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What is Cyber Threat Intelligence? [Beginner’s Guide]

What is Threat intelligence?

Threat intelligence is data that is collected, processed, and analyzed to understand a threat actor’s motives, targets, and attack behaviors. Threat intelligence enables us to make faster, more informed, data-backed security decisions and change their behavior from reactive to proactive in the fight against threat actors.

Why is Threat intelligence Important?

In the world of cybersecurity, advanced persistent threats (APTs ) and defenders are constantly trying to outmaneuver each other. Data on a threat actor’s next move is crucial to proactively tailoring your defenses and preempt future attacks.

Organizations are increasingly recognizing the value of Threat intelligence, with 72 percent planning to increase Threat intelligence spending in upcoming quarters.

Who Benefits from Threat intelligence?

Threat intelligence benefits organizations of all shapes and sizes by helping process threat data to better understand their attackers, respond faster to incidents, and proactively get ahead of a threat actor’s next move. For SMBs, this data helps them achieve a level of protection that would otherwise be out of reach. On the other hand, enterprises with large security teams can reduce the cost and required skills by leveraging external threat intel and make their analysts more effective.

From top to bottom, Threat intelligence offers unique advantages to every member of a security team, including:

Here’s how it can benefit each position, and the specific use cases that apply to each:

Threat intelligence lifecycle

The intelligence lifecycle is a process to transform raw data into finished intelligence for decision making and action. You will see many slightly different versions of the intelligence cycle in your research, but the goal is the same, to guide a cybersecurity team through the development and execution of an effective Threat intelligence program.

Let’s explore the 6 steps below.

1. Direction

The Direction stage is crucial to the Threat intelligence lifecycle because it sets the roadmap for a specific Threat intelligence operation. During this planning stage, the team will agree on the goals and methodology of their intelligence program based on the needs of the stakeholders involved. The team may set out to discover:

who the attackers are and their motivations

what is the attack surface

what specific actions should be taken to strengthen their defenses against a future attack

2. Collection

Once the requirements are defined, the team then sets out to collect the information required to satisfy those objectives.

Depending on the goals, the team will usually seek out traffic logs, publicly available data sources, relevant forums, SOCial media, and industry or subject matter experts.

3. Processing

After the raw data has been collected, it will have to be processed into a format suitable for Analysis. Most of the time, this entails organizing data points into spreadsheets, decrypting files, translating information from foreign sources, and evaluating the data for relevance and reliability.



Once the data set has been processed, the team must then conduct a thorough Analysis to find answers to the questions posed in the requirements phase. During the Analysis phase, the team also works to decipher the data set into action items and valuable recommendations for the stakeholders.

5. Dissemination

The Dissemination phase requires the Threat intelligence team to translate their Analysis into a digestible format and present the results to the stakeholders. How the Analysis is presented depends on the audience.

In most cases the recommendations should be presented concisely, without confusing technical jargon, either in a one-page report or a short slide deck.

6. Feedback

The final stage of the Threat intelligence lifecycle involves getting Feedback on the provided report to determine whether adjustments need to be made for future Threat intelligence operations. Stakeholders may have changes to their priorities, the cadence at which they wish to receive intelligence reports, or how data should be disseminated or presented.

Tactical Threat intelligence

Challenge: Organizations often only focus on singular threats Objective: Obtain a broader perspective of threats in order to combat the underlying problem Tactical intelligence is focused on the immediate future, is technical in nature, and identifies simple indicators of compromise (IOCs).

IOCs are things such as bad IP addresses, URLs, file hashes and known malicious domain names. It can be machine-readable, which means that security products can ingest it through feeds or API integration.

Operational Threat intelligence

Challenge: Threat actors favor techniques that are effective, opportunistic, and low-risk Objective: Engage in campaign tracking and actor profiling to gain a better understanding of the adversaries behind the attacks In the same way that poker players study each other’s quirks so they can predict their, opponents’ next move, cybersecurity professionals study their adversaries.

Behind every attack is a who, why, and how. The who is called attribution.

The why is called motivation or intent. The how is made up of the TTPs the threat actor employs. Together, these factors provide context, and context provides insight into how adversaries plan, conduct, and sustain campaigns and major operations. This insight is operational intelligence.