What is Cyber Threat Intelligence and its Use Cases?

Meeba Gracy

Meeba Gracy

Feb 05, 2024

Cyber threat intelligence

Recently, Check Point Research has published a report of a few findings:

  • Japan’s space agency, JAXA, confirmed a cyber attack.
  • Israeli government agencies reported a cyber incident affecting Ziv Hospital’s network.
  • India’s National Aerospace Laboratories faced a ransomware attack.

Now, how do you think these attacks were found? Governing bodies and organizations spend sizable amounts of money and resources towards detecting breach instances and fixing them, and this process falls under the purview of cyber threat intelligence. This crucial asset helps determine what went wrong and where it went wrong.

Don’t want your business to get listed in a cybersecurity breach statistic? Yes? Then cyber threat intelligence is what will help. This article will help you understand cyber threat and operational intelligence in detail and explore potential cyber threat intelligence solutions that you can use to minimize breach occurrences.

Let’s dive in…

What is cyber threat intelligence?

“Threat intelligence,” “threat intel,” or “cyber threat intelligence” is information gathered, processed, and analyzed to grasp why threat actors act, whom they target, and how they execute attacks. This intel helps you make quicker, well-informed security decisions, moving from a reactive to a proactive stance against threat actors.

Cyber threat intelligence

However, confusion still prevails between “threat data” and “threat intelligence.” Here’s the difference at a glance.

  • Threat data is a list of potential threats
  • Threat intelligence goes beyond examining the data and broader context to create a narrative that guides decision-making

Remember that cyber intelligence isn’t a standalone solution but part of security architecture. As threats evolve, the effectiveness of cyber intelligence solutions relies on the intelligence driving them.

Why is threat intelligence important?

CTI aids in making rapid, informed security decisions, ensuring that your responses to threat actors are proactive rather than reactive. Instead, let’s double-click on this by highlighting its features and associating them with why they are important.

For instance, if a file is detected and marked as ‘malicious’ using CTI, it can instantly be blocked across all global networks.

Cyber threat intelligence also helps:

  • Prevent data loss: A well-structured CTI program helps organizations detect cyber threats and avoid data breaches that could release sensitive information.
  • Enhances security team efficiency: Security teams can gain detailed insights into threats, their actors, objectives, and other crucial details. They way, you can make informed decisions. 
  • Guide safety measures: CTI identifies patterns hackers use, enabling you to implement security measures to guard against future attacks.

Threat intelligence lifecycle

The threat intelligence lifecycle is a framework that CTI teams follow when investigating or reporting specific threats. A threat intelligence lifecycle is a continuous process in which the security team is responsible for preparing and disseminating threat intelligence. 

The fine-tuning and details can differ from company to company, but most follow the same version in the six-step process we have listed below:

As an organization, you need to worry about different types of threats, and this framework helps CTI teams tailor their efforts.

For example:

  • A big cloud company institution might request reports on nation-state advanced persistent threats targeting their institutions
  • On the flip side, a healthcare threat intelligence team in a large enterprise may focus on analyzing tactics, techniques, and procedures of ransomware groups targeting healthcare companies

To make this point clear, we have explained the phases of the threat intelligence lifecycle one by one:

Cyber threat intelligence life cycle

Scope

Apart from the daily tasks like keeping an eye on dark web activities and forums for company mentions, most threat intelligence projects kick off by identifying requirements.

In this phase, the CTI team or those in charge of intelligence collection work directly with other business units or executives to determine what intelligence is needed and what the project aims to achieve.

The important questions to ponder here are:

  • Which threats are the main focus?
  • Which should be our top priority?
  • What resources do you need?

This also includes understanding and clearly stating:

  • Identify which of your information assets require protection. Before this, also consider the potential impact these assets bring if lost or disrupted 
  • Determine the cyber intelligence solutions to safeguard assets and respond to emerging threats
  • Find initial access to cybercriminals who hack into corporate IT environments and sell access on dark web forums
  • Make a list of personas these hackers use, including data about the size of companies they likely attack

Collection

In this stage, you need to focus on identifying sources of threat intelligence and start the collection of raw data.

If your company uses a specific threat intelligence platform, you can collect the data directly from there; otherwise, you need to tap into other relevant sources.

Examples of this include:

  • Study of threat research and reports
  • Collecting data from firewall and other SIEM
  • Content available from data web sources

The data can be overwhelming, but these steps will significantly reduce it. To ensure precision, choosing the right tools for gathering information is vital.

