What is Cyber Threat Intelligence (CTI)?

Threat actors, or people or organizations that intentionally cause harm within the digital realm, pinpoint and exploit weaknesses in computers and networks to carry out attacks on targets. Cyber threat intelligence, or collecting and analyzing information about past, current, and future cyber security threats, can help organizations better understand a threat actor’s motives with the use of data analytics.

What is Cyber Threat Intelligence (CTI)?

Cyber Threat Intelligence (CTI), also known as threat intelligence, is information gathered from a range of sources about current or potential attacks against an organization. The information is analyzed, refined, and organized and then used to minimize and mitigate cyber security risks.

The main purpose of threat intelligence is to show organizations the various risks they face from external threats, such as zero-day threats and advanced persistent threats (APTs). Cyber threat intelligence includes in-depth information and context about specific threats, such as who is attacking, their capabilities and motivation, and the indicators of compromise (IOCs). With this information, organizations can make informed decisions about how to defend against the most damaging attacks.

cyber threat intelligence

The need for CTI

Cyber security tools are nearly powerless if they are not told which threats to watch out for and how to mitigate them with the predesigned tactics techniques and procedures that power the operational intelligence. Cyber threat intelligence provides cyber security system administrators with the knowledge they need to formulate a plan that will best protect their network. In some situations, elements of the data gained by devices to empower cyber threat intelligence can be used to attack threats automatically. In other situations, cyber threat intelligence is a necessary tool for network administrators and IT security teams to know which threats are the most dangerous, how they attack, and how to prevent them.

With an investment in cyber threat intelligence, a business can avail itself of threat databases with technical information that details a vast number of threats. When this storehouse of knowledge is put to work by security teams or the automated systems used to protect the network, the business’ safety profile is significantly enhanced. This operational intelligence thus empowers analysts with actionable insights.

Types of Cyber Threat Intelligence

Cyber Threat Intelligence is the gathering and analysis of multi-source cyber security data using advanced analytic algorithms. By collecting large amounts of data about current cyber security threats and trends and performing analytics on this data, threat intelligence providers can derive usable data and insights that help their customers to better detect and prepare for cyber threats.

Organizations have a wide range of intelligence needs, ranging from low-level information on the malware variants currently being used in attack campaigns to high-level information intended to inform strategic investments and policy creation. For this reason, threat intelligence can be classified into one of three different types:

  • Operational: Operational threat intelligence focuses on the tools (malware, infrastructure, etc.) and techniques that cyber attackers use to achieve their goals. This type of understanding helps analysts and threat hunters identify and understand attack campaigns.
  • Strategic: Strategic threat intelligence is high-level and focuses on widespread trends within the cyber threat landscape. This type of threat intelligence is geared toward executives (often without a cyber security background) who need to understand their organization’s cyber risk as part of their strategic planning.
  • Tactical: Tactical threat intelligence focuses on identifying particular types of malware or other cyberattacks using compromise (IoCs) indicators. This type of threat intelligence is ingested by cyber security solutions and used to detect and block incoming or ongoing attacks.

Benefits of using CTI

Cyber threat intelligence can introduce several additional benefits for organizations beyond the scope of mitigation, including:

  • Risk reduction: Increased visibility across the threat landscape into current threats and emerging cyberattacks may help organizations identify and assess risks with a proactive approach to preparation.
  • Improved security posture: Understanding the TTPs used in past attacks can help organizations implement the appropriate security controls to prevent or mitigate future cyberattacks.
  • Cost reduction: Cyber threat intelligence is often cost-effective and may lower the overall financial burden of security incidents including data breaches, which can be expensive.
  • Regulatory compliance: Organizations that must adhere to various regulations such as GDPR, SOX, HIPAA, etc. can use cyber threat intelligence to help establish and maintain compliance.
  • Staffing efficiency: Manual validation and correlation of threat intelligence can be time-consuming and resource-intensive. Security teams are often prone to burnout and fatigue for this very reason, which can lead to human error. With the support of cyber threat intelligence tools, organizations can better equip security teams to detect and respond to threats more efficiently with the use of automation to eliminate tedious manual tasks.

cyber threat intelligence

Cyber Threat Intelligence lifecycle explained

The Cyber Threat Intelligence Lifecycle involves six stages, serving as a framework for threat intelligence security teams who continuously create actionable intel from the analysis of raw data. The CTI lifecycle aims to improve the efficiency and functionality of threat intelligence platforms (TIPs).

  • Roadmap development: The requirements phase (or roadmap development phase) lays the groundwork for a specific threat intel operation. The cybersecurity team creates a plan focused on defining a goal or methodology for the threat intelligence program. The business’ needs such as the assets and attack surfaces needing protection, are factored in this stage of planning, alongside stakeholder requirements.
  • Collection: In this phase, the security team seeks to collect information in support of their defined objectives. Information is gathered from extracted logs and compiled data from secure networks, tools, external resources, industry experts, and thought leaders.
  • Processing: Raw data is processed into a format that is usable for analysis once it has been gathered. The processing period involves managing data in which information is organized by machines or human experts. This can include spreadsheets, data translation into other languages, and decrypting files. Organizations use different methods of processing for a variety of data collection techniques.
  • Analysis: During analysis, processed threat data is translated into threat intelligence suitable for organization decision-makers. This information is made bite-sized and digestible, presented in a format that caters to stakeholders within the business.
  • Dissemination: The analysis of information presented is arranged depending on the audience it is presented. The dissemination stage is where threat intelligence formatting is finished, becoming readily usable to organizations, decision-makers, and teams who need to make decisive, enriched cybersecurity decisions.
  • Feedback: Receiving feedback on provided threat intelligence reports helps improve the threat intelligence lifecycle process. Each stakeholder will prioritize different areas and objectives. Troubleshooting cadence, formatting, and ways to present data for distribution alleviates organizational time used to conclude findings and facilitates prioritization efforts to address threat intelligence activities.

Cyber Threat Intelligence Challenges

Successful network security goes beyond firewalls and antivirus software. Continuous detection and response must be combined with up-to-date, real-time threat intelligence. This is often beyond the scope of internal IT departments and security staff, requiring the hiring of external analysts or outsourced response teams.

Enterprise-grade tools for data collection are expensive to implement and maintain. Internal data collection and analysis often deploy security information and event management (SIEM) systems to collect and aggregate data from all areas of an organization. While this centralization is key to threat data analysis, it can be difficult for non-specialists to build on their own threat intelligence solution. Therefore, most organizations choose to incorporate threat intelligence platforms instead of building their own solutions based on SIEM data or independently sourced threat intelligence feeds.


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