Cybersecurity professionals rely on their playbook of strategies to keep pace with the constantly changing cybersecurity landscape. One pivotal strategy is collecting cyber threat intelligence, information on attacker motives, and methods for exploiting malware code, infrastructure, and resources.

Cyber threat intelligence aims to dissect and understand not only the surface-level activities of these adversaries but also their deeper motives, preferred targets, and characteristic attack patterns. This intelligence helps organisations elevate their security posture to anticipate an attacker’s moves and strategically deploy countermeasures well in advance.

To protect businesses from threats, cybersecurity researchers continually seek out threat intelligence on the next potential attack. Hackers and threat intelligence researchers engage in a cat-and-mouse game where researchers find and remediate threats while attackers find new ways to bypass defences. Extracting cyber threat intelligence provides invaluable insights into adversarial tactics and techniques, revealing the playbook enemies use against them.

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How Does Cyber Threat Intelligence Work?

Just like software development, cyber threat intelligence has a lifecycle. Each phase in the lifecycle is the same across all threat intelligence platforms, but how researchers carry out each phase is unique. Having a common lifecycle helps with collaboration, which is an essential aspect of cybersecurity that helps businesses.

The cyber threat intelligence lifecycle, explained in greater detail below, consists of stages like planning, collection, processing, analysis, dissemination, and feedback to continuously improve intelligence capabilities.

The data collected to identify threats varies depending on the plan and the suspected vulnerability. These data points are called “indicators of a compromise” (IOC). A few data points include:

  • Domains and IP addresses: Suspicious traffic from one IP address could indicate that there is an attacker. Some malware will connect to an attacker-controlled server to transfer corporate data. Continuous authentication attempts from the same IP could also indicate an attack takeover.
  • Email messages: In a suspected phishing attack, email messages are necessary to trace the source of the attack, including messages with attachments.
  • Affected device files: Any devices under attack or infected with malware could host important files researchers could use in further analysis. Registry keys, DLL files, executables, and any other data from the device can help with the investigation.

External resources can also be used to collect data. Cyber threat intelligence researchers often use collected data from darknet markets to investigate or join communities of hackers to keep up to date with the latest activity. Some risk management and intrusion detection systems will use large databases of IP addresses and malicious domains to determine if an attack is targeting the organisation.

Cyber threat intelligence enables organisations to make faster and more informed security decisions, shifting from reactive to proactive security measures. In turn, this intelligence allows organisations to detect attacks sooner, reduce detection costs, limit breach impacts, and save money by reducing the risk of data breaches.

Types of Threat Intelligence

Cyber threat intelligence is a dynamic concept that’s categorised into four main types:

  • Strategic threat intelligence: This type provides a high-level perspective of the organisation’s threat landscape, enabling cybersecurity teams to assess risk, formulate strategies, and plan long-term.
  • Tactical threat intelligence: Focusing on threat actors’ tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), the tactical type of threat intelligence seeks to understand potential attacks and aids in building defence strategies and mitigating specific threats.
  • Operational threat intelligence: Taking a more targeted approach, operational threat intelligence provides real-time information crucial for responding to active threats. This enables tracking adversary movements and taking immediate action to thwart attacks.
  • Technical threat intelligence: This type targets specific clues or evidence of an attack to analyse and create a base for understanding how they work. Cybersecurity teams can scan for indicators of compromise, like reported IP addresses or phishing email content.

Each type of cyber threat intelligence serves a distinct purpose in enhancing an organisation’s cybersecurity posture by providing different levels of insights into threats, enabling organisations to proactively defend against cyberattacks.

Threat Intelligence Lifecycle

A threat intelligence lifecycle is a systematic process that enables organisations to gather, analyse, and use information about potential cyber threats. The six-step process ensures a structured approach towards understanding and mitigating cyber risks.