Information gathering happens in various ways, including

  • Implement specific processing procedures, such as reducing the volume of raw data
  • Translate conversations obtained from foreign-language dark web marketplaces and illicit forums
  • Extract metadata from malware samples
  • Monitor open-source news and blogs
  • Extract information by scraping and harvesting websites and forums
  • Infiltrate closed sources like dark web forums

Processing

The next phase starts once you collect all the relevant data during the above process. In this phase, the team will process it by filtering out anything irrelevant and structuring it for the analytics phase, which will be discussed in the next section.

The team uses different means of processing the raw data to make this easier. Moreover, the human reports in the data should be ranked and checked with granular level attention.

The best example would be extracting IP addresses from a security vendor’s report and adding them to a CSV file SIEM product.

Analysis

Threat intelligence analysis is the next phase. This is where big data is transformed into valuable intelligence that can help you make future decisions on important processes.

Here, the decision involves whether you need to go ahead and investigate the potential threat, whether to take actions immediately, or how to block an impending attack and the like.

Here’s an in-depth breakdown of what a CTI analytics team should be doing:

  • Analyze the information and communicate it with the right audience
  • The analysis created for the vulnerability management team can include technical jargon. However, the report destined for stakeholders should be clear and concise so that they can make the right recommendations
  • Easily articulate the analysis in clear business terms

Dissemination

The dissemination stage is mostly about finishing the intelligence report and disbursing it to the relevant places it needs to go. Although this phase might seem simple, many companies must send it to the right stakeholders who can implement actionable steps to mitigate the threat.

For this to work, you need to ask your audience a couple of questions as follows:

  • What kind of threat intelligence do you need? How does the information that is collected help in their activities?
  • What are the measures in place if they follow up with more questions?
  • How often should you update them with new information and other events?
  • How do you want the intelligence presented? Is it easily understandable and actionable?

The last phase: feedback

Now that the intelligence has been sent to the stakeholders, it is time to collect feedback. Here, the feedback should depend on whether the intelligence was useful, timely, easy to understand, and actionable to build processes around it.

Here are some questions the team asks for feedback:

  • Did the intelligence report help in building remediation actions and help reduce risk?
  • What kind of data will be collected in the future?
  • Does a different stakeholder need the intelligence to be disseminated in a different format?
  • Did the full report include the right level of technical detail?

Threat intelligence solutions in action. Stay ahead, stay secure

4 types of threat intelligence

There are 4 types of threat intelligence, namely

  • Technical threat intelligence
  • Strategic Threat Intelligence
  • Technical threat intelligence
  • Operational Threat Intelligence

Now, let’s dive deep into what these are:

Technical Threat Intelligence

In technical threat intelligence, the focus is on specific signs or evidence of an attack, which forms the basis for analyzing security incidents.

A Threat Intelligence security analyst zeroes in on IOCs, command and control channels, and tools. This includes checking reported IP addresses, content from phishing emails, malware samples, and deceptive URLs.

Let’s break it down further with some examples:

  • Attack vectors: How malicious actors execute their attacks.
  • Command and Control (C&C) domains: Identifying domains that control compromised systems.
  • Exploited vulnerabilities: Pinpointing weaknesses exploited by attackers.
  • Infostealer logs: Examining logs for information-stealing activities.
  • Common Vulnerability and Exposure (CVE) data: Keeping an eye on known vulnerabilities.

Strategic Threat Intelligence

Strategic threat intelligence is a high-level analysis tailored for those not knee-deep in technicalities, such as company boards or organizational leaders.

It’s crafted to provide decision-makers beyond the IT domain, like CEOs and executives, a clear picture of the cyber threats their company is up against.

It addresses key questions such as:

  • What attack vectors are currently in use?
  • What steps can be taken to lower your risk level?
  • Who are your adversaries, and what are their motivations?
  • Which threat groups operate in your sector or region?
  • Has there been a recent attack, or is a threat imminent?
  • How might an attack be launched against your organization?
  • What routes and information could be targeted by an attacker focused on you?

Tactical Threat Intelligence

Tactical threat intelligence details the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) threat actors employ. It provides defenders with a clear understanding of how your company could be attacked and dole out strategies to defend against or reduce the impact of those attacks.

How does it work?

By spotting straightforward clues called IOCs (indicators of compromise). These IOCs, like bad IP addresses, notorious malicious domains, odd traffic, suspicious logins, or a sudden surge in file requests, act as breadcrumbs guiding cybersecurity teams to locate and eliminate specific raw threats in a network.

