What is Threat Intelligence and Why is it Important?14 Nov, 20235 min
Today's interconnected and technology-driven world is continually challenged by an ever-evolving landscape of threats. From sophisticated hackers to emerging attack methods, businesses face a constant battle to protect their digital assets. In this era of digital warfare, one invaluable tool has emerged as a beacon of defence: Threat Intelligence.
Threat intelligence, often referred to as 'threat intel' or 'cyber threat intelligence,' represents the culmination of knowledge, data, and information about existing or emerging threats that can potentially target and harm a business.
Cyber threat intelligence (CTI) is a multidimensional resource that sheds light on the identity and motivations of cyber attackers and unveils their methods and preferred targets. Essentially, it equips businesses with a proactive and strategic approach to cyber security.
In this guide, we'll delve deep into the world of threat intelligence, exploring what it is, the various stages of its lifecycle and different types before highlighting why cyber threat intelligence is important and the benefits of CTI. In an era of escalating digital threats, cyber threat intelligence is not merely important but a fundamental necessity for any company looking to fortify its defences and safeguard its digital future.
Below is a preview of what to expect in this guide:
- What is threat intelligence in cyber security?
- Defining each stage of the threat intelligence lifecycle
- What are the different types of threat intelligence?
- Why is cyber threat intelligence important?
What is threat intelligence in cyber security?
As mentioned, otherwise referred to as ‘threat intel,’ ‘cyber security threat intelligence,’ or ‘cyber threat intelligence,’ threat intelligence is the collation of knowledge, data and information about existing or emerging threats that could potentially target and harm a business. This data can include information about the cyber hackers, their motives, attack methods, and targets.
Threat intelligence is a valuable addition to any business working in the digital and tech landscape. Cyber security specialists can analyse the data collated by threat intelligence processes to uncover patterns relating to cyber-attacks, allowing them to pinpoint the likelihood of an attack occurring and how to prevent it. Threat intel can help organisations inform security decisions, such as deploying new security controls, prioritising remediation efforts, and detecting and responding to attacks.
Cyber threat intelligence follows a lifecycle that typically consists of six stages. These stages outline the processes of collating raw data and transforming it into finalised intelligence that can be used by a business to better their cyber security posture and understanding of the threats they face. Every organisation will have their own stance on the various stages of the threat intelligence lifecycle. However, as mentioned, the lifecycle of threat intelligence often follows the following steps:
We’ll outline each stage of the threat intelligence lifecycle within this piece. The threat intelligence lifecycle
Additionally, cyber threat intelligence can be divided into four types based on its intended audience, i.e., the stakeholders involved and the technical and non-technical details of the specific attack required. The different types of threat intelligence:
Later in this guide, we’ll uncover the different types of threat intelligence.
There are many benefits of cyber threat intelligence, from it being a proactive threat detection and prevention solution to supporting businesses with their incident responses and overall security awareness, amongst other benefits that we’ll explore later in this guide. Ultimately, any company aiming to boost its protection from cyber threats should consider threat intelligence an essential tool.
Now we’ve highlighted what threat intelligence in cyber security is, let’s define each stage of the threat intelligence lifecycle.
Defining each stage of the threat intelligence lifecycle
As we briefly touched upon, a cyber threat intelligence framework is followed by organisations to gather raw data and turn it into intelligence that can benefit their approach to cyber security. The threat intelligence lifecycle tends to follow a six-phase process for collecting, processing, analysing, disseminating, and using threat intelligence. These six stages include the following:
The first stage of the threat intelligence lifecycle involves identifying the particular requirements of a specific threat intelligence project. Also referred to as the ‘planning’ phase, this opening step sees the cyber security team map out the goals and objectives of the threat intelligence operation. Taking the needs of the specific stakeholders into consideration, the cyber security department may aim to uncover the following requirements:
- Who the cyber attacker is
- What are the attacker's motivations and objectives?
- What is the attack surface - what are the ways an attacker can gain unauthorised access to your data?
- What would be the impact of an attack?
- What steps can be taken to prevent the attack?
Once the cyber security team has identified the requirements, the second phase of the cyber threat intelligence framework is to collect threat intelligence from various sources. These sources can include data from internal logs, commercial threat intelligence feeds, open-source intelligence sources, social media, publicly available information from the internet and government agencies.
The third stage of a typical cyber threat intelligence lifecycle is to process the collected raw data to make it usable for analysis. Processing involves:
- Coordinating the data into spreadsheets
- Reviewing the information to determine its relevancy and reliability
- Translating the data if it has come from foreign sources and decrypting encrypted files
Next on the list of stages of the threat intelligence lifecycle is for the cyber security team to analyse the processed data thoroughly. During this phase of the cyber threat intelligence framework, the team are tasked with answering the questions outlined in the requirements stage. Here, they will assemble the data into actionable points and translate it into valuable recommendations that the stakeholders will understand.
