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A Guide to Cyber Threat Intelligence: What is CTI?

In today's cybersecurity business, threats are becoming more persistent and sophisticated, data is being flooded with irrelevant information and false alarms, and there is a dearth of highly-skilled workers.

Cybercrime may damage an organization's financial stability and expose its intellectual property to grave security risks. The Cyber Observer, a cyber security management organization, predicts that the worldwide cost of cybercrime exceeds $6 trillion annually by 2021. Cybercrime affects both large and small enterprises, and approximately 70% of corporate leaders are worried about escalating cyber security threats.

Because they don't have the resources or know-how to prioritize and ignore threat data feeds, some businesses are attempting to integrate them into their networks.

Each of these concerns may be addressed by a cyber threat intelligence system. Threat intelligence is data that is gathered, processed, and analyzed in order to comprehend the motivations, targets, and attack behaviors of a threat actor. In the battle against cyber criminals, threat intelligence helps us to make quicker, more informed, data-backed security choices and shift from reactive to proactive behavior.

Data collection and processing can be automated using machine learning, which integrates with existing solutions, takes in unstructured data from disparate sources, and connects the dots by providing context on indicators of compromise (IoCs), as well as threat actors' tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP).

In this guide, we will discuss what threat intelligence is in the context of cybersecurity, the significance of cyber threat intelligence, the stages of the threat intelligence lifecycle, the implementation of threat intelligence effectively, the different types of cyber threat intelligence, and threat intelligence tools.

What is Threat Intelligence in Cybersecurity?

Advanced persistent threats (APTs) and defenders are continually attempting to outcompete one another in the field of cybersecurity. It is essential to have information about a threat actor's next step in order to proactively adjust your defenses and prevent further attacks.

Seventy-two percent of organizations aim to raise expenditure on threat intelligence in the following quarters, indicating a growing appreciation for the importance of threat intelligence.

Analyzing the attributes of dangerous threats and data is known as cyber threat analysis. A strong basis for actionable cyber threat information is based on proper cyber threat analysis.

In the past, perimeter security measures were utilized to give or refuse access. Evolved dangers, however, deploy a number of stealth qualities to elude detection. The ongoing examination of files throughout the course of their existence is provided by cyber threat analysis. When a study of the file indicates it is a danger, it will be recorded and blocked across the board.

The final product of cyber threat analysis is cyber threat intelligence. According to Gartner:

Threat intelligence is evidence-based knowledge (e.g., context, mechanisms, indicators, implications, and action-oriented advice) about existing or emerging menaces or hazards to assets.

You may utilize cyber threat intelligence to take action and protect yourself from cyber attacks. Thanks to cyber threat intelligence, automated universal actions may be taken instead of manually granting or denying access, tracking dangerous threats, and recording previously detected malefactors. Any time a dangerous attempt is detected, it is promptly stopped on all networks throughout the world.

Investing in cyber threat intelligence gives companies access to enormous threat databases, which allows them to boost the effectiveness of their products dramatically. Network security protections are only as good as the threat intelligence that drives them, at the end of the day.

What are the Benefits of CTI?

Intelligence on cyber threats has become a necessity for all enterprises. Threat intelligence is used by organizations to prevent and defend their IT infrastructure from multiple internal and external threats. Threat intelligence assists firms in identifying multiple cyber dangers that have an impact on their operations. Identifying these dangers ahead enables businesses to take preventative steps against them.

Threat intelligence is crucial for the following reasons:

  • It reveals the unknowable, allowing security teams to make better judgments.
  • enables cybersecurity stakeholders by disclosing attacker motivations and approaches, tactics, and processes.
  • This enables business stakeholders, such as executive boards, CISOs, CIOs, and CTOs, to invest intelligently, minimize risk, become more efficient, and make quicker choices.
  • This enables security professionals to better comprehend the threat actor's decision-making process.

