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Threat Intelligence

Threat Intelligence: The Complete InfoSec Guide

When it comes to protecting your organization against cyber threats, strong security measures aren’t the only important step you can take. Sometimes what you do matters less than what you know. 

The “Global Risks Report” revealed that a significant portion of cybercrime remains undetected, and this statistic remains true today. Knowing the threats that your organization faces on a daily basis can help identify and mitigate cyberattacks before they have the opportunity to cause significant damage. 

The data you collect, process, and analyze to identify and understand your threats is called threat intelligence. Threat intelligence empowers decision-makers with the data they need to make fast, informed security decisions and take proactive action against potential threats.

In this guide, we explore:

  • The role threat intelligence plays in your security strategy
  • The difference between information and intelligence
  • The various types of threat intelligence
  • The best threat intelligence tools and strategies
  • The resources you need to learn more about threat intelligence

Keep reading to learn more about how you can implement threat intelligence into your cybersecurity strategy.

Why is threat Intelligence important?

Gaining a thorough understanding of the threats that put your organization at risk is an essential step that allows you to determine which tools and technology are needed to identify, prioritize, and combat risks properly. But as cyber attackers advance and use more sophisticated techniques over time, you’ll need to update the information your organization collects to deflect attacks and protect your assets and infrastructure successfully. 

One of the most important aspects of threat intelligence is knowing where to source accurate information. Knowing the tactics and channels attackers may use to target your organization allows you to leverage the data to proactively prevent attacks. Once you get a clear idea of their tactics, you’ll know what methods and tools are needed to stop them. Knowledge is one of the strongest tools in your arsenal against cyberattacks, from phishing attacks to sophisticated malware.

What’s the difference between information and intelligence?

Information and intelligence are not the same. Information is raw data that needs to be processed before it becomes intelligence, i.e., data that can provide value. Massive amounts of data are generated daily, but before you can draw valuable insights, it needs to be processed as part of the intelligence cycle.

Intelligence is the final product created by the intelligence cycle, or in other words, data that has been processed and analyzed to the point where your team can withdraw actionable insights from it.

While information is freely available and is often found in online forums or threat intelligence feeds, processed intelligence is much harder to come by. Additionally, what constitutes a valuable analysis may vary from organization to organization, depending on your goals and what you require the data for. This may mean that some of your analysis activities need to be performed in-house by a team familiar with your organization’s infrastructure and goals. 

The 4 Types of Threat Intelligence

1. Strategic

Strategic threat intelligence provides insight into why threat actors use certain attack tactics, adding context to the attack. This information is less technical and generally used by C-suite executives instead of technical personnel. It can play a significant role in their decision-making process and provide the information they need to better understand the motives behind an attack. For example, strategic threat intelligence includes risk analysis, which you can use to assess how different business decisions may make your organization more vulnerable to attack.

2. Tactical

Tactical threat intelligence provides insights into managing threat actors’ tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs). This includes the tools, attack vectors,infrastructure attackers use, the businesses and industries they target, and various prevention and avoidance strategies.

This information lets you know how likely your organization is to be the target of various kinds of attacks. This information is primarily used by Network Operations Center (NOC) and Security Operations Center (SOC) employees, IT service managers, and cybersecurity architects to make informed security decisions. 

3. Operational

Operational threat intelligence is information about specific incoming attacks that provide actionable insights. By offering information on the attacker’s identity and abilities and the intent behind the attack, IT analysts can determine when the attack is expected to occur. Executive managers can use this data to build policies and strategies to protect the organization from future attacks. As this data is ideally collected from the attacker, it is extremely difficult to get hold of. 

4. Technical

Technical threat intelligence provides specific evidence of an attack while it is taking place or reveals indicators of compromise (IoC).  Different technical threat intelligence tools use different methods, but most use AI to scan for indicators, which varies based on the method of attack. For example, an IoC of a phishing campaign would include email content, a malware attack would leave malicious code samples behind, and other attacks would leave other signs. You can quickly take action against potential threats by deeply analyzing and understanding this information.

What are the available threat intelligence tools?

Various threat intelligence tools are easily accessible at no cost through the open-source community. Each takes a slightly different approach to threat intelligence gathering.

Malware disassemblers

These tools are used to reverse engineer malware, showing security engineers how it works and allowing them to gather insights that show how to defend against and mitigate similar attacks in the future.

Security information and event management (SIEM) tools

SIEM tools monitor networks in real-time, allowing security teams to collect information on any unusual behavior or suspicious traffic. This makes it easier to proactively react to anomalies before they become attacks.

Network traffic analysis tools

Network traffic analysis tools record network activity and collect network information to gather data making it possible to detect an intrusion or attack easily and as early as possible.

Threat intelligence communities and resource collections

Threat intelligence communities and resources, such as threat intelligence feeds, are freely-accessible websites that gather data like known indicators of attacks and other community-provided information on threats that serve as valuable sources of threat intelligence. Some communities use data mostly gathered by AI, while others are made up of collaborative research and provide actionable insights on how to prevent and combat threats.

