Cybersecurity Glossary

Cyber Threat Intelligence

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What Is Threat Intelligence?

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), threat intelligence refers to “threat information that has been aggregated, transformed, analyzed, interpreted, or enriched to provide the necessary context for decision-making processes.” 

Threat intelligence allows organizations to understand threat risks, current or perceived, by providing security and operational insights that can inform short-term and long-term decision making. 

What are the Main Forms of Threat Intelligence?

Threat intelligence falls into three categories: 

Strategic — This intelligence focuses broad trends that are for a non-technical audience. Strategic intelligence is high-level and informs long-term decision making.    

Tactical — Tactical intelligence includes  tactics techniques procedures (TTPs) of threat actors. This intelligence is intended for a technical audience such as IT teams. 

Operational — Operational intelligence focuses on technical details as well as specific attacks and campaigns. This intelligence is for short-term decision making and often deals with real-time, immediate threats. 

Each category serves a different purpose, but organizations should incorporate all three into security decision making. On one end of the spectrum, strategic intelligence can help an organization determine what tools and security operations to invest in, how to staff their IT department, and how cybersecurity fits into their business operation goals. On the other end, of the spectrum if a breach occurs, tactical intelligence can help the IT staff act quickly and effectively, as well as help in restoration and remediation.  

What is the Threat Intelligence Lifecycle?

Threat intelligence follows a lifecycle as it goes from raw data to an actionable report.  

The lifecycle stages are: 

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

The lifecycle should repeat itself as soon as step four is completed. It is a process that should be happening constantly for an organization to improve their security posture and stay on top of emerging cyber threats. 

Proactive vs. Reactive Security

Threat intelligence helps organizations more from a reactive strategy to a proactive strategy. Many organizations lack visibility of their systems, applications, and security architecture, and therefore become stuck in a cycle of reacting to immediate threats or data breaches. Threat intelligence allows an organization to take a birds-eye view of their organization’s security and take proactive steps to improve their security journey.  

Machine Learning and Threat Intelligence

Traditionally, threat intelligence was rules based. This means that organizations manually set rules for user and application behavior, and if the threat intelligence tools found behavior outside of those rules, it would send an alert or trigger an investigation. However, user behavior does not always follow set rules.

Think of a healthcare organization. If a nurse in one department moves to another department for a shift, would their work accessing patient records in that new department trigger an alert under a rules system? It’s possible. But that would be a false alarm. Enter machine learning. 

Machine learning remembers behaviors and the context around application and user behavior. This allows the technology to better monitor threats and reduce false alarms and alert fatigue. Machine learning is also referred to as artificial intelligence, and many organizations use AI/Machine learning, or AI-powered machine learning in their threat intelligence operations. 

In addition, organizations are often dealing with vast amounts of data. There are hundreds of applications and for organizations like healthcare entities, there can be millions of patient data access requests a day. Machine learning can help organizations process all this data fast. That way there are fewer alerts and the data that is received is fresh. Many modern threat intelligence operations mix human and artificial intelligence.  

Why Is Threat Intelligence Important?

Proactive security is critical for organizations to stay safe. If an organization isn’t regularly evaluating threats, then there’s no way to implement security measures. This puts the organization in a cycle of reaction — responding in the moment to attacks without taking the time to improve their security posture.

Fully refined threat intelligence can help organizations tailor their security efforts and disrupt industry-specific threat patterns with achieving their operational and security goals.  

It should be noted that threat landscape is consistently changing. Threats emerge and fade, new attack vectors are discovered, and organizations’ business and security needs also change over time.  

How Can Threat Intelligence Protect Organizations?

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.   

Whether an organization is proactively improving security architecture or remediating their networks after an attack, threat intelligence is key.  

Three main ways threat intelligence can help organizations include: 

  • Allowing for better vulnerability management. Vulnerabilities and misconfigurations are a major source of breaches. It’s crucial for organizations to see and manage those vulnerabilities to prevent exploitation by cyber criminals.  
  • Limiting the attack surface and allowing for better containment during an incident. If you’re able to understand who is attacking your organization, how they got in, and where they are, you’ll be able to restore and remediate swiftly. Knowledge is power if the worst happens. 
  • Offering detailed, actionable intel after an incident. No organization wants to suffer an incident, but if you do, it’s important to understand what happened and how to best move forward. If your organization doesn’t patch vulnerabilities and address other gaps, then you’re setting yourself up for another breach in the future. 

Threat Intelligence and Vulnerability Management

Threat intelligence is crucial for effective vulnerability management. Solutions that employ vulnerability management — the ongoing process of identifying, assessing, remediating cyber threats — utilize threat intelligence to inform that process. Think of threat intelligence as the data and vulnerability management as the actions that depend on that data. The first part of vulnerability management, identifying and assessing, relies heavily on threat intelligence. You can’t patch if you don’t know the vulnerability exists.  

Threat Intelligence and Incident Response

Threat intelligence, while critical for preventing a breach, can also be used after a breach to help an organization understand what went wrong during a breach and how to harden their environment for the future. Threat Intelligence is crucial to incident response and can be analyzed to help an organization understand the depth and scale of a breach, fix the root cause of said breach, and then put new safeguards in place. The intelligence provides a road map for restoration, remediation, and future vulnerability management.  

Arctic Wolf’s Threat Intelligence:

Arctic Wolf believes that threat intelligence is critical for your organization’s overall security and operational success. Arctic Wolf ® Managed Detection and Response (MDR) offers 24×7 monitoring to deliver real-time intelligence to help your organization respond to imminent threats. MDR also works with organizations after a breach to restore and remediate, helping organizations patch vulnerabilities and prevent future breaches.  

Arctic Wolf ® Managed Risk works on the proactive side of cybersecurity management, helping organizations discover, assess, and harden the environment against digital risks by contextualizing the attack surface coverage across networks, endpoints, and cloud environments. 

Arctic Wolf Incident Response works with an organization after a breach has occurred. This solution utilizes threat intelligence and data to analyze the root cause and extent of the attack and remove the threat actor’s access to the environment. 

In addition, Arctic Wolf Labs enriches our cloud security platform by delivering cutting-edge threat intelligence and security research, developing advanced threat detection models, and improving Arctic Wolf’s speed, scale, and detection efficacy.  

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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