Some of the examples are:

  • Malware signatures: These signatures help in recognizing specific types of malware
  • IP and URL Blacklists: Used to block or filter out connections from sources with a history of malicious activities
  • Traffic Patterns: Understanding typical traffic patterns enables the identification of anomalies

Operational Threat Intelligence

Operational threat intelligence is hands-on, using collected data to respond to ongoing threats or attacks. 

In the case of upcoming attacks, there’s always a ‘who,’ ‘why,’ and ‘how’ lurking in the shadows. That’s where operational intelligence steps in. Its job? Dig into past cyber attacks, figure out the mystery, and discover the who, why, and how behind them.

Here, CISOs, CIOs, and other prominent business decision-makers in cybersecurity use this intel to pinpoint active threats. Armed with this knowledge, they can implement security controls and take action to thwart potential attacks.

For example, operational threat intelligence helps incident response teams. This is because the IR team will get useful intel to recognize and eliminate attacks on your company.  

It never hurts to be one step ahead of the game.

How do you create and implement a cyber threat intelligence program?

Cyber threats are becoming more sophisticated, and the repercussions of a security breach can range from mild to severe. You should set up a successful cyber threat intelligence program to safeguard your business.

1. Define scope and objectives

Getting your threat intelligence program off the ground begins with a crucial step: defining its scope and objectives. Think of this as laying the program’s foundation.

The first task is pinpointing the malicious threats and vulnerabilities your program will tackle. This involves understanding the kinds of threats that matter to your company.

For example, you can first narrow it down to malware or advanced persistent threats.

To make it more clear, some key goals of a threat intelligence program you need to know are:

  • Hande data privacy risks, such as identifying relevant breaches
  • Reduce the organization’s wide range of active attack surface
  • Spot compromised users or systems before they fall victim to an attack
  • Manage cyber risks within the supply chain
  • Tackle brand reputation risks linked to phishing and brand abuse

2. Collection and risk analysis

Cyber threat intelligence

Hence, when you craft a plan, make sure your program can collect the information you need to keep your company safe.

So, this is how it works – first, figure out the various sources of threat intelligence. They could be open-source information, industry reports, or anything that other firms have released.

Tapping into these sources gives you a big-picture view of the threatening threat and helps identify new, emerging real threats.

This simplifies the work of analysts to read and interpret or combine with other tools for fast decision-making.

3. Processing stage

After data collection and storage, the following step is processing this data, where it can be made easy to use and fully utilized. Here are some things done in this stage:

  • Creating data visualizations
  • Enhancing current security events with threat intelligence
  • Creating related graphs for a deeper dive into security analysis

4. Sharing results and integrations

After gathering and analyzing threat information, the cyber threat intelligence team should decide on the target audience of that data and how to transfer it effectively.

This involves the establishment of communication channels in the organization and with other external partners and ensuring that intelligence flows freely and instantaneously for better comprehension.

5. Automate the threat intelligence lifecycle

Don’t forget that the threat intelligence journey involves several stages—collection, normalization, correlation, enrichment, analysis, and dissemination.

Once you’ve figured out what cyber threat intelligence you need, it’s time to gather the info. Using a platform from cyber threat intelligence vendors helps collect intel from different sources inside and outside your organization.

After the data is collected, normalized, correlated, and enriched, it becomes meaningful intel.

Now, consider Sprinto as your go-to alternative for a threat intelligence platform. It goes beyond spotting cybersecurity threats; it’s a continuous monitoring platform ensuring compliance.

With Sprinto, conduct risk assessments, activate checks, and launch activities like security training and policy acknowledgment. Keep track and fix issues in real-time to meet compliance standards.

With Sprinto, you get:

  • Comprehensive automation-first-centric compliance management platform adaptable to your business impact
  • Pre-designed yet customizable compliance programs for your audit objectives
  • A well-organized, time-bound compliance plan linking to clear outcomes and aligning with your goals
  • On-demand expert advice for guidance and staying on track

6. Implement security controls

Now comes the crucial part – deploying the necessary security controls to shield against identified threats in place. Kick things off by updating security practices and procedures to stay current with the latest threats and vulnerabilities. This might include refreshing incident response plans and conducting security awareness training.

Here’s how Sprinto makes the process of implementing security controls smoother.

You can set up your own custom controls and apply them across various frameworks. This means you can stick to the security program you devised earlier but streamline it with automated monitoring and evidence collection. Thus simplifying the tedious process.

Curious about how scalable and efficient this process is? Talk to our security compliance experts to dive deep and know how Sprinto simplifies compliance.

