and identify cyber threats looking to take advantage of valuable resources.

Following cyber threat intelligence examples illustrate how threat intelligence can take many forms, each providing a different perspective on the organization’s threat landscape.

  1. Threat Actor Intelligence Information: : Imagine you have a playground where you and your friends play. There are some kids (we’ll call them “bully kids”) who like to take toys from others. Your teacher tells you about these bully kids, what they look like, and how they behave. This is like threat actor information in cybersecurity. It tells you about the bad guys (hackers), what they do (their tactics), and how they do it (their techniques).With Threat Actor Intelligence information, about the individuals or groups that pose a threat to an organization, you can get details about their tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), their motivations (financial gain, political activism, espionage), their capabilities, and their historical activities. For example, a cybersecurity firm might gather intelligence on a hacking group known for launching ransomware attacks against healthcare organizations.
  2. Malware Intelligence: Now, suppose there’s a rumor about a new trick the bully kids are using to take toys. Maybe they’re using a shiny toy to distract other kids. Knowing about this trick helps you and your friends to be careful and not fall for it. In cybersecurity, this is similar to malware intelligence. It tells you about harmful software (malware) that hackers use, and how it works, so you can protect your computer. This involves understanding the various types of malicious software that could pose a threat to an organization. For example, a retail company might keep track of new types of point-of-sale (POS) malware, which cybercriminals use to steal credit card information from POS systems. The intelligence might include information about how the malware works, how it spreads, and how it can be detected and removed.
  3. Vulnerability Intelligence: Let’s say there’s a hole in the fence around the playground, and the bully kids are using it to sneak in. Once your teacher knows about it, she can fix the hole and stop the bully kids from sneaking in. This is like vulnerability intelligence in cybersecurity. It tells you about weaknesses (vulnerabilities) in your computer systems that hackers might exploit, so you can fix them. This type of intelligence focuses on identifying weaknesses in systems, software, or hardware that could be exploited by a threat actor. For instance, a software company might track new vulnerabilities discovered in the programming languages or libraries they use. The intelligence would include information about the vulnerability, the potential impact, and the steps needed to mitigate the risk.
  4. Phishing Intelligence: Now, imagine the bully kids start pretending to be your friends to trick you into giving them your toys. If your teacher warns you about this, you can be careful not to give your toys to someone just because they say they’re your friend. This is similar to phishing intelligence in cybersecurity. It tells you about ways hackers might try to trick you into giving them your information. This involves tracking and understanding phishing campaigns, which are attempts to trick individuals into disclosing sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details. For example, a financial institution might gather intelligence on the latest phishing scams targeting online banking users, including the techniques used by the scammers and the indicators of a phishing attempt.
  5. Geopolitical Intelligence: Finally, imagine the bully kids are from a different school, and your teacher hears that those kids are planning to come to your playground tomorrow. She can prepare you and your friends to be extra careful. This is like geopolitical intelligence in cybersecurity. It tells you about big-picture trends and events in the world that might affect cybersecurity. This kind of intelligence can help an organization understand the global context of threats. For example, an international corporation might monitor geopolitical developments that could impact the cyber threat landscape, such as new cybersecurity legislation in countries where they operate or rising tensions between nations that could lead to increased cyber espionage activity.

The ultimate goal is to use this intelligence to improve the organization’s ability to prevent, detect, and respond to cyber threats.

Why is Cyber Threat Intelligence important?

In an era where complete protection from all threats is unrealistic, threat intelligence serves as a critical tool to level the playing field by providing insights into attacker behavior, enhancing proactive defense, informing risk management and incident response, supporting strategic decision-making, and aiding in regulatory compliance.

