Ever wanted to be a spy? With such a great deal of espionage operations happening online, gathering threat intelligence might feel like being a modern-day James Bond.
Think about cyber threat intelligence as having a spy network working to protect your business online. It's all about gathering information on potential cyber threats — understanding how bad actors operate, what areas of business they might target, and what tools they use. Companies cannot effectively defend themselves from cyberattacks without well-researched, reliable data. With threat intelligence, businesses can stay one step ahead of cybercriminals, know what to look out for, and have a clear understanding of how to protect their assets.
A brief history of threat intelligence and its role in cybersecurity
Without cyber threat intelligence, a company is “blind and deaf.” It would not be an exaggeration to say that it is an essential part of cybersecurity. However, its shape and role in cybersecurity have changed over the years as a result of the internet's evolution and the growth of worldwide interconnectivity. New cyber threats arise daily, making security experts develop innovative defensive strategies and tactics.
Initially, companies focused solely on basic security measures such as IP and URL blacklists and antivirus solutions. However, with the spread of malware, worms, and viruses in the early 2000s, they found themselves in need of more sophisticated threat detection and response capabilities. As cyber criminals got smarter and more organized, it became evident that security experts needed to collaborate and share information. Consequently, the President of the United States established the Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC), a non-profit organization dedicated to facilitating the sharing of threat intelligence within specific industries.
In the 2010s, the rise of data automation and the emergence of Threat Intelligence Platforms (TIPs) resulted in organizations having the right tools to manage and analyze large volumes of data. These platforms are technological solutions that can manage data collected from multiple sources and presented in various formats.
Later on, TIPs were integrated into Security Operations Centers (SOCs), providing security analysts with a unified interface for accessing and utilizing cyber threat intelligence seamlessly in a company’s day-to-day operations. Threat Intelligence Platforms also became an integral part of Incident Response (IR) processes, delivering actionable scenarios for managing and mitigating the impact of a security incident on an organization. This integration made the response to cybercrime faster and more efficient.
Nowadays, the role of machine learning and AI in cyber threat intelligence grows stronger every day, helping to analyze and predict cyber threats. We can also see a shift in the cybersecurity objectives — from threat detection to cyber resilience, focusing on the business's ability to recover quickly from cyberattacks. Fortunately, throughout the years of the digital revolution, the cybersecurity community has recognized the importance of collaboration, data sharing, and the integration of threat intelligence into the overall cybersecurity strategy.
Threat Intelligence Lifecycle
Gathering threat intelligence is a complicated process that involves collecting, processing, and analyzing large volumes of data. The outcome of this process should focus on vulnerabilities specific to your organization. It should be detailed and contextual and, last but not least, be actionable.
Let’s examine the six phases of the threat intelligence lifecycle:
The direction phase is a crucial part of the process: you cannot perform a secret service operation without specifying its objectives. Therefore, you should follow in the footsteps of the character played by Jodie Foster in the 4th season of “True Detective” and ask questions such as:
Who are the attackers?
What motivates them?
Which data assets and business processes need to be protected?
Protection of which aspects of the organization is our priority?
What happens if we fail to protect them?
What types of threat intelligence do we need to protect the company’s assets and respond to emerging dangers?
After setting goals and objectives, we can move to the next phase: data collection. The security team gathers raw data from various sources, including open-source intelligence (OSINT), commercial feeds, internal logs, and information shared within the cybersecurity community. At this stage, it’s important to validate our sources of information and the accuracy of collected data. This will allow us to avoid missing severe cyber threats or being misled by false positives.
Remember that nowadays, threat analysis relies on processing huge volumes of data, which is automated and requires data to be standardized and formatted. When our collected data are compatible, we can identify relationships and connections between different pieces of information to better understand the cyber threat landscape.
Threat intelligence analysis is a human process that turns processed information into actionable intelligence, enabling data-driven decision-making. The analysis should prioritize risks, resulting in the creation of a threat management roadmap. It should also provide a context for collected threat intelligence by understanding the motives, capabilities, and tactics of cybercriminals. What’s important here is to present threat analysis in a way that decision-makers will easily understand.
Dissemination is a crucial part of threat intelligence management. Analyzed data must be transformed into actionable intelligence reports, alerts, or indicators of compromise (IOCs) that the security team can use to strengthen the company’s defense system. Then, those should be shared with relevant teams and decision-makers within the organization and, in some cases, with trusted external partners.
Threat intelligence management and effectiveness must be evaluated. Did the intelligence have the impact you expected? Did it improve the company’s safety? What went wrong in the entire process? Answering those questions helps your business move forward and improve its threat intelligence program.
Four types of threat intelligence
We need to understand the types of threat intelligence to fully grasp its impact on overall business cybersecurity. Usually, cyber threat intelligence is divided into four categories, ranging from high-level information to specific technical details about cyber threats.
Strategic threat intelligence is non-technical information focused on understanding the broader context of cyber threats. It may come in the form of reports describing hackers’ motives and capabilities, geopolitical influences, or industry-specific risks. Usually, this type of threat intelligence is presented to high-level stakeholders, e.g. the board of directors.
This type of threat intelligence includes information that can be used by security experts to make data-driven decisions and actively defend the organization. Tactic intelligence is more detailed than strategic. For example, it may describe cybercriminals' tools, attack avoidance tactics, or weak points in the company's security infrastructure.
It provides real-time information on specific threats, ongoing crime operations, and emerging attack patterns. This type of intelligence enables the company to respond to specific cyberattacks immediately; it can also help mitigate the damage made by hackers.
Technical threat intelligence may come in the form of evidence that an attack is happening or specific indicators of compromise (IOCs). Ideally, it’s provided in real-time before the hackers can cause any significant damage. Examples of tactical cyber threat intelligence include phishing emails detected by AI tools or real-time data breach notifications sent by an advanced enterprise password manager.
How NordPass can help protect organizations
A country needs all kinds of security measures to protect its citizens: the border guard, the police, an army, and special agents. It can be safe only if all parties work together. The same rule applies to keeping your business safe. It requires all types of threat intelligence — every single one of them is an important part of the cybersecurity landscape. They are interconnected, and only together can they provide comprehensive defense against cybercrime. Even the best strategic plans won’t stand a chance if the company fails to recognize data breaches in real-time.
Luckily, there are tools available that can make gathering technical threat intelligence easier and more efficient. The NordPass built-in Data Breach Scanner automatically scans leaked databases and compares them with information stored in your and your employees’ password manager vaults. It generates password breach reports with detailed information about data leaks that have affected your company. Most importantly, it notifies you or your security team in real time about every new breach so you can act and protect your company immediately. Give it a try, and don’t let cyber threats slip through your company’s defense anymore!