5 Ways to Become a Better Cyber-Threat Exterminator

Tactical threat intelligence feeds directly into security operations and helps tighten existing security controls and improve incident response times.

Mike Wilkes, Chief Information Security Officer, SecurityScorecard

September 30, 2021

4 Min Read
Digital bug
Source: the lightwriter via Alamy Stock Photo

Tactical threat intelligence is a business lens into the potential cyber threats that may affect organizations and is viewed in the context of network strengths, vulnerabilities, and defense mechanisms. Tactical threat intelligence (TTI) sheds light on the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) used by digital criminals to give businesses visibility into their current vulnerabilities and allows them to better implement strategies against threat actors. 

Proper implementation of TTI prepares businesses to combat network weaknesses and address potential threats before an attack is attempted. With added intelligence and visibility, organizations can focus on the next steps within their organization's recovery and response plan.

It's impossible for an analyst to effectively sift through every potential threat indicator before one is actually attempted or weaponized by threat actors. There simply aren't enough cybersecurity analysts to go around. Tactical threat intelligence feeds directly into a business's security operations and tightens up existing security controls, improves incident response times, and can be used to inform investment decisions. Failure to implement TTI can result in system failures, theft of sensitive data, or even network blackouts that wipe data, costing businesses millions of dollars to recover as well as reputational damage.

While integrating TTI into your organization is the first step toward gaining control over network security, it will never be sufficient unless you properly categorize, analyze, and leverage these insights to improve your overall security posture.

Take, for example, the exterminator, because that's what we are as information security officers: cyber-threat exterminators. Spraying random compounds around the exterior of a house to kill bugs will never prove successful if you don't know what areas pose the most threat or even what type of bug you're trying to fight off. Businesses must be willing to optimize their efforts by digging through potential threats and leaning into new strategies to effectively protect their networks and digital assets.

Here are five ways to incorporate effective cyber-threat extermination for your business.

Establish a Formal Intelligence Program
A formal intelligence program will ensure information is being imprinted into the structures of future security plans. Gathering information without being able to properly identify how these findings affect your business isn't sustainable and won't solve the issue at hand. Why would exterminators spray for mosquitos if they hadn't seen signs of their infestation beforehand? Exactly — it wouldn't make sense. Devise a program with knowledgeable staff that allows tactical intelligence to be consumed, processed, analyzed, and delivered to ensure business security remains up-to-date and resilient to known breach vectors.

Structure Data into Entities and Events
Converting data into actionable insights is the ultimate goal of the threat intelligence process. We begin by structuring data into entities and events. Events categorize behaviors that happened at a particular point in time and place (seeing a dead bug or hearing buzzing), while entities categorize the available identifiers of threat actors and malicious groups (wasps, murder hornets, termites) for the events that took place. A consistent methodology for recording events and entities helps structure data, extract relevant information, and provide visibility into network trends and observations of threat actor behaviors. STIX/TAXII are standard formats to use for this task.

Prioritize Alerts
Often, the broad reach of threat intelligence can be time-consuming to analyze and difficult to prioritize. Some threats will have an outsized potential impact than others. Classifying events and entities into their respective threat levels and likelihood of impact helps organize prioritization efforts so that when a group of high-priority events or entities have been flagged as actively probing your defenses, analysts know to take action there first.

Improve Incident Response and Vulnerability Management
TTI should serve as a guide for businesses' existing security controls and risk management frameworks, improving incident response, and enabling educated decision-making when threats are detected. The number of threats posed to a business increases almost exponentially every year. In order to efficiently sift through the abundance of risk indicators and vulnerabilities, teams need to implement proper vulnerability management, prioritizing key weaknesses based on their level of risk. This may include patching weekly instead of monthly or the implementation of security tools that safeguard the network perimeter or privileged user accounts.

Use Predictive Models
Predictive models that leverage historic data and risk classification can assist in deciphering the potential for future risks. Entomologists will submit springtime reports to news networks that cover their pest predictions for the season ahead. From threat relevance to effective mitigation measures, understanding the complexities and likelihood of risk can help security teams work to dismantle future incursions and attacks.

Too often, TTI is consumed but not processed, resulting in a continuous spiral of old habits and repetitive results. The mere collection of threat intelligence data is not sufficient and might satisfy a compliance or audit checkbox, but it delivers little real security improvement or risk mitigation. Before firing up new processes on data threat feeds, establish a data-driven security strategy and risk-based approach, then develop a comprehensive plan that leverages TTI to generate beneficial results, quantifiable outcomes, and lead with a one-step-ahead-of-threats mentality for the win.

About the Author(s)

Mike Wilkes

Chief Information Security Officer, SecurityScorecard

Mike Wilkes is the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) at SecurityScorecard. Wilkes is responsible for developing enterprise-wide security programs to protect corporate systems as well as growing and extending the SecurityScorecard platform to customers, executives, and boards of directors. Before joining SecurityScorecard, he was the VP, Information Security at ASCAP and the Director of Information Security, Enterprise Architecture, and DevOps teams for Marvel Entertainment.

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