Threat intelligence assists enterprises of all sizes by facilitating the processing of threat data to better understand their adversaries, react to events more quickly, and proactively anticipate the next move of a threat actor. This information enables SMBs to achieve a degree of security that would otherwise be unattainable. Alternatively, organizations with large security teams may minimize costs and skill requirements by using external threat intelligence, thus enhancing the effectiveness of their analysts.

Threat intelligence provides every member of a security team with distinct benefits. Here are the precise use cases that pertain to each position and the ways in which they may help each:

  • Executive Management: Gain an understanding of the threats that the organization must contend with and the solutions that are available to mitigate their effects.
  • SOC: Prioritize events based on risk and their effect on the organization.
  • Sec/IT Analyst: Enhance their powers for both prevention and detection, as well as strengthen their defenses.
  • CSIRT: Accelerate incident investigations, prioritization, and management
  • Intel Analyst: Find and follow the threatening actors that are attacking the organization.

What are the Stages of the Threat Intelligence Lifecycle?

The intelligence lifecycle is the transformation of raw data into actionable information for decision-making. The main objective of threat intelligence is to lead a cybersecurity team through the creation and implementation of a successful threat intelligence program.

Threat intelligence is difficult because threats are continually developing, necessitating swift adaptation and prompt response from enterprises. The intelligence cycle offers a structure for teams to successfully utilize their resources and adapt to the contemporary threat scenario. This six-step cycle results in a feedback loop that promotes ongoing improvement:

Let's examine the next six steps:

  1. Requirements: The requirements phase is essential to the lifecycle of threat intelligence because it establishes the road map for a particular threat intelligence operation. During this phase of planning, the team will agree on the objectives and methods of their intelligence program based on the requirements of the associated stakeholders. The group may set out to investigate:

    • Who are the assailants and what drives them?

    • What is the attack surface?

    • What particular measures should be done to bolster the defense against a future attack?

  1. Accumulation: After defining the criteria, the team collects the necessary data to achieve the given goals. Depending on the objectives, the team would often look for traffic logs, public data sources, relevant forums, social media, and industry or subject matter experts.
  1. Process: Once the raw data has been obtained, it must be transformed into an analysis-ready format. Typically, this involves arranging data points into spreadsheets, decrypting files, translating information from foreign sources, and assessing the data's trustworthiness and significance.
  1. Analysis: After processing the information, the team must undertake a comprehensive analysis to discover answers to the questions asked during the requirements phase. During the process of analysis, the team translates the information into actionable items and meaningful suggestions for the stakeholders.
  1. Dissemination: During the step of dissemination, the threat intelligence team must transform their research in an easily consumable manner and deliver the findings to stakeholders. The presentation of the analysis relies on the audience. In the majority of instances, suggestions should be given succinctly, without confusing technical language, in a one-page report or a brief slide presentation.
  1. Feedback: In the last phase of the threat intelligence lifecycle, feedback on the delivered report is gathered to assess if future threat intelligence activities need modifications. There may be changes to stakeholders' priorities, the frequency with which they prefer to receive intelligence reports, or the manner in which data should be shared or presented.

How Do You Implement Cyber Threat Intelligence Effectively?

Several organizations handle cyber threat intelligence in a simple way. For example, they rely on their endpoint or network security vendors to keep an eye on attack patterns, come up with ways to stop them, and share those with their customers. They also think that threat intelligence and indicators of compromise (IOCs) are the same thing. These are beneficial but just cover the basics.

Another problem is that organizations don't use threat intelligence feeds as much as they could. Often, they use their own tools to manage threat intelligence or put IOCs into their SIEM platforms and do a poor job of analyzing them. All of these methods won't help in the long run. Threat intelligence needs to be used more by organizations if they want to stay ahead of their cyber enemies. First, they need to commit to and plan for a cyber threat intelligence program.

