What is Cyber Threat Intelligence? A Complete Guide

By Phoebe Fasulo

Posted on Mar 12, 2020

With cyber threats becoming increasingly difficult to track and manage, IT professionals must take a proactive approach to security in order to protect their assets from a breach. This requires ongoing visibility into the threat landscape and the methods cyber adversaries are employing to carry out attacks. One way this can be achieved is with cyber threat intelligence and security data, which can be used to inform security strategies and ensure that organizations are actively managing threats.

To get the most out of threat intelligence, it is important that you understand its different applications so that you can choose a solution that best meets the needs of your business. Below we will break down the key elements of cyber threat intelligence and analyze how it can be used to enhance security programs.

What is cyber threat intelligence?

Cyber threat intelligence refers to the data collected and used by an organization to better comprehend past, current, and future threats. The information gathered provides visibility into what is happening within an organization’s network, helping to identify potential threats and stay protected against future attacks.

A key component of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy is the ability to work proactively, rather than reactively. Applying insights obtained via threat data allows security teams to make quicker, more informed security decisions so they can stay one step ahead of cyber threats.

Why is threat intelligence important?

The threat landscape is constantly evolving and becoming more complex. Even if you have basic security measures in place, it is often not enough to keep your IT team informed on the current state of cyber threats. Threat intelligence is useful for many reasons, the most important being that it helps security professionals understand an attacker’s thought process, revealing motives and attack behavior behind a threat. This information helps security teams learn the tactics, techniques, and procedures employed by potential hackers, leading to improved threat monitoring, threat identification, and incident response time.

What are the benefits of threat intelligence?

By providing context into threats, cyber threat intelligence enhances an organization's security capabilities, helping to strengthen IT operations. Here are three ways leveraging threat intelligence benefits enterprise organizations:

1. Reduced costs

The slower your threat response is, the more a data breach will cost your organization. By reducing time to response, threat intelligence can help eliminate the regulatory and legal fees associated with a data breach. In addition, cyber threat intelligence helps security teams correctly identify false positives, saving time and money on unnecessary threat response.

2. Enhanced board reporting

A common challenge many IT professionals face when reporting to the board is demonstrating the effectiveness of the cybersecurity solutions they employ. Threat intelligence helps security teams visualize their network defenses which allows them to explain mitigation strategies in terms their board members will understand. This ensures that all parties are aligned and that value cybersecurity practices are shown.

3. Improved threat classification

Using threat intelligence, organizations are better able to quantify and rank threats so that they know which vulnerabilities pose the greatest risk to their business. With ongoing visibility into your cybersecurity posture, you can efficiently identify and classify risk, enabling threat prioritization. This translates to improved risk response and remediation.

The threat intelligence lifecycle

Cyber threat intelligence is formed through a process called the threat intelligence lifecycle. An effective security program requires continuous monitoring and evaluation, which is why threat intelligence works better as a cycle, rather than a list of steps. The six basic ideas of the threat intelligence life cycle are as follows:

  • Direction: The direction phase of the threat intelligence lifecycle is where you set goals for the program. These should outline the assets and business processes that need to be protected, which threats you plan to prioritize, and the types of threat intelligence you will employ.
  • Collection: Collection is the process of gathering information to meet your defined intelligence requirements. Information can be pulled from a variety of sources including, threat intelligence reports, online forums, threat data feeds, and security experts.
  • Processing: Processing involves transforming the intelligence you collected into a format that is usable by your organization. Different collection methods often involve different forms of processing. For example, human reports need to be fact-checked and processed for key threat indicators that relate to your program goals.
  • Analysis: Analysis is the action of turning processed information into intelligence that can guide security decisions. During the analysis phase, keep in mind the audience you are presenting to. The key is to showcase vital data points in an easily digestible fashion so that stakeholders can make informed decisions.
  • Dissemination: Dissemination is the process of accurately distributing threat intelligence to the necessary parties. You should determine how often you plan to send updates, the platform on which you distribute information, and how you can communicate with stakeholders about the intelligence.
  • Feedback: Improving your threat intelligence program requires regular feedback from stakeholders. This will ensure that the information gathered aligns with the requirements of each group, allowing you to make adjustments as their objectives change.

It is through this process that raw data becomes finished intelligence, an essential tool for staying up-to-date on cybersecurity best practices.

Cyber threat intelligence use cases

The threat intelligence solution you choose will vary depending on the needs of your organization. It is important to take a “use-case” approach when looking for a solution so that you can identify which threat intelligence capabilities you require. Below are five use cases for cyber threat intelligence:

1. Augment legacy security technologies

Integrating threat intelligence with your existing security programs and solutions improves incident response by enriching threat insights. Not only does this enhance your security team's ability to identify threats, but it also extends the life span of legacy solutions, helping organizations maximize their ROI on security investments.

Before choosing a threat intelligence solution, look at the tools that you are currently leveraging to try and identify where improvements can be made. Threat intelligence solutions are designed to easily integrate with established systems, so it is important to choose a tool that compliments your security needs.

2. Threat prioritization

Using threat intelligence, organizations can create metrics that evaluate the severity of a threat or vulnerability on their network. By analyzing a vulnerability with regard to the solutions you have available to manage threats, threat intelligence enables vulnerability prioritization. With an established vulnerability ranking system, security teams are better able to allocate time and resources when managing new threats.