The fifth stage of the threat intelligence lifecycle is for the cyber security team to disseminate the analysed threat intelligence to the appropriate stakeholders within the business. Dissemination can be done through reports, dashboards, presentations and other channels where the analysed data can be communicated to the stakeholders effectively.
The last stage of the threat intelligence lifecycle is to garner feedback from the stakeholders on the threat intelligence that has been disseminated. This feedback could be anything relating to the requirements chosen through to the way the data was presented. The ultimate goal of the feedback phase is to improve the cyber threat intelligence framework for future operations and ensure the organisation receives the most relevant and valuable intelligence possible.
After defining each stage of the threat intelligence lifecycle, it makes the most sense to introduce you to the different types of threat intelligence. Scroll to find out more.
What are the different types of threat intelligence?
Cyber security threat intelligence can be broken down into four categories. These four types of threat intelligence offer varying levels of technical and non-technical details about specific attacks outlined by the security team and the other stakeholders involved in the threat intelligence operations.
So, what are the different types of threat intelligence? Let’s explore each one below:
This type of threat intelligence provides a high-level overview of a business's threat landscape regarding geographic, political, and organisational trends. It delivers broad trends and non-technical context surrounding cyber threats posed on the business. Strategic threat intelligence is typically presented to key decision-makers within a business, such as C-level executives. It ultimately identifies how vulnerable the company is to cyber-attacks and if new security tools are needed.
The next type is operational threat intelligence. This intelligence is obtained by analysing human behaviour, threat teams, and real-world activities and events that lead to cyber-attacks. It can be challenging to collate as the information comes directly from sources like the attackers, social media, and chat rooms. Operational threat intelligence helps cyber security professionals respond to when a planned attack will happen and what the specific threat will be.
Another type of cyber threat intelligence, known as tactical, offers information about how threats are being conducted and combated. It provides details on attack vectors, the infrastructures and tools attackers use, and the types of technologies and organisations being targeted. Cyber security specialists use tactical threat intelligence to support their avoidance strategies whilst helping a business understand how likely they are to be a target for different types of attacks.
Finally, technical threat intelligence is information based on precise evidence of an occurring attack or indicators of compromise (IOCs) - information indication an IT infrastructure has been breached. It covers specific details of the tools, resources and ‘indicators’ used by an attacker, be it IP addresses, phishing emails and the types of domains used. This type of threat intelligence allows for immediate responses to the specific threat.
Each type of threat intelligence provides varying aspects of understanding an organisation's vulnerabilities regarding cyber threats. Having an understanding of all four types of threat intelligence allows cyber security professionals to target threats at varying stages of their lifecycle and provide insights to all stakeholders involved in a company's security, from technical to non-technical employees.
Why is cyber threat intelligence important?
Cyber threat intelligence can be immensely important to your business, especially if you’re seeking strategic solutions to boost your cyber security team. As cyber attackers become increasingly more sophisticated, threat intelligence can help reduce the risk of cyber attacks, improve your security posture, and help your team respond to incidents more effectively.
CTI can provide your business with valuable insight into the latest threats, the attackers behind them, and their specific methods. With this information, you can make more informed decisions regarding the allocation of your cyber security resources whilst also giving your wider teams the reassurance your organisation is fully protected and free to operate at optimal levels.
We've highlighted five benefits of cyber threat intelligence to punctuate its importance and the value it can bring to your business. These benefits consist of how it allows for collaborative knowledge, minimises the risks of cyber threats, enhances your team's efficiencies, provides a deeper analysis of various threats and can be a cost-effective solution for your organisation.
1. Cyber threat intelligence allows for collaborative knowledge
In this fast-paced and tech-driven modern world, ensuring your business remains up-to-date with the latest cyber threats and vulnerabilities is always challenging. CTI is one way of keeping updated with the evolving cyber threat landscape, as it allows organisations across various industries to collaborate their knowledge of the latest attacks.
Through non-profit companies, known as information-sharing communities (ISCs), collaborative security platforms, and threat intelligence feeds, businesses can share their experience of an attack they experienced or heard about. From when, how and why it happened to the steps taken to combat or prevent it, this collaborative knowledge can give you valuable insight to keep your business secure from potential threats.
2. Threat intelligence minimises the risks of cyber threats
Next on our list of benefits of cyber threat intelligence is how it can minimise the risk of threats on your business. Investing in your cyber security team and giving them the resources to invest in threat intelligence will ultimately increase your visibility of the various threats your company could become vulnerable to and the emerging attack methods used to gain unauthorised access to IT infrastructures.
Cyber threat intelligence can provide you with this knowledge, boosting your security team’s ability to develop strategies to counter these potential threats and minimise the chances of your business being vulnerable to an attack. An attack that could leave your data exposed to unwanted parties and results in severe financial damages and reputational harm that prevents your company from running its usual operations.
