The Importance of Cyber Threat Intelligence in Improving Security Effectiveness

CTI not only reduces the risk of costly security breaches but it also helps organizations align security spending with their requirements. Here’s how.

Dark Reading Staff, Dark Reading

August 31, 2020

4 Min Read

Unknown adversaries have seemingly limitless resources, putting pressure on security leaders to continually assess every aspect of their security program. People, processes, and technologies must be reviewed to ensure each critical component is optimized to combat modern attackers. But without comprehensive cyber threat intelligence (CTI), this can feel like a firefighting effort rather than a prevention effort.

CTI is an essential capability in an organization’s security program. When used properly, CTI can enable better-informed security and business decisions, and ultimately allow organizations to take decisive action to protect their users, data and reputation against adversaries. Unfortunately, the term 'threat intelligence' is used broadly and inconsistently, seemingly encompassing things that it is not, causing confusion for the cyber security community.

Information vs. Intelligence
Simplification and misuse of the term 'cyber threat intelligence' can make it difficult for security leaders to evaluate the wide range of options available for increasing security effectiveness. At best, an organization receives true intelligence, which facilitates proactive, effective decisions. At worst, they receive information that in its raw state is not actionable.

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Retrospective Analysis: Threat Information Offers Limited Value
Threat information is typically delivered via data feeds and can be categorized as:

  • Signature and reputation feeds: Providing a stream of malware signatures, file hashes, FQDN, IP, URL reputation data and intrusion indicators, sometimes supplemented with basic statistics

  • Threat feeds: Data streams that may provide a basic level of human analysis, including statistical breakdowns of the prevalence, source and targets of malware and other attack activities.

Both types of data feeds have some value. Signature and reputation feeds improve the effectiveness of next-generation firewalls, intrusion prevention systems, secure web gateways, anti-malware and antispam packages, and other blocking technologies. Threat feeds help security operations center (SOC) and incident response teams identify patterns associated with attacks, rather than simply isolated indicators. The information they provide can also increase a team's understanding of how to remediate compromised systems.

One of the main limitations with data feeds is that they use information gleaned from attacks that have already happened. They can help block mass-scale known attacks, but they often miss new or targeted attacks for which no signature exists. This type of retrospective analysis doesn’t say much about when actors are preparing to attack or any new tactics they may employ. Without this context, an organization may receive thousands of alerts a day, making it difficult for security teams to respond to the alerts that matter. The resulting effect is that businesses are left in a predominantly reactive state.

Proactive and Prepared: The Value of Comprehensive Cyber Threat Intelligence
CTI often includes signature, reputation and threat data feeds, but goes beyond them in almost every way. Typical activities involve:

  • Constant human and technical information gathering on a global scale

  • The provision of adversary-focused and forward looking rich contextual data

  • Customization for individual organizations

Comprehensive CTI allows proactive organizations to prepare themselves for tomorrow’s adversaries and threats, rather than reacting to yesterday’s news stories. Here are some of the benefits of cyber threat intelligence:

  • Valuable insight and context: Detailing information on what threats are most likely to affect an organization or industry, and indicators to help prevent and detect more attacks.

  • Improved incident response times: Prioritizing alerts, which enables an organization to respond faster to real threats and reduce the risk of serious breach consequences.

  • Improved communication, planning and investment: Security teams can communicate real risks to the business and focus on protecting high-risk targets from actual threats via additional security investment and planning.

CTI not only reduces the risk of costly security breaches but it also helps organizations align security spending with their requirements.

Reviewing the Options
True CTI helps an organization improve its security posture by providing context around the threats that matter. It is important for organizations to recognize the pros and cons of each available option to ensure the respective risks and rewards are understood before a purchasing decision is made.

Signature, reputation, and threat data feeds can make blocking technologies more effective. However the information provided is based on historical events and will not provide enough information to identify new or targeted attacks. Comprehensive CTI fuses a diverse set of technical and human-derived data sources into intelligence that is actionable across strategic, operational and technical risk management levels.

To learn more about the hallmarks of CTI, download our eBook, The Value of Context, which offers an overview of the importance of a true cyber threat intelligence capability, and visit our Intel page to learn more about improving security posture.

About the Author: Jeff Guilfoyle, Principal Product Manager, Technical Intelligence Integrations, Mandiant Threat Intelligence
Jeff Guilfoyle serves as principal product manager of technical integrated solutions for Mandiant Threat Intelligence, responsible for development of the product, its market and its differentiation. Prior to this role, Jeff held senior technical leadership, operations leadership, solutions architecture, and sales engineering roles for FireEye and other organizations, including Solutionary (now NTT Security USA Inc.), Symantec Corp., West Corporation, and EMC Corporation.




About the Author(s)

Dark Reading Staff

Dark Reading

Dark Reading is a leading cybersecurity media site.

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