Awareness of the threats that put your organization at risk now and emerging threats that may threaten you in the future empowers you to take proactive action and prevent attacks before they happen. Gathering and reviewing threat intelligence should be a regular part of your security strategy to facilitate this goal.

The Threat Intelligence Lifecycle

1. Requirements

In the first stage of the cycle, it’s essential to identify which data will provide valuable information, which includes identifying the information criteria needed, and planning a collection strategy with a clear focus and a list of priorities to ensure that all information is gathered for a purpose.

2. Collection

Once a strategy has been defined and a goal has been set, the collection process can begin. At this stage, the raw data, defined in the requirement stage, is gathered. Data needs to come from a wide variety of sources to collect real intelligence. This data will then be sorted at the next stage of the collection process.

3. Processing

When the data has been gathered, it needs to be sorted and organized in the following stages:

  • Adding metadata
  • Classification
  • Cleansing
  • Data modeling
  • Removing duplicates
  • Enriching data
  • Normalization

4. Analysis

This is the phase of the threat intelligence cycle in which raw data transforms into intelligence. The data carefully collected in the previous steps, is gathered into a single location, evaluated, and interpreted by your analysts. The analysis process then transforms the data into valuable intelligence capable of providing actionable insights. Even at the analysis stage, it’s important for teams not to take information at face value and to ensure the information comes from an accurate source before it is applied.

At this point, security issues are identified, and different forms of analysis are required for various functions. The analysis phase uses structured techniques to separate data into usable formats, such as threat lists and peer-reviewed reports, and should include the following:

  • Correlating indicators and incidents
  • Establishing data relationships
  • Structuring data for searches and indexing
  • Visualizing data

 5. Dissemination

At this stage of the intelligence lifecycle, the information is finally delivered to its end users – the teams who can implement the insights gathered from the data. Only processed information should be shared in a clear and readable format that includes facts, insights, and interpretations from the analysis process.

 6. Feedback

As mentioned above, ensuring the accuracy of the data is essential. Assessing the quality of the intelligence serves a similar purpose by affirming whether the information met the criteria established for it in the planning phase.

After the data has been delivered, gathering feedback also helps uncover gaps or errors to improve future data collection and analysis activities and identify any issues in the threat intelligence lifecycle.

5 Tips for Creating Your Threat Intelligence Plan

Creating a threat intelligence plan requires careful thought and planning. Here are five tips you can use to ensure your threat intelligence plan collects relevant data while being easy to implement:

1. Select the right sources of threat data for your organization

Not all threat intelligence sources are created equal. The information your organization values may be different from what other organizations prioritize. How do you define what makes information useful? By assessing two factors – how relevant the data is and how accessible it is. Once you’ve collected information from reliable sources, you’ll need to curate it into a customized enrichment source, sorting the data by a variety of factors, including:

  • Industry/geographic location
  • Your environment and infrastructure
  • The third parties you collaborate with
  • Your organization’s risk profile

While external threat-hunting tools can be invaluable, your own internal system is another often-overlooked source of threat intelligence. Your systems and tools within your organization store data that can be extremely useful when identifying potential threats or vulnerabilities. By starting with internal data, you can contextualize the data you collect from external systems with your organization’s needs, understand its relevance to you, and only focus on what’s high priority to your organization.

2. Select the right tools to understand the data

The analysis phase of the threat information lifecycle allows you to prioritize the data you’ve collected and the actionable insights you’ve gathered from it. With the right analysis, formatting, and making it accessible to the right people, you can transform raw data collected from various sources into actionable insights. The best way to do this is by selecting the right tools that make all the steps mentioned previously possible. 

Platforms that support integration with your other security infrastructure are ideal for:

  • transforming data collection activities into actionable security insights 
  • sharing insights with the teams who can begin implementing them
  • making the operational changes required to maximize the value of your data.

3. Train and communicate with staff

Many organizations report a shortage of cybersecurity personnel. Finding and onboarding new staff to work with your data is expensive, time-consuming, and unrealistic. Utilizing the staff you have is a more practical option, saving you onboarding costs and giving your team a sense of responsibility for the organization’s overall security. Additionally, empowering your team with the tools they need to understand and assess the data you collect will give them the skills they need to recognize potential attacks early on and prevent them – before they become a liability or, worse, a full-blown cyberattack.

Providing your team with engaging, exciting, and up-to-date training seminars regularly gives you an extra layer of security and let you create a human firewall. In addition to your security team, all your personnel can identify and report anomalies or security vulnerabilities. CybeReady is one of the best-rated security training platforms, which provides your team with automated training that is always fresh, engaging, and effective.

4. Ensure your risk assessment is up to date

Risk assessments are an essential way of evaluating your organization’s risks and identifying any vulnerability attackers can exploit. Risk assessments are systematic processes that allow you to identify, analyze, and mitigate potential dangers or risks. They are generally performed by external analysts who report on what measures are currently, or should be, put in place to mitigate cyber risks. In addition to playing a central role in your security strategy, risk assessment is also an essential part of compliance with legal security regulations.