  • Direction: The initial phase involves setting clear objectives for the threat intelligence program. It’s crucial at this stage to define what specific threats the organisation aims to protect against based on its unique vulnerabilities and risk profile.
  • Collection: Following direction-setting, this phase entails gathering relevant data from a variety of sources such as logs, public databases, dark web forums, and industry reports. The effectiveness of cyber threat intelligence relies heavily on the breadth and depth of collected data since diverse sources can offer insights into different aspects of potential threats.
  • Processing: Once data is collected, it must be processed or transformed into a format that can be further analysed; this often involves sorting through vast amounts of information to identify what is pertinent versus irrelevant noise—thus converting raw data into something more manageable and meaningful.
  • Analysis: This step involves interpreting the processed data to provide context and actionable insights. Analysts examine the information against known threat behaviours, vulnerabilities, and attack patterns to discern potential threats from benign anomalies. The goal is to understand not only if a threat exists but also its nature, objectives, capabilities, and potential impact on the organisation.
  • Dissemination: Once analysis is complete, it’s essential to communicate these findings effectively across the organisation or relevant stakeholders in a legible format that prompts action. This entails translating complex cyber threat intelligence into practical advice or recommendations tailored for different organisational departments.
  • Feedback: Feedback ensures continuous improvement and relevance of threat intelligence efforts. By actively seeking input from end-users about how useful they found the provided intelligence, organisations can refine their approach based on real-world effectiveness rather than theoretical accuracy alone.

This lifecycle is indispensable to bolstering cybersecurity defences by transforming raw data into actionable intelligence.

Use Cases of Cyber Threat Intelligence

Threat intelligence plays a crucial role in cybersecurity by providing valuable insights into potential threats and attackers. Here are some different use cases of threat intelligence:

  • Incident response enhancement: This approach speeds up incident response by using threat intelligence to make alerts more informative, automate reactions, and sort tasks by priority. It helps teams respond faster and more effectively to threats.
  • Proactive threat monitoring: This method identifies potential threats early by setting up systems that automatically spot unusual activities. It uses threat data to rank indicators of compromise and stop attacks before they happen.
  • Vulnerability management: This involves sorting security weaknesses according to the risk they pose, informed by current threat intelligence. Doing so allows organisations to fix critical vulnerabilities first, boosting their defence posture.
  • Threat intelligence sharing: Encourages a two-way exchange of information about cyber threats. This practice increases understanding among different entities, fostering cooperation and strengthening collective defences against cyber-attacks.
  • Security technology enrichment: Enhances existing security solutions by incorporating real-time threat data. This enables smarter decision-making, improves detection of malicious activity, and makes security processes more efficient.
  • Strategic decision-making: Cyber threat intelligence informs key organisational policies and investments. Cybersecurity teams can allocate resources wisely and prepare for future challenges based on an in-depth understanding of the evolving digital dangers.

These use cases demonstrate the diverse applications of threat intelligence in enhancing cybersecurity posture, from incident response acceleration to proactive threat monitoring.

Why Is Cyber Threat Intelligence Important?

Cyber threat intelligence is a vital aspect of cybersecurity, providing valuable insights and actionable information to enhance security posture and protect against cyber threats effectively. Here are some of the fundamental ways that underscore its importance:

  • Improved security posture: Threat intelligence empowers cybersecurity teams to proactively identify, understand, and prioritise potential threats, vulnerabilities, and attack techniques. By leveraging timely and accurate intelligence, organisations can allocate resources effectively, strengthen defences, and respond swiftly to emerging threats.
  • Threat hunting: Threat intelligence is essential for proactive threat hunting, allowing organisations to expose unnoticed compromises and prevent attacks targeting their data and systems. It enables teams to evaluate potential risks comprehensively, assign appropriate risk scores, and make informed decisions about resource allocation and targeted risk mitigation strategies.
  • Reduced risks and costs: Cyber threat intelligence helps organisations identify new vulnerabilities as they emerge, reducing the risk of data loss or operational disruptions. By avoiding data breaches through effective threat intelligence systems, organisations can save significant costs associated with legal fees, fines, and post-incident reinstatement expenses.
  • Informed governance: For stakeholders and executives, threat intelligence offers a broader perspective on the cybersecurity landscape, enabling them to comprehend the potential impact of threats on business objectives. It provides critical contextual information about tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) of threat actors, empowering decision-makers to invest wisely, mitigate risks, and make faster decisions.
  • Continuous improvement: Threat intelligence is an iterative process that involves continuous improvement based on feedback from stakeholders to enhance incident response capabilities and stay ahead of evolving threats. It assists in monitoring suspicious activities like communication attempts from suspicious domains or IP addresses to prevent potential cyberattacks proactively.

Threat intelligence equips organisations with the necessary tools to understand threats better, respond effectively to incidents, and proactively protect their assets from cyber adversaries.

