Technologies lie at the heart of almost every organization today. Their speed and convenience have completely revolutionized how business is conducted. However, with these benefits, comes the risk of cyber threats and data breaches.

Despite more and more cyber attacks making the news, lots of business owners and chief information security officers (CISOs) just don’t know where to start to prevent it from happening to them.

But, before you start protecting your business and its technological and digital assets from these breaches, you need to have a deep understanding of the key terms and aspects of cyber threat intelligence.

In this guide, we’ll get you started by taking you through the following key terms and aspects of threat intelligence:

  • What is Threat Intelligence?
  • Why is Threat Intelligence Important?
  • Who Can Benefit From Threat Intelligence?
  • The Threat Intelligence Life Cycle
  • Types of Threat Intelligence
  • The Future of Threat Intelligence

What is Threat Intelligence?

Threat intelligence is knowledge of the various current and potential cyber attacks that face an organization. It allows organizations to be proactive instead of reactive by identifying, preparing, and preventing cyber attacks or mitigating their effects if they occur. Such cyber attacks include zero-day exploit, phishing, DNS tunneling, and malware such as ransomware.

Why is Threat Intelligence Important?

The cyber landscape is faced with numerous challenges. They include:

  • Increase in advanced persistent threats (APTs),
  • Huge losses in raw data as a result of data breaches,
  • Lack of knowledge on the available security solutions,
  • False alarms across cybersecurity systems,
  • Shortage of skilled professionals that can cope with the growing variety of threat actors.

Apart from addressing these issues, when well implemented, cyber threat intelligence can also:

1. Reduce costs

Threat intelligence can allow you to avoid costs such as fines, investigation expenses, loss of goodwill, loss of market position and market share, and post-incident restoration fees among others in case of a breach. For example, the Equifax data breach cost them well over $600 million.

2. Reduce risks

By having a proper threat intelligence system, you get insight into emerging cybersecurity hazards before they are used against you. This threat hunting minimizes the risk of loss of information.

3. Avoid loss of data

A threat intelligence system prevents infiltration by threat actors. It’s always on the lookout for suspicious domains or IP addresses that try to access your network. This improves the speed and effectiveness of their incident response.

4. Deeper cyber intelligence analysis

By revealing the different techniques, strategies, and decision-making processes of cybercriminals, threat intelligence helps organizations determine whether their current systems can prevent cyber attacks such as malware, phishing, etc.

5. Evaluate security posture

Cyber threat intelligence gives information on the vulnerabilities of the different tools and software your organization uses so you can tell whether your network is secure or not. This helps in proper vulnerability management in real-time.

Who Can Benefit From Threat Intelligence?

Threat intelligence may sound like something that only benefits elite analysts and experts should worry about. However, it has a wide variety of applications in organizations that security teams as well as consumers.

Some of its benefits to each member of the security team and others who interact with your organization include:

  • It helps executive management to understand all the risks available and what to do to mitigate their effects and improve their security controls.
  • Helps the intelligence analyst uncover and track threat actors targeting the organization.
  • Improves the prevention and detection capabilities and strengthens defenses, benefiting the IT analyst.
  • Actionable intel on all the current and potential risks allow management to strategically plan ahead while factoring in the probability of occurrence and effects of the risks.
  • Fraud prevention means consumers and other players in the organization can rest easy knowing their information is safe.
  • The security operations center or team can reduce the impact of the occurrence of these risks by prioritizing and working on the most impactful first.

In one way or another, cyber threat intelligence benefits all the members of an organization and those who interact with it. So, the help of a product that offers threat intelligence services can come in handy.

The Threat Intelligence Life Cycle

The threat intelligence life cycle is a step-by-step process that guides the cybersecurity team through the process of transforming raw data into actionable information that can be used for decision-making.

Although cyber threats are ever-evolving, this feedback cycle loop allows the team to uncover advanced persistent threats (APTs) and come up with ways of dealing with them proactively.

The Threat Intelligence Lifecycle

Here are the steps involved:

1. Planning and direction

The first thing for the team is to lay out the main goals and tasks based on what the organization wants. The better the plan, the better the team will be at tracking key performance indicators (KPI) and indicators of compromise (IOC).

2. Data collection

As per the plan, the team collects raw data to be used to satisfy the objectives.

3. Analysis

Some of the activities involved in processing the raw data to a usable form include decrypting files, organizing it into spreadsheets, processing it into graphs, and evaluating whether it is relevant and credible or not.

4. Production

Using the actionable information from the analysis, logical conclusions are derived. The team answers all the questions asked during the planning stage by recommending the appropriate course of action.

5. Dissemination

The security team simplifies the reports and presents them to the organization’s stakeholders. The manner and format used depend on the audience. Nonetheless, it should be easy to understand with as little technical jargon as possible.

6. Feedback

After implementing the recommendations as per the report, the security team may have to improve or change their threat intelligence program. The decision is made through the data they collect themselves, and the feedback they get from the stakeholders.

Types of Threat Intelligence

The final result of the operation depends on a variety of factors. The cyber threat intelligence lifecycle above has demonstrated that the result varies because of:

  • The intended audience
  • The intelligence sources of information
  • Requirements of the organization

Based on these criteria, there are three categories of threat intelligence.

1. Strategic threat intelligence

Strategic intelligence helps the organization’s decision-makers understand what risks it faces and the vulnerabilities it has so it is generally less technical. It is usually presented through briefings or in form of reports.

Information used in strategic intelligence is sourced from:

  • News from various news sources
  • Policy documents
  • Research reports
  • White papers

2. Tactical threat intelligence

Tactical intelligence is more technical than strategic intelligence due to its audience and objectives. It is intended for personnel involved in the security system of the organization such as the security staff, system architects, and system admins.

The goal is to get them to understand, in technical terms, the specific way that the organization can be attacked and how to defend against it. This information is used to improve the existing security controls and operations. Tactical intelligence can be found via open source and free data feeds.

3. Operational threat intelligence

Operational threat intelligence provides insight on who the threat is, why they are a threat when they are likely to act, and what tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) they are likely to employ.

Operational threat intelligence includes technical information such as what attack vector is likely to be used, what weakness is being exploited, and what domains or commands will be used. Its sources of actionable information include:

  • Interception of the communication of threat groups
  • Threat data feeds
  • Forensic reports

The Future of Threat Intelligence

According to a MarketWatch report, the threat intelligence market will be worth $16.1 billion by 2025. This clearly indicates how organizations are increasingly viewing it as a necessity. Even smaller organizations are starting to use it.

As its worth grows, so will its efficiency as it becomes more and more proactive. Due to machine learning and pattern recognition, technology will be able to learn and recognize what we do and when we do it. If we do anything out of the norm that is interpreted as a potential threat, it will be easy to raise escalations and stop threats before it occurs.

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