Threat Intelligence: Complete Guide to Process and Technology

What Is Threat Intelligence (Cyber Threat Intelligence)?

Cyber threat intelligence refers to actionable information about cyber threats. This data reaches the security team after processing data and classification according to reliability. Security analysts use secondary data collected from trusted sources and structured trading techniques to investigate threats thoroughly.

Cybersecurity experts use threat intelligence to investigate potential threats and the attack methods employed by malicious actors. This intelligence helps reduce the risk and impact of cyber attacks, allowing businesses to identify potential attacks and apply countermeasures against attack vectors. Threat intelligence allows teams to prevent cyber attacks by analyzing data about attackers, their capabilities, and motives.

This is part of an extensive series of guides about information security.

Why Is Threat Intelligence Important?

With attackers becoming increasingly sophisticated in exploiting cybersecurity gaps to target organizations, industries and businesses must improve their threat intelligence capabilities. Actionable threat intelligence is essential to protect digital infrastructure and assets successfully.

Thoroughly understanding the threat landscape allows organizations to accurately identify and prioritize risks and implement the right tools and techniques to respond to threats. A major aspect of threat intelligence is looking for information in the right places. Knowing where to look is becoming increasingly difficult because threat actors use diverse channels.

Many hacker groups operate through the deep web or dark web. Security teams must be familiar with these obscure, often overlooked parts of the cyber world. To proactively prevent attacks, organizations must also understand how attackers can target them (i.e., risk apertures).

From brute force attacks and credential stuffing to exploiting software vulnerabilities and injecting ransomware, attackers use various approaches depending on their goals.

What Are Threat Intelligence Feeds?

A threat intelligence feed is a continuous stream of data related to current or potential security threats, offering information on various attacks, including malicious software (malware), zero-day vulnerabilities, and botnets. Threat intelligence feeds are core security infrastructure components, helping organizations assess potential risks and guide their response efforts.

Researchers create threat intelligence feeds by collecting data on potential threats from private and public sources, analyzing this data, and creating curated lists (or feeds) of potentially dangerous activity. Organizations and security teams use threat intelligence to identify potential behaviors or characteristics associated with a certain threat, implement more granular security policies, and identify and prevent security breaches.

Learn more in our detailed guide to threat intelligence feeds.

What Is a Threat Intelligence Platform?

The threat intelligence platform leverages multiple data sources to collect, organize, analyze, and visualize information about security threats, vulnerabilities, and attacks. It is a software solution that helps IT and security teams understand the potential risks to their organization.

Businesses can use a threat intelligence platform to aggregate intelligence from various sources in different formats. Once the platform has collected and organized the threat intelligence data, the security team can use it to gain insights into known cyber threats. Threat intelligence platforms have become increasingly popular following the high cybercrime rates during the pandemic.

A threat intelligence platform aggregates threat data across enterprises, providing the security team with external information about threats. It supports better decision—making and enables a proactive security approach.

Manually aggregating and managing large amounts of threat intelligence data from thousands of different sources can be challenging. As a result, many organizations rely on threat intelligence platforms to quickly and accurately identify, investigate, and respond to cyber attacks.

A threat intelligence platform allows security analysts to focus on investigating security data and patching vulnerabilities instead of dedicating time and resources to collecting and managing data. Another key benefit of a threat intelligence platform is the ability to quickly and efficiently share intelligence throughout the organization and with others. Organizations can deploy a threat intelligence platform on—premises or via a software—as—a—service (SaaS) offering.

Threat Intelligence vs. Threat Hunting

Threat hunting is a proactive technique that identifies unknown or unpatched threats in an organization’s network. The success of a threat hunting program depends on the rich data available in the environment. Organizations must first implement corporate security systems to collect data continuously. The information collected provides useful clues to the threat hunting team.

Threat hunting techniques help discover unknown aspects in a given environment. They go beyond traditional threat detection technologies like Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) and Security Information and Event Management (SIEM).

Threat hunters scour through security data looking for hidden attackers and malware. They identify suspicious behavioral patterns that the computer ignores or fails to detect, improving or patching corporate security systems to prevent these cyber attacks from reoccurring.

Threat intelligence refers to the information about intrusion attempts and successful breaches. Usually, it includes data sets gathered and analyzed by an automated security system equipped with artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Threat hunters use threat intelligence to search for malicious actors throughout the system. In short, threat hunting is the continuation of threat intelligence. Successful threat hunting can also identify threats not yet found in the wild.

Threat hunters also use threat indicators as clues or assumptions for hunting. A threat indicator is a virtual fingerprint left by an attacker or malware, such as an unusual IP address, phishing email, or other abnormal network traffic.

Learn more in our detailed guide to threat hunting.

Threat Intelligence Lifecycle

The threat intelligence lifecycle provides the framework for transforming raw security data into actionable, organized intelligence to help inform decisions. There are many intelligence lifecycle versions, but they all share the same objective and core elements. The process guides the cybersecurity team when planning and executing an effective threat intelligence strategy.

Building a threat intelligence strategy can be challenging due to the dynamic nature of cyber threats — organizations must rapidly adapt to the evolving threat landscape. The threat intelligence lifecycle is the framework that helps teams optimize resources and respond to sophisticated threats. It compromises six basic stages, creating a continuous feedback loop.

1. Requirements

This stage provides the roadmap for threat intelligence operations. It is the crucial planning stage when teams agree on the threat intelligence program’s goals and methodologies. They might identify the following elements:

  • The attackers — Who they are and what motivates them.