Implementing and conveying a cyber threat intelligence program may be challenging. If a company has a cyber threat intelligence program but is not experiencing many cyber attacks, there is a possibility that the program is not providing value. The efficiency of a cyber threat intelligence program is also called into question if events continue to occur despite significant attempts to collect vast quantities of threat data. The following outlines how firms might construct a successful cyber threat intelligence program:

  • Managing Vulnerabilities: Every day, vulnerability management teams identify hundreds of issues. However, they do not maintain the patch-required systems. Threat intelligence plays a significant role in the prioritization of such vulnerabilities. Intelligence pertaining to vulnerabilities is crucial, yet it is often disregarded. Identifying and fixing vulnerabilities must be a fundamental component of any threat intelligence program. To ensure the effectiveness of your threat intelligence program, you must identify your organization's most significant flaws.

  • Adding Context to the Data: Due to the frequent identification of new exploits, vulnerabilities, and malicious IP addresses, your threat intelligence must incorporate fresh and updated information. Only high-quality threat intelligence can provide meaningful context, and a genuine threat intelligence platform helps in this regard. By incorporating sophisticated threat intelligence platforms into your threat intelligence systems, you will be able to automate repetitive activities, reduce total alert triage time, and remove false positives. This will allow you to route contextually relevant threat intelligence in real-time.

  • Automating the Lifecycle of Threat Intelligence: The lifetime of threat intelligence is a continuous process with several phases, including collection, normalization, correlation, enrichment, analysis, and distribution. The first step in developing a cyber threat intelligence program is determining your intelligence needs. Once you've determined your cyber threat intelligence needs, it's crucial to acquire the necessary information to meet them. This entails using a threat intelligence platform (TIP) to gather information from a variety of internal and external sources. After gathering data, normalizing, correlating, and enriching it, it permits the creation of actionable intelligence. You must include threat intelligence platforms in your threat intelligence processes. Utilizing a threat intelligence platform (TIP) will enable you to give enhanced intelligence via the automatic distribution of information to various internal teams for rapid analysis. In addition, you may share this augmented intelligence with other organizations, such as third-party suppliers, peers, and subsidiaries, thus creating a secure and collaborative ecosystem.
  • Integrating With Other Security Solutions: When constructing a threat intelligence program, the ability to combine TIPs with other platforms might be useful. You should look for a TIP that can interface with other solutions, ensuring that your team gets significant threat information. In addition, the integration of your threat intelligence solution should not result in the accumulation of threat information in a single location. Instead, threat data should be dispersed across an organization to improve its overall security. The resulting threat intelligence should represent the best of all gathered sources and be shared with other teams, groups, and stakeholders. Your threat intelligence program will be successful if your threat intelligence solution has the capacity to interface with other solutions.
  • Collaborating: Collaboration is crucial to the success of a threat intelligence program. Sharing threat information across your employees, sharing communities, customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders is essential. To make this a reality, coordination is required between all of these institutions. Adoption of technology such as cyber fusion encourages inter-team communication and facilitates the exchange of threat information. Cyber Fusion provides automation and orchestration of security operations by bringing together people, technology, and processes under one roof. The incorporation of cyber fusion into a threat intelligence program gives a proactive and coordinated approach to incident response and aids in the elimination of operational silos.

Types of Cyber Threat Intelligence

Threat intelligence is taken from a vast array of sources and data. It gives operational intelligence by examining the environment outside the company and sends warnings on developing dangers to the organization. It is vital to classify threat intelligence into several categories to improve the administration of information acquired from various sources.

This division is carried out for the intelligence's consumers and objectives. It is separated into four distinct kinds to support the consumption of threat intelligence. They are:

  • Strategic Threat Intelligence,
  • Tactical Threat Intelligence,
  • Operational Threat Intelligence,
  • and technical threat intelligence, respectively.

Strategic CTI

Strategic threat intelligence offers information at a high level on cyber security posture, threats, the financial effect of different cyber activities, attack patterns, and the influence of high-level business decisions. This information is used by senior-level executives and management, such as IT management and the CISO. It assists management in identifying present cyber threats, unknown future hazards, threat teams, and breach attribution. The information acquired gives a risk-based read that focuses mostly on high-level concepts of danger and their likelihood.

