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What Is Threat Intelligence?

Digital technologies lie at the heart of nearly every industry today. The automation and greater connectedness they afford have revolutionized the world’s economic and cultural institutions — but they’ve also brought risk in the form of cyberattacks. Threat intelligence is knowledge that allows you to prevent or mitigate those attacks. Rooted in data, threat intelligence provides context — like who is attacking you, what their motivation and capabilities are, and what indicators of compromise in your systems to look for — that helps you make informed decisions about your security.

Why Is Threat Intelligence Important?

Today, the cybersecurity industry faces numerous challenges — increasingly persistent and devious threat actors, a daily flood of data full of extraneous information and false alarms across multiple, unconnected security systems, and a serious shortage of skilled professionals.

Some organizations try to incorporate threat data feeds into their network, but don’t know what to do with all that extra data, adding to the burden of analysts who may not have the tools to decide what to prioritize and what to ignore.

A cyber threat intelligence solution can address each of these issues. The best solutions use machine learning to automate data collection and processing, integrate with an existing solutions, take in unstructured data from disparate sources, and then connect the dots by providing context on indicators of compromise (IoCs) and the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) of threat actors.

Threat intelligence is actionable — it’s timely, provides context, and is able to be understood by the people in charge of making decisions.

The Types of Threat Intelligence

Depending on the initial intelligence requirements, sources of information, and intended audience. really do affect the final product and how it will look. It can be helpful to break down threat intelligence into a few categories based on these criteria.

Threat intelligence is often broken down into three subcategories:

  • Strategic — Broader trends typically meant for a non-technical audience

  • Tactical — Outlines of the tactics, techniques, and procedures of threat actors for a more technical audience

  • Operational — Technical details about specific attacks and campaigns

Who Can Benefit from Threat Intelligence?

Everyone! Cyber threat intelligence is widely imagined to be the domain of elite analysts. In reality, it adds value across security functions for organizations of all sizes.

When threat intelligence is treated as a separate function within a broader security paradigm rather than an essential component that augments every other function, the result is that many of the people who would benefit the most from threat intelligence don’t have access to it when they need it.

Security operations teams are routinely unable to process the alerts they receive — threat intelligence integrates with the security solutions you already use, helping automatically prioritize and filter alerts and other threats. Vulnerability management teams can more accurately prioritize the most important vulnerabilities with access to the external insights and context provided by threat intelligence. And fraud prevention, risk analysis, and other high-level security processes are enriched by the understanding of the current threat landscape that threat intelligence provides, including key insights on threat actors, their tactics, techniques, and procedures, and more from data sources across the web.

Threat Intelligence Use Cases

The diverse use cases of threat intelligence make it an essential resource for cross-functional teams in any organization. Although it’s perhaps the most immediately valuable when it helps you prevent an attack, threat intelligence is also a useful part of triage, risk analysis, vulnerability management, and wide-scope decision making.

Incident Response

Security analysts in charge of incident response report some of the highest levels of stress in the industry, and it’s no wonder why — the rate of cyber incidents has steadily climbed over the last two decades, and a high proportion of daily alerts turn out to false positives. When dealing with real incidents, analysts must often spend time painstakingly sorting through data manually to assess the problem.

Threat intelligence reduces the pressure in multiple ways:

  • Automatically identifying and dismissing false positives

  • Enriching alerts with real-time context, like custom risk scores

  • Comparing information from internal and external sources

Security Operations

Most security operations center (SOC) teams must deal with huge volumes of alerts generated by the networks they monitor. Triaging these alerts takes too long, and many are never investigated at all. “Alert fatigue” leads analysts to take alerts less seriously than they should. Threat intelligence solves many of these problems — helping gather information about threats more quickly and accurately, filter out false alarms, speed up triage, and simplify incident analysis. With it, analysts can stop wasting time pursuing alerts based on:

  • Actions that are more likely to be innocuous rather than malicious

  • Attacks that are not relevant to that enterprise

  • Attacks for which defenses and controls are already in place

As well as accelerating triage, threat intelligence can help SOC teams simplify incident analysis and containment.

Vulnerability Management

Effective vulnerability management means shifting from taking a “patch everything, all the time” approach — one that nobody can realistically ever achieve — to prioritizing vulnerabilities based on actual risk.

Although the number of vulnerabilities and threats has increased every year, research shows that most threats target the same, small proportion of vulnerabilities. Threat actors are also quicker — it now only takes fifteen days on average between a new vulnerability being announced and an exploit targeting it appearing.

This has two implications:

  • You have two weeks to patch or remediate your systems against a new exploit. If you can’t patch in that timeframe, have a plan to mitigate the damage.

  • If a new vulnerability is not exploited within two weeks to three months, it’s unlikely to ever be — patching it can take lower priority.

Threat intelligence helps you identify the vulnerabilities that pose an actual risk to your organization, going beyond CVE scoring by combining internal vulnerability scanning data, external data, and additional context about the TTPs of threat actors.

Risk Analysis

Risk modeling can be a useful way for organizations to set investment priorities. But many risk models suffer from vague, non-quantified output that is hastily compiled, based on partial information, based on unfounded assumptions, or is difficult to take action on.