Threat Intelligence plays a critical role in cybersecurity, particularly in today’s complex and dynamic threat landscape, for several reasons:

  1. Understanding the Threat Landscape: Threat Intelligence plays a crucial role in enhancing an organization’s understanding of the various cyber threats they could potentially face. It goes beyond identifying potential risks by also delving into the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) used by threat actors, and the types of vulnerabilities they are likely to exploit. This understanding is crucial in developing effective defense strategies.
  2. Proactive Defense: Traditional security measures are typically reactive, responding to attacks as they occur. Threat intelligence allows organizations to shift to a proactive stance, identifying and mitigating threats before they can cause damage. This can drastically reduce the potential impact of an attack.
  3. Risk Management: By providing insights into potential threats and their likely impact, threat intelligence plays a crucial role in risk management. It enables organizations to prioritize their security efforts based on the severity and likelihood of threats, allowing for more efficient allocation of resources.
  4. Incident Response: In the event of a security incident, threat intelligence can provide valuable information to support the incident response process. Understanding the nature of the threat can help in determining the appropriate response, minimizing the time to contain and mitigate the incident.
  5. Strategic Decision-Making: Threat intelligence not only informs operational and tactical security decisions but can also support strategic decision-making. For instance, understanding the threat landscape can inform decisions about security investments, policy development, and strategic planning.
  6. Regulatory Compliance: Many regulatory frameworks now require organizations to demonstrate a proactive approach to managing cybersecurity risks. A robust threat intelligence program can help meet these requirements and avoid potential penalties.

What are the 4 types of Cyber Threat Intelligence?

Cyber Threat Intelligence types empower us with data about existing or potential threats by providing comprehensive, multi-layered information about the threat landscape. They allow us to understand the threats we face, how to detect them, and how to respond effective.

When discussing the types of Cyber Threat Intelligence, it is often categorized into four primary types:

  1. Strategic Threat Intelligence: This is high-level information intended for decision-makers and senior executives in an organization. It focuses on broad and emerging trends in the cyber threat landscape, including new tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) used by threat actors, and geopolitical factors that could impact cyber threats. Strategic Threat Intelligence helps in long-term planning and informs organizational cybersecurity strategy.
  2. Operational Threat Intelligence: Operational intelligence is more focused and provides information about specific threats that an organization may currently be facing or could likely face in the future. It provides in-depth details about threat actors, their motivations, capabilities, TTPs, and specific campaigns. This type of intelligence is particularly useful to incident response teams and threat hunters.
  3. Tactical Threat Intelligence: Tactical intelligence involves the technical details of threats, such as indicators of compromise (IOCs). This includes specific data like IP addresses, domain names, file hashes, and other identifiable information related to a threat. This type of intelligence is typically used by security analysts in their day-to-day operations for threat detection and defense activities.
  4. Technical Threat Intelligence: This type of intelligence pertains to information about specific cyber threats and their methodologies, including details about malware, vulnerabilities, and exploits. It provides granular data about these threats, such as code samples, hashes, and network signatures, which can help an organization’s security teams detect, mitigate, and respond to specific cyber threats.

What are the phases of Cyber Threat Intelligence Lifecycle?

The Threat Intelligence Lifecycle is a systematic process that outlines the sequence of actions taken to generate and utilize threat intelligence. This lifecycle ensures that the intelligence generated is relevant, actionable, and timely.

CTI Phase #1: Scoping Cyber Threat Intelligence

The “Scoping Threat Intelligence Requirements” or “Direction and Planning” phase sets the foundation for the entire Threat Intelligence Lifecycle. It ensures that the intelligence you generate is relevant and useful to your organization, allowing you to effectively prioritize and mitigate threats.

This is where you define your intelligence needs and set the direction for the entire process.

What are the key elements of the Cyber Threat Intelligence Scope phase:

Here’s a detailed explanation:

  1. Understanding the Organization’s Risk Profile: Before you can determine your threat intelligence requirements, you need to understand the organization’s specific risk profile. This includes information about the organization’s industry, size, geographic location, technology infrastructure, and digital assets. Understanding the organization’s risk profile helps to identify what kind of threats the organization is most likely to face.
  2. Identifying Key Stakeholders: Different stakeholders within the organization will have different intelligence needs. For example, the IT security team might need technical details about threats, while the executive leadership might need strategic intelligence about trends and risks. Identifying the key stakeholders helps to understand who will be using the intelligence and what kind of information they need.
  3. Defining Intelligence Goals: Based on the organization’s risk profile and the needs of the key stakeholders, you can define your intelligence goals. This includes determining what kind of threats you are looking for, what kind of information you need about these threats, and how you will use this information. For example, you might want to identify new malware variants targeting your industry, or you might want to understand the tactics of specific threat actors.
  4. Selecting Intelligence Sources: Once you know what kind of intelligence you need, you can select the appropriate sources of information. This could include open-source intelligence, technical data feeds, human intelligence, or intelligence from the deep and dark web. The sources should be reliable and relevant to your intelligence goals.
  5. Determining the Output Format: The final part of this phase is determining how the intelligence will be presented. This could be in the form of reports, dashboards, or alerts. The format should be understandable and actionable for the key stakeholders.