It focuses mostly on long-term concerns and delivers periodic notifications of dangers to the organization's most important assets, such as IT infrastructure, personnel, customers, and applications. The management uses this form of threat intelligence to demand critical company judgments and analyze the outcomes of such actions. Based on the findings of the investigation, management will provide sufficient money and staff to protect important IT assets and business operations.

Strategic threat information is often presented in the form of a report that focuses on high-level business practices. Due to the advanced nature of strategic threat intelligence, data collection also involves high-level sources and requires highly qualified individuals to extract insight. This information is gathered from sources such as OSINT, CTI vendors, and ISAO/ISACs.

Strategic threat intelligence assists companies in identifying comparable occurrences that may have occurred in the past, the enemies of an attack, why the company is within the scope of an attack, significant attack patterns, and how to lower the risk level.

In general, strategic threat intelligence comprises the following data:

  • Threat actors and attack patterns

  • The monetary effect of cyber activity

  • Attribution for incursions and knowledge breaches

  • Geopolitical conflicts, including diverse cyber attacks

  • Information on how enemy techniques, tactics, and procedures evolve.

  • Industry sectors that may be affected by strategic business decisions tactical Intelligence on Threat

  • Threat landscape for different business sectors

  • Threat landscape for various industrial sectors Informational statistics about data breaches, data theft, and malware.

Tactical CTI

The main objective of the tactical CTI is to obtain a wider view of danger to address the underlying issue. It is future-oriented, technological, and finds straightforward evidence of compromise (IOCs). IOCs include faulty IP addresses, URLs, file hashes, and domain names known to be malicious. Information is machine-readable, allowing security solutions to consume it through feeds or API integration.

Tactical threat intelligence plays a vital function in protecting the organization's resources. It gives information on the TTP used by threat actors (attackers) to conduct attacks. Cybersecurity professionals such as IT service managers, security operations managers, network operations center (NOC) personnel, administrators, and architects use tactical threat intelligence.

It aids the cyber security pros in comprehending how the adversaries are anticipated to execute the attack on the system; identifying the information leakage from the corporation, as well as the technical skills and objectives of the attackers; and determining the attack routes. Utilizing tactical threat intelligence, security staff creates detection and mitigation strategies in advance by replacing security products with known indicators, patching susceptible systems, etc.

Campaign reports, malware, incident reports, attack group reports, human intelligence, etc., are some of the sources for tactical threat intelligence. Reading white/technical papers, communicating with other companies, and obtaining information from third parties are the most common methods for acquiring this intelligence. It contains incredibly technical information such as malware, campaigns, strategies, and tools in the form of forensic reports.

Tactical intelligence is the simplest intelligence to produce and is nearly always generated automatically. As a consequence, it may be discovered using open source and free data feeds, but it often has a very limited lifetime, as indicators of compromise such as rogue IPs or domain names might become outdated within days or even hours.

Technical CTI

Technical threat intelligence gives information on an attacker's resources utilized to execute an attack, such as command and control channels, tools, etc. It has a shorter lifespan than tactical threat intelligence and focuses primarily on a single IOC. It allows for quick dissemination and threat response.

For instance, the malware used to carry out an attack falls under tactical threat intelligence, but the specifics of the malware's development are under technical threat intelligence. Other technical threat intelligence examples include particular IP addresses and domains used by malicious endpoints, phishing email headers, malware hash checksums, etc. Technical threat intelligence is ingested by SOC personnel and incident response teams.

Technical threat intelligence indications are gathered through ongoing campaigns, attacks on other businesses, and data feeds given by external third parties. Typically, these inculcators are gathered as part of investigations into attacks on different organizations. This data enables security experts to incorporate the discovered signs into defensive systems like IPS, firewalls, and endpoint security systems, hence boosting the detection processes used to identify attacks at an early stage. It also helps them detect malicious traffic and IP addresses that are suspected of spreading malware and spam emails. This information is immediately sent in digital format to the security devices to prevent and detect harmful incoming and outbound traffic entering the organization's network.

