What is Threat Intelligence in Cybersecurity?

March 7, 2024
| Threat Intelligence

Threat intelligence is the analysis of data using tools and techniques to generate meaningful information about existing or emerging threats targeting the organization that helps mitigate risks. Threat Intelligence helps organizations make faster, more informed security decisions and change their behavior from reactive to proactive to combat the attacks.

What is cyber threat intelligence and why do you need it?

Cyber Intelligence is the knowledge that allows you to prevent or mitigate cyber-attacks by studying the threat data and provide information on adversaries. It helps to identify, prepare, and prevent attacks by providing information on attackers, their motive, and capabilities.

Threat intelligence prepares organizations to be proactive with predictive capabilities instead of reactive for future cyber-attacks. Without understanding security vulnerabilities, threat indicators, and how threats are carried out, it is impossible to combat cyber-attacks effectively. Using cyber intelligence security professionals can prevent and contain attacks faster, potentially saving the cost in the event of cyber-attacks. Threat intelligence can elevate enterprise security at every level, including network and cloud security.

What Does Threat Intelligence Do?

Threat intelligence helps organizations with valuable knowledge about these threats, build effective defense mechanisms, and mitigate the risks that could cause financial and reputational damage. Threat Intelligence is the predictive capability to defend the future attacks that the organization is exposed to so they can proactively tailor their defenses and preempt future attacks.

Who is A Cyber Threat Intelligence Analyst?

A cyber intelligence analyst is a security professional who monitors and analyzes external cyber threat data to provide actionable intelligence. These experts triage data of security incidents collected from different threat intelligence sources and study the pattern of attacks, their methodology, motive, severity, and threat landscape. This data is then analyzed and filtered to produce threat intelligence feeds and reports that help management (security officer) in making decisions concerning organizational security. Often, these individuals are Certified Threat Intelligence Analysts who come with both the knowledge and skills needed for the job role.

Threat Intel and the Art of War: Why Knowing Yourself Isn’t Enough

What Are The Types of Threat Intelligence?

Cyber Threat Intelligence is mainly categorized as strategic, tactical, technical, and operational.

1. Strategic Threat Intelligence

Strategic threat intelligence provides an overview of the organization’s threat landscape. It is less technical is mainly for executive-level security professionals to drive high-level organizational strategy based on the findings in the reports. Ideally, strategic threat intelligence provides insights like vulnerabilities and risks associated with the organization’s threat landscape with preventive actions, threat actors, their goals, and the severity of the potential attacks.

2. Tactical Threat Intelligence

Tactical threat intelligence consists of more specific details on threat actors TTP and is mainly for the security team to understand the attack vectors. Intelligence gives them insights on how to build a defense strategy to mitigate those attacks. The report includes the vulnerabilities in the security systems that attackers could take advantage of and how to identify such attacks.

The finding is used to strengthen the existing security controls/defense mechanism and helps to remove the vulnerabilities in the network.

3. Technical Threat Intelligence

Technical threat intelligence focuses on specific clues or evidence of an attack and creates a base to analyze such attacks. Threat Intelligence analyst scans for the indicator of compromise (IOCs), which includes reported IP addresses, the content of phishing emails, malware samples, and fraudulent URLs. Timing for sharing technical intelligence is very critical because IOCs such as malicious IPs or fraudulent URLs become obsolete in a few days.

4. Operational Threat Intelligence

Operational threat intelligence focuses on knowledge about the attacks. It gives detailed insights on factors like nature, motive, timing, and how an attack is carried out. Ideally, the information is gathered from hacker chat rooms or their discussion online through infiltration, which makes it difficult to obtain.

Challenges in gathering operational Intelligence:

Creating a Cyber Threat Intelligence Program

What is a Cyber Threat Intelligence Program?

Cyber Threat Intelligence program combines thousands of Threat Intelligence Feeds into a single feed, instead of viewing them separately to enable consistent characterization and, categorization of cyber threat events, and identify trends or changes in the activities of cyber adversaries. The program consistently describes cyber threat activity in a way that allows efficient information sharing and threat analysis. It assists the threat intelligence team by comparing the feed with internal telemetry and creates alerts.

How Do You Implement Cyber Threat Intelligence?

Once relevant cyber threat information is extracted from threat data, it goes through a process of thorough analysis and structured processing with necessary technologies and techniques followed by sharing with required stakeholders to harden the security controls and prevent future cyber-attacks.

Golden Rules for Implementing a Cyber Threat Intelligence Program

Enterprise Objectives for Cyber Intelligence Programs

Aligning enterprise objectives in creating the threat intelligence program sets the roadmap for threat intelligence. The data, assets, and business processes that need to be protected should be well defined along with the impact analysis of the losing such assets. It helps to outline; what type of threat intelligence is required and who all should be involved.

Role of Threat Analyst in Threat Intelligence Life cycle

Cyber intelligence analysts, also known as “cyber threat analysts,” are information security professionals who use their skills and background knowledge to collect and analyze the threat data to create intelligence in the form of reports and share with the respective department. Certified cyber intelligence analyst is required for creating a threat intelligence program.