CTI Phase #2: Collecting Cyber Threat Intelligence

The Threat Intelligence Collection phase is crucial in the Threat Intelligence Lifecycle. The “Threat Intelligence Collection” phase is the stage where data is gathered from various sources to be used in the analysis and identification of potential threats. The quality and relevance of the data collected in this phase will directly impact the effectiveness of the subsequent analysis and threat identification phases. It’s important to have a well-defined and systematic approach to data collection to ensure that the intelligence generated is accurate and actionable.

What are the key elements of the Cyber Threat Intelligence Collection phase:

The following are the five key elements of the Threat Intelligence Collection phase:

  1. Selecting Sources: Based on the requirements set in the first phase, appropriate sources of information are selected for data collection. These sources could include open-source intelligence (OSINT), social media intelligence (SOCMINT), human intelligence (HUMINT), technical intelligence (TECHINT), and intelligence from the deep and dark web. The choice of sources will depend on the organization’s specific intelligence goals.
  2. Data Collection: Data is then gathered from the selected sources. This could involve automated data collection using tools and software, or manual data collection. The data collected could include information about known threats, new malware variants, hacker forums, data breaches, threat actor activities, and more.
  3. Ensuring Data Quality: It’s crucial to ensure that the data collected is of high quality. This means that it is accurate, reliable, and relevant to the organization’s intelligence goals. Data quality can be ensured through various means such as verifying the source, cross-checking information, and using reliable data collection tools.
  4. Data Normalization: Once the data is collected, it needs to be normalized so that it can be easily analyzed. This involves converting the data into a common format, removing any duplicates, and resolving any discrepancies in the data.
  5. Data Storage: The collected and normalized data is then stored for further analysis. The data needs to be stored in a secure manner to ensure its integrity and confidentiality. It’s also important to ensure that the data is easily accessible for analysis.

CTI Phase #3: Cyber Threat intelligence processing

The third phase of the Cyber Threat Intelligence Lifecycle, often referred to as “Threat Intelligence Processing” or “Data Processing”, involves preparing the collected data for analysis. The threat intelligence processing phase is essential for transforming the raw data collected into a format that can be effectively analyzed. It ensures that the data is accurate, consistent, and relevant, and that it can be easily interpreted and understood. This phase sets the stage for the analysis and production phases, where the data is analyzed to generate actionable threat intelligence.

What are the key elements of Cyber Threat intelligence processing phase:

  1. Data Normalization: If not already done during the collection phase, the data needs to be normalized, which involves converting the data into a standard format to make it easier to analyze. This could involve translating data into a common language, converting timestamps to a standard time zone, or mapping data to a common schema.
  2. Data Integration: The collected data may come from various sources and in different formats. Data integration involves consolidating the data from these disparate sources into a unified view. This is essential for comprehensive analysis and for identifying correlations and patterns across the data.
  3. Data Enrichment: Enrichment involves adding context to the data to make it more useful for analysis. This could involve adding additional information about a threat actor, correlating an IP address with its geographical location, or linking a malware sample to its associated campaigns or threat actors.
  4. Data Reduction: Given the large volumes of data collected, it can be beneficial to reduce the data to a more manageable size before analysis. This involves removing irrelevant or redundant data and focusing on the most significant data points.
  5. Data Representation: The processed data is then represented in a form that is ready for analysis. This could be in the form of data tables, graphs, or charts. The representation should make it easy to identify patterns, trends, and anomalies in the data.

Cyber Threat Intelligence: Key Questions to Ask

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