Threat intelligence provides context that helps risk models make defined risk measurements and be more transparent about their assumptions, variables, and outcomes. It can help answer questions such as:

  • Which threat actors are using this attack, and do they target our industry?

  • How often has this specific attack been observed recently by enterprises like ours?

  • Is the trend up or down?

  • Which vulnerabilities does this attack exploit, and are those vulnerabilities present in our enterprise?

  • What kind of damage, technical and financial, has this attack caused in enterprises like ours?

Fraud Prevention

To keep your organization safe, it isn’t enough to only detect and respond to threats already exploiting your systems. You also need to prevent fraudulent uses of your data or brand.

Threat intelligence gathered from underground criminal communities provides a window into the motivations, methods, and tactics of threat actors, especially when this intelligence is correlated with information from the surface web, including technical feeds and indicators.

Use threat intelligence to prevent:

  • Payment fraud — Monitoring sources like criminal communities, paste sites, and other forums for relevant payment card numbers, bank identifier numbers, or specific references to financial institutions can provide early warning of upcoming attacks that might affect your organization.

  • Compromised data — Cybercriminals regularly upload massive caches of usernames and passwords to paste sites and the dark web, or make them available for sale on underground marketplaces. Monitor these sources with threat intelligence to watch out for leaked credentials, corporate data, or proprietary code.

  • Typosquatting — Get real-time alerts on newly registered phishing and typosquatting domains to prevent cybercriminals from impersonating your brand and defrauding unsuspecting users.

By avoiding more breaches with threat intelligence, Recorded Future users are able to save over $1 million per potential breach through damaging fines, penalties, and lost consumer trust.

Security Leadership

CISOs and other security leaders must manage risk by balancing limited available resources against the need to secure their organizations from ever-evolving threats. Threat intelligence can help map the threat landscape, calculate risk, and give security personnel the intelligence and context to make better, faster decisions.

Today, security leaders must:

  • Assess business and technical risks, including emerging threats and “known unknowns” that might impact the business

  • Identify the right strategies and technologies to mitigate the risks

  • Communicate the nature of the risks to top management, and justify investments in defensive measures

Threat intelligence can be a critical resource for all these activities, providing information on general trends, such as:

  • Which types of attacks are becoming more (or less) frequent

  • Which types of attacks are most costly to the victims

  • What new kinds of threat actors are coming forward, and the assets and enterprises they are targeting

  • The security practices and technologies that have proven the most (or least) successful in stopping or mitigating these attacks

It can also enable security groups to assess whether an emerging threat is likely to affect their specific enterprise based on factors such as:

  • Industry — Is the threat affecting other businesses in our vertical?

  • Technology — Does the threat involve compromising software, hardware, or other technologies used in our enterprise?

  • Geography — Does the threat target facilities in regions where we have operations?

  • Attack method — Have methods used in the attack, including social engineering and technical methods, been used successfully against our company or similar ones?

With these types of intelligence, gathered from a broad set of external data sources, security decision makers gain a holistic view of the cyber risk landscape and the greatest risks to their enterprise.

Here are four key areas where threat intelligence helps security leaders make decisions:

  • Mitigation — Threat intelligence helps security leaders prioritize the vulnerabilities and weaknesses that threat actors are most likely to target, giving context on the TTPs those threat actors use, and therefore the weaknesses they tend to exploit.

  • Communication — CISOs are often challenged by the need to describe threats and justify countermeasures in terms that will motivate non-technical business leaders, such as cost, impact on customers, new technologies. Threat intelligence provides powerful ammunition for these discussions, such as the impact of similar attacks on companies of the same size in other industries or trends and intelligence from the dark web indicating that the enterprise is likely to be targeted.

  • Supporting leaders — Threat intelligence can provide security leaders with a real-time picture of the latest threats, trends, and events, helping security leaders respond to a threat or communicate the potential impact of a new threat type to business leaders and board members in a timely and efficient manner.

  • The security skills gap — CISOs must make sure the IT organization has the human resources to carry out its mission. But cybersecurity’s skills shortage means existing security staff frequently cope with unmanageable workloads. Threat intelligence automates some of the most labor-intensive tasks, rapidly collecting data and correlating context from multiple intelligence sources, prioritizing risks, and reducing unnecessary alerts. Powerful threat intelligence also helps junior personnel quickly “upskill” and perform above their experience level.

Countless organizations are transforming the way they do business through digital processes. They’re moving data from internal networks to the cloud and gathering more information than ever before.

Making data easier to collect, store, and analyze is certainly changing many industries for the better, but this free flow of information comes with a price. It means that to assess the risk of our own organization, we also have to consider the security of our partners, vendors, and other third parties.

Unfortunately, many of the most common third-party risk management practices employed today are lagging behind security requirements. Static assessments of risk, like financial audits and security certificate verifications, are still important, but they often lack context and aren’t always timely. There’s a need for a solution that offers real-time context on the actual threat landscape.

Threat intelligence is one way to do just that. It can provide transparency into the threat environments of the third parties you work with, providing real-time alerts on threats and changes to their risks and giving you the context, you need to evaluate your relationships.

At Cymonix, we understand how overwhelming this can be. That's why we are ready to help you stay in compliance and protect your reputation. If you are interested in discussing this or any other cybersecurity topic please Contact Us!

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