Threat Intelligence Strategy and Capabilities

Threat intelligence strategy involves sound planning with the application of tools, techniques, and methodologies, followed by a review to check the effectiveness of the plan. While devising the strategy, one should also consider their threat intelligence capabilities and structure the program accordingly, including the support of different departments.

Cyber Threats and Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs)

Understanding cyber threats and advanced persistent threats are the most crucial aspect of threat intelligence program.

What are Advanced Persistent Threats (APT)?

An advanced persistent threat is an attack in which an unauthorized user gains access to a network system and remains there for a long time without being detected. Advanced persistent threats are highly menacing for organizations, as attackers have continuous access to the company’s data. Advanced persistent threats are carried out in phases which involve hacking the network, hiding themselves to access as much information as possible, planning an attack, studying organization’s information systems, searching for easy access to sensitive data, and exfiltrating that data.

Cyber Threat Intelligence Frameworks

Cyber threat intelligence framework creates intelligence to respond to cyber-attacks by managing, detecting, and alerting security professionals of potential threats. It provides an actional plan to mitigate the attacks by collecting the latest threat source information and create threat models.

Understanding Cyber Kill Chain & IOCs

The cyber kill chain is a series of steps that trace stages of a cyberattack from the early reconnaissance stages to the exfiltration of data. The kill chain helps us understand and combat ransomware, security breaches, and advanced persistent attacks (APTs)

The cyber kill chain is a series of steps that trace stages of a cyberattack from the early reconnaissance stages to the exfiltration of data. The kill chain helps us understand and combat ransomware, security breaches, and advanced persistent attacks (APTs)

Organization’s Current Threat Landscape

This includes identifying critical threats to an organization, assessing the organization’s current security posture, security team’s structure, and competencies. Understanding of organization’s current security infrastructure and operations assist security professionals in assessing risks for identified threats.

Requirements Analysis

Requirement analysis is all about mapping organization’s ideal target state, identifying needs, and requirements for cyber intelligence, defining requirements and categories, aligning the requirements of business units, stakeholders and third parties, prioritizing intelligence requirements, the scope of cyber threat intelligence program, engagement rules, non-disclosure agreements, and common risks to cyber threat intelligence program.

Planning for a threat intelligence program

Key elements of a Cyber Threat Intelligence Program are:

Establishing Management Support

Prepare and document the project plan in accordance with the policies to initiate the program and cover the strategies to ensure management’s support and detailed the outcome and the objective of the program and how business objectives are lined up.

Building a Threat Intelligence Team

Creating a team of cyber threat intelligence analysts and defining their roles and responsibilities based on their core competencies and skillsets. Creating a talent acquisition strategy and defining the required skill set, qualifications, professional certifications, and positioning the threat intelligence team.

Threat Intelligence Program Review

Reviewing the structure of the threat intelligence program to access success and failure. Findings during the review help to improve the actual program and make the required updates.

Threat Intelligence Data Collection & Processing

Cyber Threat Intelligence Data Collection and Acquisition

Collecting relevant threat data for analysis and processing is an important step for creating cyber threat intelligence. The data is collected from various sources using predefined TTP (Tactics, Techniques and Procedures). Few sources of data are internal like network logs, past cyber incidents, and security landscape. The external source includes threat feeds, communities, forums, open web, and dark web.

Cyber Threat Intelligence Feeds and Sources

What is A Threat Intelligence Feed?

Threat intelligence feeds and sources are continuous streams of actionable information on threats and bad actors. Threat intelligence analysts collect security data on IoCs such as uncommon activity and malicious domains and IP addresses from various sources. Feeds are just the raw data on threats; an analyst extracts the intelligence from them for creating reports.

What is A Threat Intelligence Feed?

TTP (Tactics, Techniques and Procedures) for Threat Data Collection

  1. Data Collection through Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) This includes data collection through open sources like Search Engines, Web Services, Website Footprinting, Emails, Whois Lookup, DNS Interrogation, and Automating OSINT effort using Tools/Frameworks/Scripts.
  2. Data Collection through Human Intelligence (HUMINT) This process involves data collection through Human-based Social Engineering Techniques, Interviewing, Interrogation, and Social Engineering Tools.
  3. Data Collection through Cyber Counterintelligence (CCI) In this step, threat data is collected through Honeypots, Passive DNS Monitoring, Pivoting Off Adversary’s Infrastructure, Malware Sinkholes, and YARA rules.
  4. Data Collection through Indicators of Compromise (IoCs) Collecting digital evidence data from internal sources, external sources, and creating custom threat IOCs.
  5. Data Collection through Malware Analysis Malware analysis is the process of understanding the origin and impact of a malware sample and how it functions by deploying analysis tools. Malware functions in multiple ways and gathers information about unsecured devices without the knowledge of the user.

Bulk Data Collection

Collecting as much as possible intelligence demands a bulk data collection, and from that data, the analyst needs to figure out the relevant data. The integration of tools and effective data management helps to refine that data which can be processed and analyzed for creating intelligence. Finding the relevant pieces of information from the bulk data is not easy; it is like searching a needle in a haystack. Hence the right skill set is necessary for creating a threat intelligence program.