3. Enhances the efficiencies of your cyber security team
Incorporating threat intelligence into your business can also enhance the efficiency of your cyber security team. There are many iterations of threat intelligence solutions your security experts can use to identify the various threats and implement measures to combat them sufficiently. Often, these solutions come with automated features, such as artificial intelligence (AI), that can collate and validate raw data without the need for manual work.
Although they cannot and should not replace your cyber security team, they can enhance it. Instead of manually checking and monitoring security alerts within your IT infrastructure, which can often be tiresome and lead to burnout, your team can lean on automated systems to assist them.
AI and automated threat intelligence solutions can reduce the need to monitor threat alerts manually, allowing your team to focus on defence strategies and be there when the automated systems pick up an attack. Automated solutions can also reduce your cyber security team’s response times and the number of false alarms that fatigued employees can sometimes mistakenly report.
Additionally, as we alluded, this will allow your staff across the wider business to work more efficiently. Why? Because they will have the peace of mind that they can work in a secure environment that is as free from cyber threats as possible.
4. It provides you with a deeper analysis of various cyber threats
Another one of the top benefits of cyber threat intelligence is that it can provide a deeper analysis of the various threats that have the potential to severely damage your business. As we've alluded to, CTI can offer a broad range of information regarding previous attacks and the events leading up to a future threat. This analysis could delve into aspects such as the tactics, strategies, and actions taken by cyber hackers to infiltrate your IT infrastructure.
With this deeper analysis and insight into the various threats your business could be a victim to, your current and future cyber security specialists will better understand a hacker's mindset. Your IT security experts can use this analysis to forecast and predict the timing of an attack, the methods that could be used to gain unauthorised access and the impact the cyber threat could have on the organisation.
Utilising this deeper analysis will allow you to take more measured steps to defend your business more effectively and efficiently. Ultimately, it can enhance your cyber security posture and equip your IT team with the insight that can be used to overcome future attacks and prevent your infrastructure from emerging vulnerabilities.
5. Cyber threat intelligence can be a cost-effective solution
Our final point in our benefits of cyber threat intelligence and to emphasise the importance of CTI is how it can be a cost-effective solution for your business. According to IBM Security, in the UK alone, the average cost of a data breach to a business is £3.2m. Therefore, to help minimise the risk of your company falling victim to the financial damages of a cyber threat, investing in CTI and your cyber security team makes justifiable sense.
Supported by your cyber security experts, CTI can ensure your defences are the best in the industry. It can help you predict when threats could occur and prevent them from causing severe harm. It’s not just data breaches and attacks that could be costly to your business. If your company has no proper CTI measures in place, this could be a concern for your internal team, clients, and customers. They could avoid partnering with your brand because of this, thus seeing you lose out financially.
The money you could lose by failing to recruit the top cyber security professionals who can implement threat intelligence into your business is not worth losing. It could, ultimately, set your business back to the point of no return. Thankfully, there is a solution. That solution is to invest in your cyber security team and CTI as a long-term, cost-effective solution.
The final word on the importance of cyber threat intelligence
Cyber threat intelligence in cyber security is a critical asset for businesses in today's digital landscape. To summarise, CTI involves the collection, processing, analysis, dissemination, and feedback of data and information about potential threats. This information is immensely valuable for helping businesses understand a cyber attacker's motives, methods, and targets.
Moreover, we delved into the fact cyber threat intelligence can be categorised into four types: strategic, tactical, operational, and technical. Each type caters to various stakeholders and provides a comprehensive view of the threat landscape. These proactive approaches to threat detection and prevention are hugely important and offer several key benefits.
CTI can empower your businesses to make informed decisions, reduce the risk of cyber attacks, improve security defences, and respond to incidents more effectively. Other benefits of cyber threat intelligence also include:
- Collaborative knowledge sharing through information-sharing communities
- Minimising the risk of cyber threats
- Enhancing the efficiency of cyber security teams through automation
- Providing deeper analysis of potential threats
- Serving as a cost-effective solution to protect against financial and reputational damages
Investing in cyber threat intelligence shouldn’t just be a choice but an essential strategy for safeguarding your organisation's data, reputation, and operational continuity. In a world where cyber attackers continually evolve their tactics, whether considering outsourcing cyber security services or expanding your team in-house, cyber threat intelligence should be high on your agenda.
Get in touch with a cyber security recruiter today!
Having gained insight into the importance of cyber threat intelligence and its benefits for protecting your business from potential attacks, you may now be contemplating the next steps in hiring cyber security specialists who can keep your IT infrastructure secure and ensure the resiliency of your brand. Fortunately, you don’t have to navigate this path on your own. We can help.
Our seasoned team of cyber security recruitment specialists is ready to assist you in connecting with the top professionals who can seamlessly integrate the advantages of CTI into your organisation.
Get in touch with one of our experts today, and let's explore how we can propel your business closer to reaping the rewards of cyber threat intelligence.