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What is Cyber Threat Intelligence?

Cyber threat intelligence is a flexible, dynamic technology that uses data collection and analysis gleaned from threat history to block and remediate cyber attacks on the target network. The threat intelligence itself is not a hardware-based solution. Rather, this strategic intelligence involves tactics techniques and procedures and forms a crucial component of an organization’s overall security architecture. Because threats evolve and multiply over time, a cybersecurity system depends on threat intelligence and analysis to ensure it catches as many attacks as possible.

With threat intelligence, you gain knowledge, which empowers you to prevent or mitigate attacks on your network. The cyber threat intelligence system is based on hard, actionable threat data collection, such as who or what is attacking your network, why they are choosing you as a target, and how to spot signs that your system has been compromised. The benefits of cyber intelligence and analysis extend beyond the IT team, analysts, and administrators. The entire organization can reap the rewards of a thorough and action-focused cyber threat intelligence system.

The Need for Threat Intelligence?

Cybersecurity tools are nearly powerless if they are not told which threats to watch out for and how to mitigate them with the predesigned tactics techniques and procedures that power the operational intelligence. Cyber threat intelligence provides cybersecurity system administrators with the knowledge they need to formulate a plan that will best protect their network. In some situations, elements of the data gained by devices to empower cyber threat intelligence can be used to attack threats automatically. In other situations, cyber threat intelligence is a necessary tool for network administrators and IT security teams to know which threats are the most dangerous, how they attack, and how to prevent them.

With an investment in cyber threat intelligence, a business can avail itself of threat databases with technical information that details a vast number of threats. When this storehouse of knowledge is put to work by security teams or the automated systems used to protect the network, the business’ safety profile is significantly enhanced. This operational intelligence thus empowers analysts with actionable insights.

Common Indicators of Compromise (IOCs)

Often, a cyber threat intelligence and analysis system may pick up suspicious Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, Uniform Resource Locators (URLs), or domain names known for being used in attacks on businesses. If an endpoint has interacted with one of these IP addresses or other assets, that may mean the company’s network has been compromised. Further, accessing specific email addresses, certain email subjects, or attachments and links can also indicate the system has been compromised. Incorporating this technical information in the threat intelligence approach strengthens your organization.

Certain filenames, file hashes, IP addresses, dynamic link libraries (DLLs), or registry keys are common indicators of compromise. The analysts within a cybersecurity intelligence system can maintain a list of common indicators of compromise and other tools that threat actors use and then filter out potentially dangerous communications and other network activity. With this use of indicators of compromise, threat intelligence and analysis is leveraged to improve the security stance of the organization.

Data vs. Intelligence

An effective cybersecurity intelligence system makes a clear distinction between threat data collection and threat intelligence to stop threat actors. Cyber threat intelligence includes data collection and processing to detect, stop, and mitigate threats. Data collection, on its own, provides useless information until it is analyzed in the context of intelligence. The analysis reveals operational intelligence such as the types of threats that may be imminent, weaknesses in the network, and the different sources of threats. This is collated and implemented into a cyber threat intelligence and analysis system.

In other words, data collection is one of the building blocks of cyber threat intelligence. Cyber intelligence security professionals, given the right tools, can use threat data feeds and technical information regarding the network and business to formulate a more complete protection plan for the organization.

Who Benefits from Threat Intelligence?

Threat intelligence provides benefits to organizations big and small—and across a wide range of disciplines—because this kind of strategic intelligence and analysis involves processing data and using it to gain a stronger understanding of the attackers an organization is facing or may face. This holds true regardless of the types of threat intelligence the organization and its analysts use. Threat intelligence also enables the organization to formulate quick, decisive responses to incidents and be proactive regarding how to remain one step ahead of attackers.

When it comes to small to midsize businesses (SMBs), threat intelligence provides protection that may be otherwise unattainable because it avails them of a vast storehouse of the threats that may attack their network. Large enterprises, on the other hand, can use the information from the cyber intelligence system to better analyze the bad actors, their tools, and how they attempt to use them.

  1. Security/information technology analysts can use cyber threat intelligence to better prevent and detect threats.
  2. A security operations center (SOC) can leverage threat intelligence to decide which incidents they must devote their attention to using data regarding the level of risk and how they may affect the organization and the work of its analysts.
  3. An intel analyst benefits from cybersecurity threat intelligence because they can use it to find and keep track of threat actors going after the organization's information.
  4. Executive management can rely on cyber threat intelligence to gain a better understanding of the risks faced by the company, their impact on operations, and how to deal with them.

