What is Cyber Threat Intelligence? A Beginner's Guide

By Devin Nori August 9, 2023

What is cyber threat intelligence?

Cyber threat intelligence draws insight from how bad actors attempt or succeed in committing cyberattacks. This data is collected, processed and analyzed to further understand the motive behind these attacks and the patterns in which they occur. It also gives your security team deeper insight into the capabilities of attackers and the specific precautions that can be taken to block these attempts. From there, this information is turned into action, and it can help shape your organization’s security strategy moving forward.

Why is cyber threat intelligence important?

When it comes to cybersecurity, knowledge is power. New types of threats seem to emerge every day, and being able to stay one step ahead puts your business at a major advantage. Understanding how you measure up against current threats is crucial, but understanding how you measure up against future threats is paramount. Cyber threat intelligence helps support sustainable, ongoing protection from all angles.

Additionally, many organizations’ attack surfaces are expanding. Between scaling their businesses and accommodating remote and hybrid work models, there are more factors than ever to consider when protecting your environment from bad actors. Having more access points leaves more room for vulnerabilities to be exploited. Having cyber threat intelligence on your side allows you to proactively protect your data, your employees and your client or customer base from emerging threats.

Who can benefit from cyber threat intelligence & what are the benefits?

Leveraging cyber threat intelligence greatly strengthens an organization’s security team’s capabilities and scope. This includes all parties in the security team, all the way from the CISO to entry level analysts. This expands to benefit the business as a whole, including the clients and customers that rely on your security for their data and assets.

Overall, implementing cyber threat intelligence lends to the following benefits:

1. Cost effectiveness

Recovery costs from a cyberattack are on the rise. In fact, Nationwide claims data shows cyber claims range between $15,000 to $25,000 in recovery costs, plus costs associated with the restoration process, reputation damage and a potential legal fallout.

Additionally, the average recovery time for a business after an attack is 279 days. This contributes to major business disruption and loss of productivity, costing even more. Investing in cyber threat intelligence helps keep these expenses at bay and adds some predictability to your annual security budget.

2. Proactive approach

Leveraging cyber threat intelligence plays a major role in predicting and preventing events that could put your business at risk. Think of it as your cybersecurity crystal ball. By collecting, analyzing and implementing the knowledge gathered from attacks that other businesses have faced or stopped dead in their tracks, your business is better equipped to ward off those same kinds of attacks. Taking advantage of the patterns and motives behind these cybercrimes empowers your security team to more effectively implement security measures to prevent them from impacting your business. Ultimately, taking a proactive approach helps you stay one step ahead of the bad guys.

3. Further trust from customers and clients

When you have a customer or client base relying on you and your services, your security strategy becomes that much more important. Being able to assure your network that you’ve done everything to protect them and their data is a crucial aspect of trust building. By incorporating cyber threat intelligence into your security strategy, you add an extra layer of trust and reliability for those who count on you the most.

What are the different types of threat intelligence?

Just as there are many different kinds of threats, there are many different kinds of cyber threat intelligence. Each has a different function to lend to a comprehensive approach for protecting your environment.

1. Strategic

Strategic threat intelligence is aimed at helping your security team reevaluate strategy to better protect your attack surface. It provides an overview of your threat landscape to drive business decisions with key stakeholders without getting too technical. Strategic threat intelligence sheds a light on vulnerabilities and risks, allowing for a successful presentation to the executive team and board to advocate for further action. Additionally, it analyzes high level trends and attack motives, then establishes a way to help prevent attacks in the future.

2. Tactical

Tactical threat intelligence takes a more in-depth approach, focusing specifically on the tactics, techniques and procedures of cyberattacks. This includes focusing on malware analysis and threat indicators to understand their impact on the immediate future. Generally, tactical threat intelligence is the easiest kind of intelligence to generate and is typically automated.

3. Technical

Technical threat intelligence focuses specifically on the technical aspects of a cyberattack, honing in on the threat actors’ tools and infrastructures. This intelligence is gathered through scanning indicators of compromise, or IOCs, which can include phishing email content, malware samples, fraudulent URLs, etc. Technical threat intelligence is also intended for rapid distribution and response to get the most effective results. It can generate a lot of content to sift through, but its usability is more short-lived than other kinds of intelligence.

4. Operational

Operational threat intelligence takes a closer look at the behind-the-scenes aspects of the attack, including the timing, motive and nature. The most effective kind of operational threat intelligence comes from hacker chat rooms or online discussions. Getting access to these channels can be extremely difficult, though, making it hard to obtain and decipher this kind of intelligence.

With the intention of discovering the “who,” “what,” “when,” “where” and “why” of an attack, operational threat intelligence is extremely useful in understanding the profile of these attackers and why they carry these attacks out. When combined with the other kinds of intelligence, it provides the last piece of the puzzle to fully understanding an attack.  

How do you implement cyber threat intelligence?

After cyber threat intelligence is successfully gathered and analyzed, it needs to be put to good use. There can be a few different ways to go about this, especially when it comes to implementing different kinds of cyber threat intelligence. However, most processes look something like this:

1. Plan

When beginning the process for cyber threat intelligence, it’s good to have a sound objective in mind. You need to understand the intention of gathering this information and the end goal for implementing it. Whether it’s understanding the motive of attackers and shifting your security strategy to reflect it or identifying new patterns of threats to invest in expertise in that area, having a finish line in mind is crucial. Another key component of the planning step is making sure the right people are involved. Having insight and perspectives from all around the security team and the business helps solidify the purpose behind the process.

2. Collect

There are several different ways to collect cyber threat intelligence, and a lot of it has to do with the kind of intelligence you want to collect. Depending on the goals of the intelligence, this step sends experts sifting through traffic logs, publicly available data sources, chat rooms, relevant forums, social media and industry or subject matter experts.

3. Process

Once you’ve collected your raw data, it’s time to turn it into a more digestible format for analysis. This is your chance to sort through hefty data compilations, decrypt any files and do your due diligence on the relevance and reliability of each source.

4.  Analyze

This step in the process is where you look for the insights that you set out to find in the first place. After you’ve gone ahead and processed all the data, it’s time to match that data to the objectives you began with, whether that’s matching exchanges in a chat room conversation to the motive of a cyberattack or matching up attack patterns with areas of expertise your team needs to be investing in.

5. Communication

Now that all this hard work has been done, it’s time to communicate it to the right people by making sure that this data and insights land in the right hands to execute action items, make investments, etc. It’s important to consider the audience for this information and direct your language and presentation to their preferred style and business priorities. For example, your executive team might not need to know the technical jargon behind each data point, but they’ll definitely want to know how that data point will impact the business moving forward.

6. Feedback

After the intelligence has been turned into a game plan, it’s important to take a step back and make sure your initial goals were met. If not, there’s room to go back and clarify certain data points or find new data sources.

Like any good strategy, utilizing cyber threat intelligence starts with a good plan, but there’s no real end for the process. Instead, cyber threat intelligence should be viewed as an ongoing lifecycle. As soon as you’ve gathered, analyzed and implemented a certain kind of cyber threat intelligence, it’s in your organization’s best interest to start over from the top and repeat that process to stay ahead of emerging threats.

Learn how ivision can help improve your cyber threat intelligence.

ivision’s team of security experts takes a holistic approach to protecting your business. We combine decades’ worth of experience and expertise in infrastructure security, security assessment, security strategy, data security and managed security to guard your environment from today’s threats and continue optimizing as new ones emerge.

We are equipped with the people, processes and technologies to help you make your business a safer place for your employees, stakeholders and customers. Learn more about our security solutions, and contact us to get started today!