The risk assessment process is just one part of risk analysis, which is a process with multiple steps used to identify and analyze all potential risks and issues that are detrimental to your organization. Both these processes need to be reviewed and updated regularly to ensure that evaluations are up to date and no new vulnerabilities or attack methods have developed.

5. Operationalize threat intelligence programmatically

Automation and other technological advances can increase the speed at which you collect, sort, and analyze your threat intelligence data. Having an automated defense system can also prevent the failures of human error, which are responsible for 90% of cyberattacks. While eliminating the risk of human error entirely is impossible, using tools such as automation in conjunction with employee training and awareness can help limit the need for human intervention to extenuating circumstances and keep the risks of human error to a minimum.

Threat Intelligence Resources

Before you begin developing your own threat intelligence platform, here are a few resources you can use to identify the essential tools and practices your team will need:

Top 9 Threat Hunting Tools for 2023

Protecting your organization from cyber threats is critical, but prevention is just as important. While in the past, many organizations were content to wait for threats to come to them before taking action, now the ability to take action quickly and respond proactively may be the key to preventing threats from becoming attacks. Locating threats scattered throughout your infrastructure before they become a problem can be challenging, so you need to ensure that you’re using the proper tools to support your goals. Before you begin, you need to know:

  • What threat-hunting tools are
  • Why you need threat-hunting tools
  • The top threat-hunting tools of 2023
  • The best practices of threat hunting

Find out more and get a comprehensive list of the latest threat-hunting tools with the Top 9 Threat Hunting Tools for 2023.

8 Best Threat Intelligence Feeds to Monitor in 2023

Choosing the right threat intelligence feed can be challenging. As managing cyber threats becomes prioritized and organizations grow hyper-aware that knowledge is power, more open-source communal resources have been developed to help organizations get the data they need to keep up with attackers.

But not every feed is created equal. There are hundreds of threat intelligence feeds across the net, and finding the ones with the information you need is like searching for a needle in a haystack. That’s why we’ve compiled the eight best threat intelligence feeds, including: 

  • AlientVault
  • FBI: InfraGard Portal
  • Emerging Threats
  • SANS: Internet Storm Center
  • VirusShare Malware Repository
  • URLhaus
  • Secure Malware Analytics

Ready to learn more about these feeds and what to know before you choose one? Check out the 8 Best Threat Intelligence Feeds to Monitor in 2023.

6 Essentials Every Threat Intelligence Team Should Have

Putting together a threat intelligence team should be an essential part of your cybersecurity strategy. With cyber attackers continuing to grow more sophisticated, remaining aware and up-to-date on the methods they may use to compromise your organization is essential. But staying one step ahead of the attackers is only possible with the support of the right infrastructure. Developing the right infrastructure includes ensuring:

  • Your team has the tools they need to support their activities
  • Your team has access to essential threat intelligence
  • Your team knows your organization’s cybersecurity goals and what strategies are required to achieve those goals
  • Your team knows which framework to use to support these goals

We’ve compiled all this information and more in an easily-accessible format, which you can access by checking out our list of the 6 Essentials Every Threat Intelligence Team Should Have.

Launch Your Threat Intelligence Platform

In this guide, we’ve discussed threat intelligence, what it is, why it matters, and how you can use it to achieve compliance and security, including which tools, feeds, and training you need.

When you’re ready to begin implementing your threat intelligence strategy, remember these essentials:

  • Provide employees and management with ongoing and updated education
  • Use information to react proactively before threats become attacks
  • Collect threat intelligence from a variety of sources, both active and passive
  • Make sure you’re using the right threat intelligence tools, and scale your tools with your activities
  • Pay attention to larger threat trends, but don’t forget to focus on minor breaches and vulnerabilities
  • Have a prepared incident response protocol ready to go as soon as a threat is identified
  • Don’t let data accumulate – turn it into actionable insights
  • Implement the data into business decisions, not just security decisions
  • Use internal data from prior incidents and external data shared on public feeds
  • Share the insights you’ve gathered, and use data shared by others

Protect Your Organization from Threats with CybeReady

Leveraging data is one of the most effective cybersecurity strategies. With the right knowledge, you can proactively identify cyberattacks or vulnerabilities as early as possible, preventing them from causing wide-scale damage to your organization. Information is the strongest weapon in your arsenal against cyberattacks, and one of the most effective ways you can use it is by ensuring it is spread across your organization.

Providing your team with cyber awareness training minimizes the risks of data breaches due to human error. It transforms your staff from potential liabilities to an extra layer of protection, a human firewall. Empowering employees beyond your security team with the knowledge to identify and react to cyber threats means that the threat information you collect can be shared and put to use across your organization, and anyone can spot threats and vulnerabilities at any time.

CybeReady is the fastest security awareness platform that provides your organization with fresh, clear, and engaging training that is consistently and routinely updated, keeping your team engaged and invested in your organization’s security. To request a demo, get in touch with us today.