Is My Organization Equipped for Threat Intelligence?

Cyber threat intelligence follows a strategic intelligence lifecycle comprised of the following phases:

  1. Planning and direction
  2. Collection
  3. Processing
  4. Analysis
  5. Dissemination
  6. Feedback

Therefore, your organization’s analysts are equipped for threat intelligence if you have the following elements in place:

  1. The ability to detect threats while compiling threat intelligence
  2. A system for collecting threat intelligence and analysis data
  3. A method for analyzing the data from specific sources for use against existing threats and similar types of attacks that may appear in the future on intelligence reports
  4. A mechanism for applying the tactical intelligence gained from the analysis. This is where threat intelligence transitions from conceptual to actionable

3 Ways To Deliver Threat Intelligence

The format and presentation of the threat intelligence that ends up being disseminated depends on the audience, the intelligence requirements, and where the information comes from. These factors impact the tactics techniques and procedures used to compile the tactical intelligence. To simplify the delivery process, there are three types of threat intelligence: strategic, tactical, and operational.

Strategic Threat Intelligence

Strategic intelligence gives stakeholders a bird’s eye view of the organization's threat landscape and its risk. This helps those in the audience, such as executives and key decision-makers, to make high-level decisions as to how to use the information in the context of intelligence. Strategic threat intelligence and analysis may use internal policy documents, news reports, white papers, or other research material provided by the analysts of security organizations.

Tactical Threat Intelligence

Tactical intelligence, one of the key requirements, defines threat actors' techniques and procedures as they pertain to the company's risk. It is intended to help defenders understand how the organization could be attacked and how to use intelligence to defend against or mitigate those cyber attacks.

Operational Threat Intelligence

Operational threat intelligence involves presenting information regarding cyber attacks, whether they are singular events or long-term campaigns. Operational intelligence and analysis gives stakeholders insights that can be used by incident response teams to better comprehend attack elements, such as their timing, purpose, and how they are carried out.

What to Look for in a Threat Intelligence Solution

Although threat intelligence is a necessary element of any cybersecurity approach to limit risk, make sure the system you implement is adequate for your requirements. Regardless of the size or nature of your organization, there are a few components of a threat intelligence solution you will need to have in place to contain risk.

Simplified Access To Diverse Data

The more raw data from a variety of sources, the better, as each data collection point in a threat history dataset, if they come from the right sources, can be used to defend against a bad actor. Therefore, the more you have, the stronger your defenses will be. You will also need threat intelligence and analysis that incorporates machine learning capabilities because this directly impacts the size and quantity of your datasets.

Machine-learning Capabilities

Machine learning has the ability to recognize patterns and use these in a threat intelligence solution to predict threats before they hit your network. Those in charge of IT security can leverage machine learning-generated datasets to detect and then evaluate a wide array of dangers, including advanced persistent threats (APTs), malware, ransomware, and zero-day threats, adding practicality to their threat intelligence.

Automated Action

A cyber threat intelligence program must incorporate automated responses to threats. Automation can serve several purposes. Automating threat intelligence data collection and detection relieves IT security teams of responsibilities involving targeting and logging every threat that engages the attack surface. Moreover, when cyber strategic intelligence incorporates automated action steps once a threat has been identified, the network and its connected devices are better protected.

While some threat behavior analysis is best done using human problem-solving and creative thinking, threats can be automatically contained and eliminated by the intelligence system. With the intelligence system, you can also automate measures to shield the rest of the network from the threat, such as malware analysis within a sandboxed environment.

Cross-Industry Support

While nothing can—or should—eliminate the competitive element within each industry vertical, in many ways, cyber threat intelligence security is a team effort on the part of the multiple anlysts. A comprehensive cyber threat intelligence and analysis solution incorporates insights from various professionals and organizations within your industry, as well as within the cyber threat intelligence community.

Information regarding the types of landscape threats and how they behave can be shared, and a cyber threat intelligence program should incorporate this crucial information. Also, some threats are more likely to impact some industries than others. Therefore, within your specific industry, there should be information concerning the latest attacks, the malicious actors and software responsible, and how they have been defeated in the past. 

A cyber threat intelligence professional may also have access to data regarding how these threats have impacted similar businesses, including how much downtime has resulted from a successful attack and the financial impact on the organization.

