Threat intelligence, often referred to as cyber threat intelligence or simply threat intel, is the result of analyzing data with the goal of providing consumable information to enrich the understanding of security risk.


Data points collected from multiple sources are organized to assist security professionals. Threat intelligence helps teams build a proactive stance towards cyber threats by taking into consideration the possible motivations and capabilities of attackers, and giving a picture of the risks involved that is broader than any single organization can harvest.


The intelligence feed is often customized to focus on the unique vulnerabilities and assets of the organization in question, thereby offering a tailored defense strategy.

How it works?

How Threat Intelligence works

Threat intelligence is knowledge rooted in evidence that offers context, mechanisms, indicators, implications, and actionable guidance for current or emerging threats to an organization’s assets. It can guide decision-making on threat response, allowing security teams to prioritize vulnerabilities, evaluate cybersecurity tools, and implement remediation.

In essence, threat intelligence pinpoints indicators of compromise (IoCs), tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) used by bad actors. These signals help organizations detect and defeat cyber-attacks as soon as possible. This reduces time to detection, minimizing the potential impact of a breach. 

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Implemented correctly, threat intelligence gives organizations the tools needed to defeat future attacks by reinforcing security measures through network and cloud security tools.


The core of threat intelligence is built around understanding the cybersecurity landscape, keeping an eye on emerging forms of malware, zero-day exploits, phishing attacks, and other cybersecurity concerns. 

Why is Cyber Threat Intelligence crucial?



In cybersecurity, the dynamic between attackers and defenders is a lot like a chess game; both parties are continuously strategizing to outwit each other. Threat actors search for new avenues of attack; defenders do their best to block attacks, and both side iterate and adapt their tactics with each round. Identifying a way to move above this ongoing struggle is the best reason for an organization to invest in advanced cyber threat intelligence.


Baseline defense mechanisms like firewalls and intrusion prevention systems (IPS) are important, but, in essence, they are passive in nature. As part of an active security regime, threat intelligence is focused on defeating attacks, which include advanced persistent threats (APTs). 


APTs are performed by sophisticated malicious actors looking to undertake system intrusion for data theft, espionage, and even system disruption or destruction over a prolonged period which can culminate in ransomware after useful data has been exfiltrated. An in-depth understanding of APT strategies provides benefits when structuring an effective defense.


A more active approach to cybersecurity is using threat intelligence so that security teams do not operate in the dark. Threat intelligence brings to light not only the motives but also the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) that adversaries behind APTs might use.


Finally, IT departments can leverage threat intelligence as a tool to expand conversations about risk with stakeholders such as executive boards and CTOs. They can be armed to take threat insights and use them for strategic decisions best aligned with the company’s risk tolerance.

The Lifecycle of Threat Intelligence



Threat intelligence is an iterative process composed of approximately six main stages. During these stages, cybersecurity experts take raw data and put it into context, transforming data into insights and advice.


The term “lifecycle,” borrowed from biology, is used because the stages are ongoing and loop back on themselves.


1. Planning

This foundational stage involves defining the intelligence requirements. Often, they are framed as questions to understand the specific threats relevant to the organization. Security analysts collaborate with stakeholders, such as executives and department heads, to define these requirements. This is also when prioritization of intelligence objectives occurs, based on various factors - impact, time sensitivity, alignment with organizational values, etc.


2. Threat Data Collection

Raw data is essential for an accurate threat intelligence process, and it can come from various channels. The feeds used for data collection are both open-source and commercial, offering everything from real-time updates on IoCs to in-depth analyses of real-world attacks. Other sources for data collection are internal logs, for instance, Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) systems or specialized insights from Industry-specific Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs).


3. Processing

The main objective of this phase is to aggregate and standardize the collected raw data making it more easily usable. Security analysts employ specialized threat intel tools, many of which are equipped with artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify patterns in the data. Metadata is added, which helps in future analyses and tracking. In this stage, the cybersecurity teams remove recognized false positives for better accuracy of the data set.


4. Analysis

This phase is the most important for providing insights with a primary focus on converting processed data into actionable threat intelligence. Security analysts work with established frameworks like MITRE ATT&CK and a broad set of knowledge bases built on real-world observations of tactics and techniques used by adversaries.


Through testing, verification, and interpretation of data patterns, analysts discover potential vulnerabilities and tactics used by specific cybercriminal groups. Tailored to the audience, results of the analysis are delivered in formats ranging from concise threat lists or detailed, peer-reviewed reports.


