What Is Cyber Threat Intelligence?

Author: 
 Updated: 
August 9, 2021
 / 5 minutes

With more and more businesses increasing their reliance on digital interaction, or on the use of computers to keep operations optimal, there’s a lot of benefit that comes alongside: efficiency is increased, as well as speed of service, reach, and even the quality of communications between businesses and consumers. But with this new set of operations come new rules, and with new rules come new rule-breakers. For digital businesses and the like, this can come in the form of cyber threats. Be they hackers, malware, or phishing emails, threats of all kinds can appear in the digital environment to wreak havoc on unsuspecting networks. That’s why cyber threat intelligence is a crucial asset to any such business who now relies on digital interactions to get things done.

What Cyber Threat Intelligence Means

For any threat that exists, digitally or elsewhere, the ideal response is determined by the intelligence one has on the threat in question. Intelligence means understanding — having information that tells you how a threat works, what it looks like, and even how to mitigate it. Cyber threat intelligence, as the name suggests, does exactly this, but for digital threats in particular. This intelligence, or information, regarding said threats helps network security teams anticipate problems long before they arrive, even finding ways to minimize risk and avoid attacks altogether in some instances. Threat intelligence is what feeds into every other form of defense: firewalls identify signatures based on existing threat intelligence, as do web and email filters, while EDR platforms can pinpoint suspicious behaviors on an endpoint using the same information. But what kind of information exists in cyber threat intelligence, and where does it come from?

Sources Of Intelligence

One of the most important questions to ask when looking at cyber threat intelligence is, “Where did this come from?” To make things simple, the answer should be, “Everywhere.” From self-identified risks to intelligence found on the deep or dark web, there’s something to be learned from every environment.

Human-based Intelligence

There’s every chance that you’ve come across cyber threats on your own before. If that’s happened, you might even know what went wrong. Your information on a personal interaction with such a threat is what’s known as human-based intelligence.

Open-source Intelligence

Open-source intelligence, or OSINT, includes a number of intelligence collection protocols that utilize publicly available sources of information on threats. Data from these open sources are made public to aid people in making decisions, including risk mitigations — making OSINT incredibly useful to network security teams.

Technical Intelligence

Often related to the tools you have in place — be they operational tools, security tools, or basic diagnostics tools — technical intelligence is, as the name suggests, focused on technical specifications and will generally be generated in reports from said tools to aid you in protecting your cyberspace with fixes that are localized to each app/suite in question.

Intelligence From Elsewhere

Your cyber threat intelligence solution might also find other ways to identify and mitigate risks. Whether it’s through AI-based threat diagnostics or plumbing the deep and dark web for information regarding new threat types, intelligence can come from myriad sources. However, by keeping abreast of these sources with a threat intelligence software, you’re allowing your network the best possible advance notice for when things go awry.

Types of Intelligence

The other important question to ask when gathering cyber threat intelligence is about the kinds of intelligence that can be gathered and relayed. While some of this is related to the sources where information comes from, the types of intelligence still differ depending on the needs being met.

Strategic

The most basic type of threat intelligence, and the most common in fact, is that which is designed for layperson use. Strategic intelligence tells a user without technical experience the potential scope of a threat, and it’s especially designed to help decision makers when looking at defense strategy.

Tactical

The way that a technical security team is kept in the loop about threat types and the TTPs of specific attackers, tactical intelligence is evidence-based, rather than being largely hypothetical like strategic intelligence. Since tactical threat intelligence is based on evidence, it’s a leading example of how to avoid past mistakes and how to mitigate current risk factors within a network.

Technical

More predictive than reactive, technical threat intelligence defines current practices of cybersecurity threats — like social engineering schemes — to help all personnel avoid certain risk-associated activities and behaviors. The veritable usefulness of this intelligence is often short-lived, given that tactics of attackers change often and without warning.

Operational

Operational threat intelligence is the most in-depth intelligence that can be gathered; it’s at the heart of specific events, specific cyber attacks, providing active security strategists with information regarding the nature and intent of attacks, as well as other highly patternized factors like timing and sophistication of the threat in question. It’s with this type of intelligence that groups of attackers can be tracked and even neutralized by those doing a deep dive into the dark corners of cyberspace to defend it.

Why Cyber Threat Intelligence Is Crucial

If you’re using your business to keep sensitive data, to handle operations through network connectivity, or to expand your reach online, then you have vulnerabilities to the outside threats that exist for every digital user. What’s more, your assets are a target to cybercriminals. Because of this, it’s of the utmost importance to have measures or tools in place that collect and utilize cyber threat intelligence to your advantage. By ensuring this, you’re protecting yourself in the long run from the known threats of cyberspace, as well as the unknown.

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