Speed

The speed at which a cyber threat intelligence program reacts to threats is a crucial factor in its success and an important factor in the efficiency of the intelligence lifecycle. A matter of minutes can make the difference between an expensive attack and a minor disturbance when tactical intelligence is properly leveraged. With a fast response, a threat can be detected and analyzed for intelligence info. Threat intelligence data regarding its behavior can be quickly put to work to prevent the next attack.

However, speed should not be used as an excuse to justify poor performance. A fast response also has to be an accurate one. Therefore, an adequate cyber threat intelligence system can filter out false alarms and identify threats with a lower likelihood of causing significant damage.

Ease of Integration

Integrating a cyber threat intelligence system should be simple and easy to execute. While meeting the needs of each organization certainly takes time and careful thought, the cybersecurity infrastructure should integrate well with your network.

Ideally, all cyber threat intelligence data collection should be accessible via a single dashboard. If the dashboard is customizable, administrators can dictate who has access to what. Integration is also easier if the threat intelligence system is ready, out of the box, with infrastructure that enables it to cover common devices, making it a valuable tool virtually right away.

The Value of Comprehensive Cyber Threat Intelligence

The primary benefit of a comprehensive cyber threat intelligence program is it ensures the organization is prepared and proactive. Threat intelligence allows an organization to access a storehouse of technical information gathered from around the world, as well as human knowledge that can significantly strengthen an organization’s defenses.

This is accomplished through an adversary-focused approach that identifies the threats most likely to compromise the network and its individual components. It can also be customized based on an organization’s needs. Further, cyber threat intelligence can be scaled up if the company grows or needs to expand the types of threats it targets.

The different components of a threat intelligence program result in better incident response times. As alerts are prioritized, the organization can respond in less time and lower the risk of a major fallout from a breach. Also, in the end, threat intelligence enhances communication between the IT team and stakeholders, while providing a window into the threat landscape for those who may not be familiar with the nitty-gritty of cybersecurity.

What Organizations are Getting Wrong about Cyber Threat Intelligence

Understanding the Value to their Business

Even though threat intelligence focuses on important business problems, it is easy for decision-makers to underestimate its value. This is often due not to a lack of comprehension on the part of stakeholders but insufficient explanation and presentation on the part of the cybersecurity team. A cyber threat analysis presentation can easily devolve into a showy and confusing display of graphics and statistics, losing its teeth along the way.

To prevent this kind of misunderstanding, it is crucial for the threat analysis team to outline the specific business problems that arise due to the threats described during the dissemination phase. Also, action steps should be detailed, including how they may benefit the business’s bottom line.

The Wrong Feed

Because there are so many feeds to choose from in a threat analysis system, it can be easy to pick one that is not relevant to your business. It is important to identify the best feed for your operation. This is often similar to the feed other businesses in your sector and of similar size use, but your infrastructure or products and services may sometimes require a different feed than very similar businesses.

Also, keep in mind that if your attack surface includes the personal data of specific executives or others in your company, a different feed may be necessary than if you were only trying to protect your digital assets, for instance. There are many factors that will determine how you choose your feed, but with careful planning, you can make the right choice.

How Fortinet Can Help

The Fortinet FortiEDR solution enables your organization to proactively conduct cyber threat intelligence and use it to provide stringent, reliable protection. FortiEDR uses machine learning to identify cyber threats and then target them.

FortiEDR also provides a complete endpoint security platform. It uses cyber threat intelligence tools to identify threats and then use that information to prevent attacks from ransomware and other types of malware. Further, FortiEDR comes with automated incident response capability that allows it to remediate after an attack, strengthening your organization in the wake of an intrusion. The FortiEDR tools are executed in real time, giving your organization comprehensive protection 24/7.

FAQs

What is cyber threat intelligence and does every organization need it?

Cyber threat intelligence involves using data to gather information about threats that an organization may be exposed to. Every organization needs a certain amount of cyber intelligence to stay ahead of attackers.

What are some of the questions an organization needs to ask before signing up for threat intelligence?

Some questions to ask include the following:

  1. Who will use and benefit from the cyber threat security solution?
  2. Who will be receiving the threat intelligence reports—an IT professional or an executive that needs them to empower higher-level insights?
  3. Will you need strategic, tactical, or operational cyber threat intelligence?

Can you list a few use cases for cyber threat intelligence?

A few use cases for cyber threat intelligence include:

  1. Incident response
  2. Security operations
  3. Vulnerability management

How will Fortinet protect me?

With Fortinet, you get access to intelligence based on threat data from all over the world. You also get the ability to automate your threat response, lifting some of the burden off your IT team’s shoulders.