5. Dissemination

Findings from the previous phase are shared with relevant stakeholders, including the security teams and top management of an organization. Actions resulting from this stage may include updates to SIEM detection rules or blocking of suspicious IP addresses. For efficiency, information is delivered through specialized software that integrates with security intelligence systems like SOAR (Security Orchestration, Automation, and Response) and XDR (Extended Detection and Response).


6. Feedback

The lifecycle ends with an evaluation of or reflection on the previous stages with the aim of raising any new questions or exposing unrecognized gaps. Feedback conclusions are incorporated in the next cycle, completing the loop to iteratively improve the entire process over the long term.


Types of Threat Intelligence



Cyber threat intelligence (CTI) offers a broad range of capabilities, from tactical and operational to more strategic use cases.


Tactical Threat Intelligence

Tactical threat intelligence is geared towards a more technical audience - from security operations center (SOC) staff, and incident responders, to security experts. Tactical threat intelligence is usually available in a machine-readable format. It is easily integrated into various threat intelligence tools and platforms through APIs and programmatic threat intelligence feeds.


The data points leveraged to detect malicious activities are called Indicators of Compromise (IOCs) and are key elements of this type of threat intelligence delivery. IOCs include IP addresses linked to known threats, malicious domain names, and file hashes that are identified as harmful.


These indicators evolved very quickly, so it is important to have a source which is constantly updating.


Because it provides immediate, actionable data without long-term analysis or broad insights, tactical threat intelligence complements operational and strategic intelligence. When an organization relies on only tactical threat intelligence, there is an increased risk of false positives – i.e., instances where benign activities are incorrectly flagged as malicious.


Uses and Examples of Tactical Cyber Threat Intelligence (CTI)

· Threat Feeds: Continuous streams of data providing information about potential threats.

· Real-Time Alerts: Immediate notifications informing organizations of active threats in their environment.

· Automated Malware Analysis: Automated processes examining malicious software to understand its function and threat level.


Operational Threat Intelligence

Operational threat intelligence is all about the context. It assembles insights about cyberattacks to identify essential questions about adversarial campaigns and operations. The focus is on Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs), as well as the intent and timing of attacks.


Obtaining information is not a straightforward process, as various sources are employed - from chat rooms, social media, and antivirus logs, to records from past attacks. The challenges of this approach are the result of malicious actors often using encryption, ambiguous or coded language, and private chat rooms. Data mining and machine learning are often used to process large volumes of data, but to produce a definitive analysis, the information must be contextualized by experts.


Operational threat intelligence, leveraged in Security Operations Centers (SOCs), enriches cybersecurity methodologies such as vulnerability management, threat monitoring, incident response, and so on, with operational threat intelligence.


Uses and Examples of Operational Cyber Threat Intelligence (CTI)

· Actor Profiling: Understanding and categorizing cyber adversaries based on their tactics, techniques, and procedures.

· Patch Prioritization: Determining which software vulnerabilities to address first based on threat intelligence.

· Incident Response: Actions taken to handle and mitigate threats once they’re detected. 


Strategic Threat Intelligence

Strategic threat intelligence translates complex and detailed information into a language which stakeholders including board members, executives, and senior decision makers can action upon. Outputs of strategic threat intelligence may include presentations, organization-wide risk reports, and comparisons of past, present, and future risk within an organization and compared to industry standards and best practices. Identifying gaps in compliance is a fundamental driver of strategic threat intelligence.


While summarized in reports, this type of threat intelligence delivery must also encompass extensive analysis of local and global trends, emerging cyber risks, and even geopolitical factors. Strategic threat intelligence offers is an essential part of long-term planning, risk management, and broad policy decisions. Strategic threat intelligence is integral to long-term strategic planning to guide organizations in aligning cybersecurity strategies with business objectives.


Uses and Examples of Strategic Cyber Threat Intelligence (CTI)

· Insider Threat: Developing comprehensive strategies to identify and address threats that originate from within the organization through methods such as analyzing behavioral patterns and access logs.

· Deception Operations: Designing and implementing deception strategies to mislead and track potential attackers, revealing their techniques and intentions without compromising real assets.

· Resource Allocation: Determining how to best allocate resources for cybersecurity based on the threat landscape, investing in new security technologies, hiring specialized personnel, or allocating funds towards employee training programs.