Understanding Data Processing and Exploitation

Next come the data processing and exploitation, which requires structuring and normalizing the collected data by using various data processing techniques like sampling, validation, sorting, formatting, and aggregation. The data is then stored in a format that analysts can derive valuable insights and generate actionable intelligence. The data can be in the form of charts and graphs with a specific context in a way that makes more sense to the analysts and gathers information efficiently when required to take actions faster. It even reduces the risk of overlooking critical information.

Data Analysis

Threat data analysis is the process of searching, interpreting, illustrating, analyzing internal and external threat data, and determining the patterns to notify relevant teams of potential security issues as defined in the planning stage. The objective of threat data analysis is to assist analysts to easily and correctly interpret the threat data and utilize it to the full potential and generate accurate intelligence.

Data Analysis Techniques

  • Statistical Data Analysis
  • Analysis of Competing Hypotheses

Intelligence Reporting and Dissemination

Creating cyber threat intelligence reports and sharing with relevant units in the security department is the last step in a threat intelligence program. For intelligence to be actionable, it must be shared with the right people at the right time. Ideally, cyber threat intelligence reports contain information that helps security professionals to make decisions regarding organizational security controls and protect the organizations from cyber threats.

How do you use cyber threat intelligence?

What is the future of threat intelligence?

According to a report by Grand View Research, Inc., the market for threat intelligence will reach $12.6 billion by 2025. This clearly shows the growing demand for cyber threat intelligence experts. In the future, there is enormous scope for threat intelligence services with the growing demand.

Companies, although investing generously in their cybersecurity solutions, remain susceptible to cyber-attacks, and this is an alert to help us realize that the traditional cybersecurity approach must be replaced with new and effective solutions, one of them is “cyber threat intelligence – a proactive approach to predictive analysis.”

A career in cyber threat intelligence has several number of avenues in the space of cybersecurity, and essentially there is a need for security professionals with skills in threat intelligence due to the evolving security landscape.

Cyber Threat Intelligence Jobs

As per LinkedIn, over 10,000 Threat Intelligence jobs are vacant worldwide, which recounts a huge demand for threat intelligence professionals globally and will significantly influence and shape the face of cybersecurity.

Need for Threat Intelligence Analysts

How Much Does a Cyber Intelligence Analyst Make?

On average cyber threat intelligence analyst’s salary in the United States is $75,000, and they typically make between $51k – $140k.

How Do You Become a Threat Intelligence Analyst?

When an organization is investing in a cyber threat intelligence program, then they also want experts skilled in data collection, processing, analysis, modeling, creating reports, timely sharing with the intended security units to protect their system, and network from a cyberattack.

What skills does an intelligence analyst need

To become a cyber threat intelligence analyst, you should also understand their roles and responsibilities. Below is the snapshot of what threat intelligence analyst does.

Cyber Threat Intelligence Training

Importance of Cyber Intelligence Training

Since the role of a cyber threat analyst expects you to work with several new tools and be aware of a lot of new techniques, industry leaders recommend that getting trained in a modern program is a must. Cyber intelligence analyst training helps security professionals develop and enhance their skills through continuous learning about threat data, data analysis, processing, reporting, and Dissemination. The intelligence helps security professionals to understand the threat actors, their motives, and how to combat such threats.

Cyber Threat Intelligence Certification

Creating and staffing a cyber threat intelligence program is a major challenge for security professionals. Everyone wants highly qualified professionals that can contribute to the team, but how do you identify people with the skillsets you need? One way, of course, is to look for intelligence analysts who hold a certification, but how do you know which certifications align with the job you are hiring for?

Selecting a Cyber threat intelligence course

While selecting a cyber threat intelligence course, there are several factors to consider like, modality, duration, course content, the ratio of hands-on to theory, recognitions/accreditations, cost of training, just to name a few. Based on these factors you can compare the top cyber threat intelligence courses and their fees.

Frequently Asked Questions

Cyber threat intelligence is information about threats an organization has or is exposed to, their modus operandi, motive, and the business impact in the event of such attack. This intelligence is used to identify, prepare, and protect the organization from cyber threats.
Strategic and tactical intelligence differ in several ways. Strategic Intelligence is for top executives in cybersecurity to formulate policies and make decisions regarding the organization’s security. On the other hand, tactical intelligence is about threat vectors, vulnerabilities in the organization system, and how to create a defense strategy to prevent such attacks.
Any mid-level to high-level cybersecurity professionals with a minimum of 2 years of experience can opt for cyber intelligence certification.

EC-Council has a repository of learning resources and is not limited to the Threat Intelligence domain. Here is the list of resources, a). EC-Council Free Resources, b). EC-Council Blogs, c). EC-Council Whitepaper, d). EC-Council Cyber Talks

Yes, you can enroll for an online mode of training. Threat intelligence analyst courses are delivered in all three modalities – classroom training, online self-paced, and live online.
After cyber threat analysis training, you are ready for jobs like Threat Intelligence Specialist, Threat Intelligence Analyst, Cyber Threat Investigator, Threat Researcher, Threat Intelligence Engineer, Threat Intelligence & Vulnerability Analyst.
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