3. Limiting insider threats

Monitoring and validating potential insider threats is resource-intensive. Insider threat activity is often overlooked as normal user behavior, making it hard to determine the scope of an attack. By integrating threat intelligence with security tools, organizations can provide IT with additional context into insider threat alerts. This speeds up insider threat identification, limiting the damage they cause.

4. Fraud prevention

To keep your organization safe and protect your brand image, you must work diligently to prevent fraudulent use of employee and customer data. Threat intelligence provides a window into the tactics threat actors use to obtain and exploit critical data for fraudulent purposes. This provides security teams with real-time alerts on new attack vectors cybercriminals create, helping them prevent adversaries from defrauding unsuspecting customers.

5. Security leadership

CISOs and other security leaders are responsible for reducing exploitable vulnerabilities without exceeding their budget and available resources. Without proper visibility into the threat landscape, this can be an extremely difficult task. Threat intelligence helps CISOs map the threat landscape, allowing them to accurately calculate risk and provide security personnel with the intelligence they need to make better decisions.

Types of threat intelligence

Threat intelligence can be broken down into three unique categories:

  • Strategic
  • Tactical
  • Operational

Each of these classifications serves a specific role in the collection and presentation of the data, and how it relates to ongoing initiatives.

Let’s take a deeper look at each of the three types of threat intelligence:

1. Strategic threat intelligence

Strategic threat intelligence provides high-level analysis typically reserved for non-technical audiences such as stakeholders or board members. In that sense, it usually covers topics that can impact potential business decisions.

The goal of strategic threat intelligence is to understand the broader trends and motivations affecting the threat landscape. Strategic threat intelligence sources are unlike other intelligence categories because the majority of the data comes from open sources, meaning it can be accessed by anyone. A few examples include local and national media, white papers and reports, online activity and articles, and security ratings.

2. Tactical threat intelligence

Tactical threat intelligence focuses on the immediate future and helps teams determine whether or not existing security programs will be successful in detecting and managing risk. Tactical intelligence highlights indicators of compromise (IOCs) and allows responders to search for and eliminate specific threats within a network. IOCs serve as archetype examples of the threats security teams should be aware of, such as unusual traffic, log-in red flags, or an increase in file/download requests.

Tactical intelligence is the most basic form of threat intelligence and is typically automated because it can be easily generated. For this same reason, tactical intelligence usually has a short lifespan as many IOCs become obsolete in a matter of hours. This type of information is meant to be absorbed by a technologically proficient audience and helps security professionals understand how their organization is likely to be targeted based on the latest methods employed by hackers.

3. Operational threat intelligence

Operational threat intelligence aims to answer the questions, “who?”, “what?”, and “how?” and is gained by examining the details of past known attacks. . It helps security teams understand the details surrounding specific cyber-attacks by providing context for factors such as intent, timing, and sophistication.

By studying past or ongoing attacks, teams can gain insight into the intelligence and capability of their organization’s adversary. This intel helps defenders expose potential risks, decipher actor methodologies, and act more efficiently when issues arise.

Tools for managing cyber threat intelligence

A strong cybersecurity program starts by having the right tools in place for evaluating its success. When deciding what platform would be best for your organization, consider the following tools for managing cyber threat intelligence:

1. Threat reconnaissance and data attribution

Threat reconnaissance overcomes the challenges faced by traditional threat intelligence solutions by helping to identify vulnerable assets. This gives security teams the ability to eliminate weak spots before they are exploited by attackers. By leveraging the available data set, you get complete visibility into your organization’s network ecosystem.

2. Automated detection

Since threat data is regularly generated from multiple sources, automated threat intelligence detection is an essential tool. It helps to save time by eliminating the need for manual processes, freeing teams up from endless data sifting. Automation also eliminates human error and thus improves the accuracy of your threat intelligence.

3. Consolidated management

There are many moving parts to an enterprise, making it difficult to establish effective lines of communication. That difficulty only increases if an organization relies on third-party vendors for any of its business operations. When your most important data is consolidated in one place, your team can stay on the same page across the entire enterprise.

How SecurityScorecard’s Security Data provide threat intelligence capabilities

Having access to comprehensive threat intelligence can help you keep critical assets secure by streamlining cyber risk management at your organization. Using Security Data, organizations have access to essential cybersecurity data, helping them gain visibility into their enterprise and third-party ecosystems. With SecurityScorecard’s global security threat intelligence engine, organizations can continuously analyze a broad range of highly relevant cybersecurity signals allowing them to remediate threats in real-time.

Security Data also uses machine learning algorithms to quantify and rank risk factors so that you know which vulnerabilities are most critical. This allows you to continuously improve the cyberhealth of your entire network ecosystem.

As more organizations are exposed to cyber threats, the ability to actively address vulnerabilities has become a key factor in business success. With Security Data, organizations are able to proactively manage their cybersecurity with best-in-class threat insights.

No waiting, 100% Free

Get your personalized scorecard today

Get your free scorecard and learn how you stack up across 10 risk categories. Answer a few simple questions and we'll instantly send your score to your business email.

Get Your Free Score

Get In Touch

Thank you for contacting us!