Cyber Threat Intelligence (CTI): Definition, Types & Process
What Is Cyber Threat Intelligence?
Cyber threat intelligence (CTI) refers to information and insights gathered, analyzed, and shared to understand and defend against current and future cyber threats. It provides organizations with actionable insights about ongoing and emerging threats, adversary tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), and vulnerabilities in their systems. This information can help inform risk management, incident response, SecOps, and fraud prevention and investigations.
4 Types of Cyber Threat Intelligence
CTI can be broadly categorized into four main types:
Strategic CTI: Provides a high-level overview of the threat landscape and summarizes potential cyberattacks and their consequences for nontechnical stakeholders and decision-makers. It is presented in the form of white papers, reports, and presentations and is based on an analysis of global emerging risks and trends.
Tactical CTI: Offers more specific and immediate information about current and emerging threats, including information about new malware, attack methods, and specific threat actors. It helps organizations quickly respond to ongoing or imminent threats and make informed decisions about how to mitigate them.
Technical CTI: Includes in-depth technical analysis of threats, such as information about the technical characteristics of malware, vulnerabilities, and attack methods. It deals with signs that indicate an attack is starting, such as reconnaissance, weaponization, and delivery, to help organizations understand how to detect, analyze, and respond to threats at the technical level.
Operational CTI: Delivers real-time information about ongoing cyber attacks and incidents. It helps organizations respond to threats in a timely manner and take action to mitigate them. It involves collecting information from a variety of sources, such as chat rooms, social media, antivirus logs, and past events, and using it to anticipate the nature and timing of future attacks.
Each type of CTI has a different level of specificity and urgency, and organizations can use a combination of all four types to get a comprehensive view of the cyber threat landscape and make informed decisions about their cyber security posture.
The Cybersecurity Threat Intelligence Lifecycle
The CTI lifecycle is a systematic process that organizations follow to gather, analyze, and distribute CTI. It helps ensure that the information gathered is relevant, accurate, and useful to the organization's needs. The specific phases can vary between use cases, but typically cover the following:
In this phase, the organization determines its specific needs for CTI. This involves identifying the assets that need protection, the types of threats that are relevant, and the types of information that are needed to make informed decisions. The requirements are used to guide the collection and analysis of information and ensure that the CTI gathered is relevant and useful.
The collection phase involves gathering information from various sources, including open-source, commercial, and internal sources. It also involves establishing procedures for collecting and verifying the information. The organization should consider the quality, reliability, and timeliness of the information sources when gathering CTI.
Processing involves organizing and structuring the information collected in the previous phase. It often requires removing duplicates and irrelevant information, and converting it into a format that is useful for analysis. The organization should consider the privacy and security of the information when processing it.
In this phase, the processed information is reviewed to identify patterns, trends, and insights. This phase also involves identifying the most relevant and actionable information for the organization. The analysis should consider the context of the information, the sources of the information, and the potential implications of the information.
This phase involves sharing the relevant and actionable CTI with relevant stakeholders within the organization. The information is typically distributed in a report, briefing, or alert. The dissemination should consider the privacy and security of the information, the audience for the information, and the format for the information.
The feedback phase involves receiving feedback from stakeholders on the usefulness and relevance of the information distributed. This feedback is used to refine and improve the CTI lifecycle, making it more effective for the organization in the future. The feedback should consider the quality, reliability, and timeliness of the information and the effectiveness of the dissemination.
What Are the Main Use Cases of Cyber Threat Intelligence?
SecOps teams use CTI to improve their threat awareness and defense against cyberattacks. It involves monitoring for indicators of compromise, understanding the tactics and techniques used by threat actors, and developing mitigation strategies. CTI provides context about the threat landscape and the motivations of attackers, which can help them to prioritize SecOps efforts and ensure the team responds more effectively to threats.
Computer security incident response teams (CSIRT) use CTI to manage security incidents and minimize their impact on the organization. CTI helps these teams quickly identify the nature and source of an attack, assess the potential impact, and determine the most appropriate response. It also provides them with information on the latest threats and tactics used by attackers, which can help them to better prepare for and respond to incidents.
CTI helps stay ahead of emerging fraud threats and tactics. This includes understanding the methods used by fraudsters, such as phishing and social engineering, and the types of data and systems that are targeted. It enables organizations to better detect and prevent fraud, and to respond more quickly to incidents, and provides insights into the motivations of fraudsters to inform fraud detection and prevention strategies.
CTI helps assess and prioritize risks posed to an organization. This includes understanding the types of threats that are most likely to impact the organization, the potential consequences of those threats, and the mitigation strategies available. It enables organizations to make informed decisions about where to allocate resources and how to minimize risk.
How to Select Cyber Threat Intelligence Tools
Selecting the right cyber threat intelligence tool can be a challenging process, as there are many options available and it is important to choose a tool that meets the specific needs of your organization. Here are some factors to consider when selecting CTI tools:
Scope: Determine the type and level of threat intelligence that your organization requires. Consider whether you need real-time, actionable intelligence or more strategic, long-term insights.
Integration: Evaluate how well the CTI tool integrates with your existing security tools and systems, such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and incident response platforms.
Data sources: Assess the quality and variety of data sources used by the CTI tool. Consider whether the tool relies on a single source or multiple sources, and whether the sources are reputable and provide relevant information.
Automation: Determine the level of automation offered by the CTI tool. Consider whether the tool provides automatic threat analysis, alerting, and reporting, or whether it requires manual intervention.
User interface: Evaluate the user interface of the CTI tool to ensure that it is easy to use, intuitive, and provides the level of detail that your organization requires.
Customization: Consider the level of customization available with the CTI tool. Determine whether the tool can be tailored to meet the specific needs of your organization, and whether it offers the ability to add custom data sources.
Support: Assess the level of support offered by the CTI tool provider, including technical support, training, and ongoing updates.
It is important to thoroughly evaluate the features and capabilities of multiple CTI tools before making a decision. You may also want to consider conducting a pilot project or trial to test the effectiveness of the tool in your environment before making a full commitment.
Learn more in our detailed guide to threat intelligence tools.