Emerging Threat Intelligence Solutions

Proofpoint’s Emerging Threat Intelligence solution is a comprehensive cyber threat intelligence service that provides organisations with timely and actionable insights to enhance their security posture. This industry-leading solution offers a complete range of features that enable security teams to stay ahead of evolving threats:

  • Real-time threat intelligence: The service provides accurate, up-to-date information on emerging threats, such as malware, botnets, and command and control servers.
  • Extensive threat coverage: Proofpoint’s intelligence covers a wide array of threat types, including malware families, exploit kits, and phishing campaigns.
  • Machine-readable threat intelligence (MRTI): The solution delivers in-depth threat data in formats that can be seamlessly integrated into existing security tools and workflows.
  • Customisable feeds: Organisations can tailor threat intelligence feeds to their specific needs and industry requirements.
  • Global threat visibility: Leveraging a vast network of sensors and honeypots, the service provides actionable insights into threats from around the world.
  • Threat analysis and context: In addition to raw data, the solution provides detailed analysis and context to help security teams understand and interpret the significance of emerging threats.

By incorporating advanced solutions like Emerging Threat Intelligence into your cybersecurity strategy, you can significantly bolster your threat detection capabilities, improve incident response times, and better protect your assets from increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks.

Cyber Threat Intelligence Tools

Cyber threat intelligence tools encompass a range of solutions designed to gather, analyse, and act upon information related to potential cyber threats. These tools can be classified into different categories based on their primary functions:

  • Strategic intelligence tools: These tools provide high-level insights into the overall threat landscape, aiding in decision-making at an executive level.
  • Tactical intelligence tools: These tools delve into specific threat actors, their tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), offering detailed information to support operational decisions.
  • Operational intelligence tools: These tools concentrate on identifying and responding to active threats and incidents in real-time, enabling swift and effective mitigation actions.

In addition to these specific categories, organisations often leverage broader technologies such as:

  • Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) systems: These platforms integrate threat intelligence feeds to enhance security monitoring, correlation, and alerting capabilities.
  • Vulnerability management software: These tools utilise threat intelligence to prioritise patching efforts and mitigate known vulnerabilities effectively.
  • Comprehensive threat feeds and databases: Aggregated threat data from various sources provide a rich source of information for analysis and decision-making.
  • Automation and machine learning solutions: These technologies play a crucial role in augmenting human analysis efforts to improve the speed and accuracy of threat detection and response processes.
  • AI-powered threat detection: Artificial intelligence tools can analyse vast amounts of data to identify patterns, anomalies, and potential threats in real-time, enabling proactive defence strategies.
  • Behavioural analytics: Also powered by AI, behavioural analytics tools can detect and respond to threats swiftly, helping organisations recognise and mitigate attacks before significant damage occurs.

A good SIEM uses AI and seamlessly integrates with other cybersecurity systems to collect and save data. Tools can run locally or in the cloud, but many organisations choose to work with cloud-based software to bypass the challenging installation and infrastructure configurations.

When searching for a threat intelligence platform, look for four main attributes:

  1. The ability to collect data and aggregate it from several different sources.
  2. The use of AI to provide numerical scoring or clear risk levels so that researchers can easily understand reporting and automated analysis.
  3. Integration into other cybersecurity systems to work with other data points and analysis tools.
  4. Helps with disseminating information but keeps sensitive data secure from attackers.

Threat intelligence platforms help IT and cybersecurity professionals with research. The right tool limits false positives to avoid spending resources chasing an inaccurate result. In addition, IT staff should regularly review the latest vulnerabilities and exploits reported on common software. With simple research, an organisation can patch software and stop threats before they turn into a critical data breach.

How Proofpoint Can Help

Equipping organisations with advanced threat intelligence solutions is at the core of Proofpoint’s cybersecurity arsenal. Proofpoint provides several products and services that support organisations, including:

  • Emerging Threat Intelligence: This advanced product solution delivers deep threat intelligence and context, actionable IP and domain reputation feeds for identifying suspicious and malicious activity, easy integration with security tools like SIEMs and threat intelligence platforms (TIPs), and compatibility with Splunk technology add-on.
  • Proofpoint Threat Intelligence Services: Offers comprehensive, analyst-curated intelligence with actionable recommendations, personalised exchanges with analysts, and tailored intelligence specific to organisational needs.
  • Targeted Attack Protection (TAP): This product is designed to detect, mitigate, and block advanced threats that target people through email. TAP helps detect both known and never-before-seen email attacks, including polymorphic malware, weaponized documents, credential phishing, and other advanced threats. It also incorporates insights from Proofpoint Emerging Threat Intelligence.

These Proofpoint products empower organisations to make better security decisions faster by providing timely and accurate cyber threat intelligence, actionable insights, tailored analyses, and integration capabilities with existing security tools. To learn more, contact Proofpoint.

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