Operational CTI

The primary purpose of the operational CTI is to conduct campaign monitoring and actor profiling to obtain a deeper knowledge of the adversaries behind the attacks.

Intelligence on operational risks gives information beyond particular threats to the enterprise. It gives context to security events and incidents, enabling defenders to reveal possible dangers, get more insight into criminal techniques, identify prior malicious behaviors, and conduct investigations into malicious activity in a much more cost-effective manner. It is used by security managers or incident response directors, network defenders, security forensics experts, and fraud detection teams.

It helps organizations understand possible threat actors and their intention, capability, and opportunity to attack, vulnerable IT assets, and also the impact of the attack if it's successful. In many cases, only government organizations collect this type of intelligence, which also assists IR and forensic groups in deploying security assets to identify and prevent future attacks, increasing the capability of detecting attacks at an early stage, and reducing the likelihood of a successful attack.

The majority of operational threat information is gathered through human sources, social media, and chat rooms, as well as from real-world behaviors and events that lead to cyber-attacks. By examining human behavior, danger groups, etc., operational threat intelligence may be gathered. This information aids in the prediction of future attacks, thereby boosting incident response plans and mitigating strategies as needed. The majority of operational threat information comes in the form of a report that details known harmful activities, suggests courses of action, and warns of upcoming threats.

What is Cyber Threat Intelligence Tools?

The increasing prevalence of malware and cyber threats has resulted in a growth of threat intelligence solutions that offer organizations useful threat information.

There are several solutions available to assist firms in collecting data and integrating threat information into their current security processes. These platforms offer a variety of cyber threat defense capabilities, including automated risk analysis, private data collection, rapid threat intelligence research tools, reporting, multi-user threat intelligence sharing, curated alerts, vulnerability risk analysis, dark web monitoring, automated risk mitigation, threat hunting, brand intelligence monitoring, and real-time security intelligence. Threat intelligence services also supply firms with information about possible attack sources pertinent to their industries, and some even provide consultancy services.

Common threat intelligence tools are as follows:

  • OpenCTI: OpenCTI is an open-source framework for managing cyber threat intelligence and observables. It was designed to structure, store, organize, and display technical and non-technical information on cyber dangers.
  • MISP: MISP is an Open Source Threat Intelligence Sharing Platform. MISP software supports the exchange and sharing of threat intelligence, indicators of Compromise (IoCs) on targeted malware and attacks, financial fraud, and any other intelligence within your community of trustworthy individuals. MISP sharing is a distributed paradigm that allows the sharing of technical and non-technical knowledge among restricted, semi-private, and open groups. The exchange of such data should expedite the identification of targeted attacks, increase the detection ratio, and reduce the number of false positives.
  • OSINT: OSINT is the collection and analysis of data acquired from open sources (overt and publicly accessible sources) to provide actionable intelligence. OSINT is typically used in national security, law enforcement, and corporate intelligence tasks, and analysts who employ non-sensitive information to fulfill classified, unclassified, or proprietary intelligence needs across the aforementioned intelligence disciplines find it useful.
  • Kaspersky Threat Intelligence: Kaspersky Threat Intelligence gathers petabytes of data to provide threat intelligence feeds, including actionable cyber threat data and insights on the risks targeting certain industries.
  • Anomali ThreatStream: Anomali ThreatStream gathers millions of threat indicators to detect new attacks, find current breaches, and empower security teams to comprehend and address threats swiftly. In addition to the 140 open-source feeds supplied with the product, the Anomali App store makes it simple to expand the information gathered by the Threat Intelligence Platform (TIP). Users may review and buy additional intelligence feeds on this page. This contextualization of threats drastically reduces the probability of false positives.
  • IBM X-Force Exchange: IBM X-Force Exchange is a cloud-based, collaborative threat intelligence tool that enables security analysts to prioritize the most significant threats and reduce response time. This TIP mixes human-generated information with a global security feed to provide a distinctive view of prospective threats. Together, IBM X-Force Exchange's internal research staff and the algorithms powering its feed monitor more than 25 billion websites worldwide.
  • Cyberint's Argos Digital Risk Protection Platform: It is a SaaS platform intended to assess an organization's attack surface and cyberattacks from the open, deep, and dark webs that target its industry.

