Threat Intelligence 101

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You can’t protect your system if you don’t know where the vulnerabilities lie or what aspects of your security architecture are being targeted by threats.

Intelligence is everything in security — it’s how CISO’s make large-scale operational decisions, how IT teams prioritise projects, and how responders restore and remediate a system during and after an incident.

As threats evolve, so does this intelligence, creating more reliance on advanced technologies, artificial intelligence, and solutions that combine human and machine power to further security.  

But to understand how to utilise this array of intelligence for your organisation, you must first explore what it is. 

What is Threat Intelligence? 

NIST describes threat intelligence as “threat information that has been aggregated, transformed, analysed, interpreted, or enriched to provide the necessary context for decision-making processes.” 

Threat Intelligence can have many facets and is industry — and organisation-dependent, but it allows organisations to better understand risk from potential and current threats. You can’t stop what you don’t know, and threat intelligence fills in those knowledge gaps. It can provide both security insights and operational insights that inform business and security decisions in both the short and long term.  

What Are the Types of Threat Intelligence? 

Threat intelligence is often broken down into three subcategories:   

  • Strategic — Broader trends that are typically meant for a non-technical audience.   
  • Tactical — Outlines of the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) of threat actors for a more technical audience. 
  • Operational — Technical details about specific attacks and campaigns an organisation may be facing. 

Strategic intelligence can be thought of as high-level and long-term focused, while operational can be thought of as highly technical and short-term focused. While each is focused on different parts of intelligence, both are important, and organisations need to utilise, understand, and act upon both to achieve better security maturity.  

The Threat Intelligence Lifecycle 

The lifecycle of threat intelligence goes from raw, unfiltered data to refined, actionable information (usually segmented into types).  

The stages of the lifecycle are:  

  1. Set data requirements 
  2. Gather data 
  3. Refine and analyse data into actionable reports  
  4. Act upon intelligence and modify business and security operations as needed 

Once action is taken, more intelligence is gathered, and the lifecycle repeats itself. It is an ongoing process, and the gathering and utilization of intelligence should be happening consistently in an organization to increase security posture and maturity. 

Why Does Threat Intelligence Matter? 

If an organisation doesn’t understand the threats their IT environment faces, there’s no way to proactively secure themselves. They will be stuck in a cycle of reacting to pressing threats, never taking the time to learn and understand why these attacks (attempted or otherwise) occur. 

Strong threat intelligence, meaning intelligence that is fully refined by organisation and industry needs and threats, can allow an organisation to tailor efforts to disrupt common industry-specific attacker patterns while shoring up defenses where it’s most needed. This can also help an organisation see the full scope of a sophisticated attack to better tailor an appropriate response. 

In addition, threat intelligence is not a constant. It is changing based on emerging threats, new technologies, shifts in industries, and organisations’ specific security journeys.

On the threat end of the spectrum, attacks are consistently changing in nature, new groups are arising, and bad actors are targeting new avenues to achieve their goals.

On the intelligence side, artificial intelligence is changing how patterns and information are recognised and analysed. vNew technologies contain new detection methods, and organisation and industry-specific IT environments are in a state of flux.  

How Can Threat Intelligence Protect from Advanced Attacks? 

Reducing cyber risk happens on both sides of an attack. Whether in the proactive stages of securing an IT environment — or in the remediation and recovery stages after an incident — intelligence is key to increasing security posture and achieving cybersecurity maturity.  

The ways that threat intelligence can protect from advanced attacks include: 

Allowing For Better Vulnerability Management

If you’re able to see where your vulnerabilities are — whether they’re system issues or user issues — you can patch them before the worst-case scenario occurs. According to the State of Cybersecurity: 2022 Trends Report, 81% of organisations see vulnerabilities and misconfigurations as the biggest weakness within their infrastructure.

Limiting the Attack Surface and Allowing for Better Containment During an Incident

If an incident occurs, and you don’t know who got in the system or where they are in the system, you won’t be able to contain or cut-off the attack. Having strong threat intelligence can work in the moment of attack to help your organisation stop it in its tracks.

Offering Detailed, Actionable Intel After an Incident

If, as an organisation, you just restore your systems after an attack and never look at what led to it, you are all but guaranteeing another, possibly more devastating one, is in your future. Utilizing intelligence to not only contain an attack but examine and analyze what happened in the first place will keep your organization more secure in the future.  

Save Money Through Threat Intelligence 

While those are the ways threat intelligence can help on either side of an incident, there are other, non-attack-related ways that it can improve your cybersecurity. For example, good intelligence saves money. Security budget is a constant issue for organisations, so spending wisely is paramount.

According to the industry reports, the primary motivator around security for 77% of organisations is the financial impact, and cost is the number one factor when establishing a security program. Strong intelligence can inform decisions around spending, allowing your organisation to prioritize risks, analyse what works for your specific business and security needs, purchase solutions you know will work for you, and prevent a costly breach.  

Learn more about how to discover, assess, and harden your environment against digital risks.

Picture of Sule Tatar

Sule Tatar

Sule Tatar is a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Arctic Wolf, where she does research on security trends and brings groundbreaking cybersecurity products and services to market. She has extensive experience in the B2B cybersecurity space and holds a bachelor's degree in computer engineering and an MBA.
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