Best Practices for CTI Implementation: Questions to Ask



Incorporating threat intel into your organization's overall cybersecurity strategy will shift defenses to be more proactive as you stay one step ahead of possible breaches. The adoption process is more strategic than just tool selection, requiring the internal teams to cooperate for effective threat intelligence implementation.


·       How does CTI (Cyber Threat Intelligence) integrate with my company's revenue objectives? 

The right CTI approach directly protects your revenue sources and processes by keeping critical systems safe, maintaining customer trust, and ensuring your business runs smoothly without interruption. Ensure the right balance between your CTI investment and the needed level of protection.


·       What is an actionable insight? 

An actionable insight from CTI provides clear, immediate steps that a security or operations team can take to improve the company's defenses. It is important to clearly define and work as much as possible with this type of insight because they lead to stronger security, and reduced costs from potential breaches.


·       How can I best integrate threat intelligence with my existing systems? 

Integrating CTI with your existing systems helps you leverage the strength of your current security infrastructure, enhancing capabilities with minimal additional investment. For example, through automation of manual processes, your team is freed from routine tasks and capable of a faster response to threats. Threat intel integration should help your existing team do more, faster, and more accurately, increase ROI. 


·       How can I improve my threat intel in the long run? 

To enhance your threat intelligence over time, select a CTI solution that aligns with your unique needs. Look for systems that offer adaptable feedback mechanisms, allowing for continuous refinement and advancement. Find cybersecurity partners that help you implement a CTI system that not only fits with your current operations but also evolves with them, bringing long-term improvement and value.

What are some Other Effective Tools and Techniques for Threat Intelligence?




Apart from the three main categories of cyber threat intelligence described above—tactical, operational, and strategic—it is worth mentioning other tools and techniques used for threat intelligence that you should be aware of during the implementation process:


  • ·        Threat Intelligence Platforms (TIPs):  Central hubs like TIPs are essential for consolidating, enriching, and analyzing threat data from multiple sources in real time. For practical applications, consider platforms that offer trial periods or demos, allowing your team to assess their compatibility with your existing systems. A platform such as Bitdefender's Advanced Threat Intelligence (ATI) offers a glimpse into this with IntelliZone, providing data from a vast network of sensors and a technology licensing ecosystem.


  • ·       Security Intelligence:  This broader approach integrates external and internal data to paint a comprehensive picture of your threat landscape. Start by conducting internal audits to identify data sources that can enrich your security intelligence and integrate them with the external threat data.


  • ·       Open-Source Threat Intelligence:  Leveraging public data can uncover trends and patterns at little to no cost. Begin with trusted forums and databases like the ones provided by CERT divisions or the information shared by trusted cybersecurity organizations. For those starting out, look for a well-regarded open-source threat intelligence starter guide or online course that can walk you through the process of collecting and analyzing public data. Ensure each piece of intel is verified through cross-referencing with other credible sources to maintain data integrity.


Each of these tools and techniques requires careful consideration and a strategic approach to integration. Tailor them to fit your specific security needs and objectives, and don’t hesitate to seek expert consultation to maximize their effectiveness.

How can I start implementing cyber threat intelligence in my organization?

Implementing a threat intelligence solution into your organization’s security infrastructure is an important strategic step that requires careful planning and consideration.

Choose a professional cybersecurity threat intelligence solution that best suits your needs and preferences. It is highly recommended to involve the organization’s IT teams and cybersecurity professionals in the process.

Are there any risks associated with cyber threat intelligence?

No, there are no inherent risks, but there are potential issues of which you need to be aware. These can appear as the result of poor planning or resource misallocation.

Organizations need to understand the potential for information overload.

Without proper filtering and analysis mechanisms, the occurrence of false positives and negatives could waste valuable resources. Investing in high-quality cyber threat intelligence using a layered and automated approach that mixes high-quality external solutions and strategic in-house resources – including continuous team enablement – is essential for achieving success.

What is technical cyber threat intelligence?

Technical cyber threat intelligence focuses on the tangible evidence of cyber threats. It is often regarded as a subset of operational threat intelligence but has an emphasis on direct evidence of threats.

This means it can also play a role in both tactical and operational intel. Technical cyber threat intelligence provides specific details about ongoing and potential attacks by identifying indicators of compromise (IOCs), including IP addresses associated with malicious activities, phishing email content, known malware samples, and deceptive URLs.