What is a Threat Intelligence Feed?

Continuous data streams, including threat information acquired by artificial intelligence, constitute threat intelligence feeds. Threat intelligence feeds provide a constant flow of actionable data about threats and criminal actors. IoCs such as unusual behavior, malicious domains, and IP addresses are gathered by threat intelligence experts from numerous sources. To create reports, an analyst uses feeds to gather information about threats. These feeds offer enterprises real-time information about cybersecurity risks and trends, allowing them to proactively protect against attacks. Additionally, security teams may utilize this data to strengthen their security posture by gaining a deeper understanding of possible hackers' approaches, methods, and processes.

There are several open-source threat intelligence feeds, such as the following:

  • The Cofense Intelligence
  • SANS Internet Storm Center
  • Google Safe Browsing
  • Crowdstrike's Falcon X
  • Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency's Automated Indicator Sharing (AIS)
  • Dataminr Pulse
  • The FBI's InfraGard

You may customize the feed to enhance your cyber intelligence by configuring automated alerts and/or linking it with your security information and event management (SIEM) system.

To create actionable insights, more comprehensive threat intelligence feeds will use machine learning to automatically collect, analyze, and analyze incoming data from internal sources, such as logs and records, as well as external sources, such as the open web or dark web.

What Does a Cyber Threat Intelligence Analyst Do?

The definition given on the Central Intelligence Agency website (CIA) for Cyber threat intelligence analysts is as follows:

"Cyber threat intelligence analysts provide all-source analysis, digital forensics, and targeting to detect, monitor, evaluate, and counteract the danger presented by [criminal] cyber actors."

Cyber intelligence analysts are employed by the government, businesses, or as independent contractors. These experts use their expertise in technology, physics, mathematics, and computer programming to prevent thieves from gaining access to confidential data.

They apply threat intelligence to minimize and protect against any prospective data risks. In addition, they generate reports detailing how their firms can recognize and prepare for future dangers.

Cyber intelligence analysts must be able to detect a company's security weaknesses and identify indications of compromise (IOC), such as suspicious URLs, IP addresses, email addresses and attachments, filenames, and registry keys. These indicators of compromise might represent phishing efforts, malware attacks, or external host attacks.

The occupation of a cyber intelligence analyst is fast-paced. It also demands that specialists keep an up-to-date understanding of the vast quantity and variety of cyber threats that are created regularly. In certain instances, analysts must adopt the mindset of cyber criminals to stay ahead of these digital risks and safeguard their employer's data with vigor. In addition, it is their obligation to properly convey significant hazards that might undermine an organization's development, reputation, and financial stability.

Numerous talents are required for a successful career as a cyber intelligence analyst. The following abilities are crucial:

Cyber intelligence analysts need analytical abilities to spot data breaches or malicious actors altering operating systems and ruining the business's operation.

They must possess a foundation in technology, statistics, programming, digital forensics, or computer science. The majority of these professionals have at least a bachelor's degree in the aforementioned subjects.

In addition, organizational skills are essential for the success of cyber intelligence analysts, who must discover new cybercrime trends, develop risk mitigation activities, and execute rigorous data analysis and reporting.

Another important thing is that cyber intelligence analysts ought to be able to communicate with CEOs, CTOs (chief technology officers), and IT departments to warn of potential data threats and support mitigation strategies.

When compared to other cyber security jobs, the pay for a cyber intelligence analyst is in the top tier. The average salary of a cyber intelligence analyst is $74,262, according to the website PayScale. The 10 percent of people in this job who make the most money make an average of $107,000.

Numerous variables might impact an individual's total income. Experienced cyber intelligence analysts often demand greater compensation than those just entering the sector. Furthermore, those who work for businesses may earn more than those who work for the government. Cyber intelligence analysts with a graduate degree in cyber security may earn a greater income and acquire the skills required to become industry leaders.