If your schedule’s packed, here’s some light-reading content on how we helped NitroPack to fast-track compliance and strengthen security with automation.

7. Evaluation and feedback

To ensure your threat intelligence program stays useful and benefits the organization, it’s crucial to assess and gather feedback regularly throughout its life cycle.

This means everyone involved needs to check if the program enhances security and lessens the impact of incidents over time. The key is to keep an open conversation between providers, analysts, and those using the information.

This way, you can pinpoint any issues, fill gaps, eliminate redundancies, and make up for any shortcomings to ensure the program stays on the right track.

Keep an eye on these key metrics to gauge how well your cybersecurity efforts are doing:

  • The number of security misconfiguration issues discovered and resolved
  • The number of compromised identities and systems detected and rectified
  • Time to spot a critical security flaw or misconfiguration on average
  • The number of suspicious and confirmed threats or incidents found and addressed
  • Avoid loss, fines, or time by identifying and handling problems early on

Also read: How DNIF Achieved Compliance and Improved Security Credibility Using Sprinto

Threat intelligence use cases

A quality threat intelligence program can enhance your overall cyber security position. With this in mind, let’s look at how threat intelligence operates in practice.

Early detection

Prevention is always better than cure, and this highlights one of the primary roles of threat detection as an early warning system. It identifies potential threat scenarios by detecting suspicious activities and Identifiers of Compromise IoCs.

For ease of comprehension, threat intelligence identifies suspicious login attempts on an organization’s network. But how does this help your company? Early detection helps your security teams to act almost immediately on the issues.

Vulnerability management

Here, threat intelligence helps pinpoint system vulnerabilities that attackers might target. This information guides companies in first actions like patching and implementing mitigation measures based on the identified threats.

For example, threat intelligence reveals a known vulnerability in a widely used software version. With this information, you can quickly apply patches to fix the vulnerability. This will reduce the risk of attackers exploiting it for a successful attack.

Malware analysis

Threat intelligence aids in recognizing different types of malware. This information is valuable for updating and enhancing anti-virus software, firewalls, and other Cybersecurity tools to defend against specific malware threats.

For example, if threat intelligence uncovers a new strain of ransomware circulating in cyberspace, companies can update their anti-virus definitions to recognize and block that specific malware. This prevents potential infections and data loss.

How Can Sprinto Help?

In recent years, the lines between different types of threats and threat actors have become blurred. One great example is the Shadow Brokers group releasing code, making advanced exploits available to criminal groups that wouldn’t usually have access to such sophisticated tools.

A threat intelligence solution beyond collecting, normalizing, enriching, and suggesting remediation steps on potential attackers, their motives, and possible attack scenarios can help win this battle.

And Sprinto is all that and more—a purpose-built powerhouse. It goes beyond automating vulnerability scans, slashing incident response time, and offering data-driven insights on risk.

Its vulnerability scans and continuous monitoring capabilities span across the 100+ integration capabilities it offers with cloud service providers while helping business operations and ensuring compliance across 15+ frameworks.

Global businesses, especially those rapidly expanding in the cloud environment, trust Sprinto to fortify their cloud compliance security.

Discover how HubEngage revolutionized its compliance processes with Sprinto’s automation – a testament to the platform’s effectiveness in action.

FAQs

What does a Cyber Threat Intelligence analyst do?

Cyber threat intelligence analysts play an important role in affecting your business. They assist in locating any cyber threats and evaluate the level of threat to take appropriate decisions based on cyberspace security.

How to use Cyber Threat Intelligence?

Cyber Threat Intelligence goes beyond mere data collection. It is more about the active monitoring of your entire system, plus having the capability to detect and understand threat data with real-time alerts. You must have the proper infrastructure for this.

How do you select a Threat Intelligence Platform?

When picking a threat intelligence platform, more is sometimes better. Subscribing to a large number of feeds can help you save both redundant and high-quality data. Instead, emphasize such distinguishing features as real-time data automation and the most suitable one for your business area.

What is cyber threat analysis?

Cyber threat analysis refers to identifying and estimating harmful threats and files. It is vital in creating highly effective and actionable cyber threat intelligence.

Meeba Gracy

Meeba Gracy

Meeba, an ISC2-certified cybersecurity specialist, passionately decodes and delivers impactful content on compliance and complex digital security matters. Adept at transforming intricate concepts into accessible insights, she’s committed to enlightening readers. Off the clock, she can be found with her nose in the latest thriller novel or exploring new haunts in the city.

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