  • The attack surface — Which areas are most vulnerable to attack.

  • Mitigation and prevention — The specific measures to defend against future attacks.

2. Data Collection

After the security team defines the program’s requirements, it can start collecting the information needed to meet the specified objectives. The team usually searches public data sources, traffic logs, forums, social platforms, and industry specialists.

3. Data Processing

After collecting the raw data, the team must process it into suitable formats for analysis. The processing stage usually involves:

  • Arranging the data into spreadsheets.

  • Translating data from different formats and sources.

  • Decrypting data.

  • Assessing the information’s reliability and relevance.

4. Analysis

Once processed, the data is ready for the team to analyze. The analysis should be thorough, addressing the concerns raised during the requirements stage. The security team deciphers the processed data into actionable items and useful recommendations to the relevant stakeholders.

5. Distribution

The distribution stage involves translating the threat intelligence team’s analysis into readable formats to present to lay stakeholders. The way the team presents the analysis differs based on the intended audience—usually, the observations and recommendations should be concise, using plain language (no confusing jargon). The team can distribute the analysis in short documents or slide decks.

6. Feedback

The feedback stage is the end of the threat intelligence lifecycle and often the start of the next cycle. The team incorporates the feedback from stakeholders on the intelligence report — this helps inform the team if the threat intelligence program needs adjustments. The stakeholders might change their priorities, how they want to receive threat intelligence reports, or how often they expect to receive reports.

Types of Threat Intelligence

Threat intelligence generally falls into four categories, collectively providing a comprehensive assessment of the cyber threat landscape.

Strategic Intelligence

Strategic threat intelligence summarizes potential attacks and consequences for a non—technical audience, such as business stakeholders. Based on an in—depth analysis of emerging global trends and risks, intelligence teams usually present this type of analysis as a white paper, report, or presentation. It describes the threat landscape affecting a specific organization or industry at a high level.

Tactical Intelligence

This type of threat intelligence provides details about the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) used by attackers. Its intended audience is the individuals directly responsible for IT and data resource security. Tactical threat intelligence describes the attacks that may target an organization and how best to mitigate or defend against them.

Technical Intelligence

Technical threat intelligence focuses on the indicators of compromise (IoCs) that suggest an active attack. These IoCs include reconnaissance actions, weaponization of vulnerabilities, and attack vectors. This type of intelligence plays a key role in thwarting social engineering attacks. Many people confuse it with operational intelligence, but the difference is that technical intelligence is more adaptable, quickly adjusting when attackers change their tactics to exploit new opportunities for attack.

Operational Intelligence

This type of threat intelligence includes information from various sources, such as social media platforms, chat rooms, antivirus logs, and historical events. Analysts use operation intelligence to predict the timing and nature of future cyber attacks. Machine learning and data mining enable the automatic processing of many data points in different languages.

Incident response and security teams use operational intelligence to adjust the configurations of security controls, including firewall rules, access controls, and incident detection policies. It helps reduce response times by providing a clear direction for investigation.

Best Practices for Integrating Threat Intelligence Tools

There are several ways to integrate threat intelligence into an organization’s security strategy. Here are some best practices to start building a threat intelligence program.

Adopt a Proactive Approach to Intelligence

Threat intelligence can help guide security policies, allowing teams to identify vulnerabilities before attacks occur.

Teams should use threat Intelligence to inform decisions on the following:

  • Restricting access permissions.

  • Setting access controls to prevent and limit attacks.

  • Identifying necessary updates and patches.

Threat intelligence feeds support early incident detection by helping teams classify high—risk activities and security incidents. They also help guide the response. This information is especially useful when integrated into an automated incident response pipeline because it helps predict the course of an attack. Understanding the attacker’s actions and intentions allows teams to anticipate the attacker’s next move and minimize damage.

Combine Threat Intelligence with Existing Security Solutions

Threat intelligence solutions are not very effective as standalone tools. Manually matching events in the system can be difficult. Instead, threat intelligence should be part of an automated system that defines suspicious events and behavioral patterns.

Threat intelligence integrates well with solutions like SIEM, which provide a centralized platform for monitoring and collecting security data. Combining a SIEM solution with threat intelligence provides early warnings with context for alerts.

Another solution that often incorporates threat intelligence is an incident management system, which encrypts communication between security engineers. It protects sensitive messages and security alerts at rest and in transit. The system sends alerts to the relevant engineers to quickly address security threats.

Minimize Alert Fatigue

Alert fatigue occurs when the security team can no longer respond to alerts. It results from having too many alerts flooding the team, making the security data unmanageable. Other factors contributing to alert fatigue include using different tools to collect data and setting low alert thresholds.

Threat intelligence helps filter the security data and prioritize the most critical alerts while removing the white noise. It ensures security teams never miss important notifications because they address the higher—priority issues first.

An incident alert management solution also rotates and escalates alerts based on the availability of engineers. If one engineer is unavailable, the system sends the alerts to another engineer designated by the web console administrator, helping prevent the team from burning out. It clarifies which alerts are the most so engineers can prioritize easily.

Learn more in our detailed guide to threat intelligence tools.

See Additional Guides on Key Information Security Topics

Together with our content partners, we have authored in-depth guides on several other topics that can also be useful as you explore the world of information security.

Bug Bounty

Authored by HackerOne

IT Asset Management

Authored by Faddom

Malware Protection

Authored by Cynet


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