Threat intelligence offers a unique approach to cybersecurity in the 21st century. It provides visibility and helps eliminate blind spots across the threat landscape. Cyber professionals still have to wear their “detective” hats to pull together insights, but they now have a better map to use.
You’ll be able to observe cybercriminals and understand their attack strategies with this clear understanding of their capabilities. That’s the opportunity, but you may not be getting the full value of threat intelligence in your organization. Its outcomes range, with some businesses heralding it while others feel overwhelmed by it.
In this post, we’ll review what threat intelligence is, its current impact, and what it all means to your cyber team.
What Is Threat Intelligence?
Threat intelligence describes the activities of collecting, processing, and analyzing data to understand a cyber criminal’s motives, targets, and attack behaviors. It should empower an organization to make quicker, more informed, data-driven security decisions. It can also help change your position to be more proactive than reactive.
There are three areas of threat intelligence:
- Tactical: This segment focuses on malware analysis and enrichment and examines threat indicators around your cyber defenses.
- Operational: This category covers understanding the capabilities, infrastructure, and techniques of threat actors and leveraging them to conduct more targeted cyber operations.
- Strategic: This classification involves a high-level understanding of trends and motives and then using it to improve your strategy and decision-making.
Why Does Threat Intelligence Matter?
Cyberattacks are constant and unrelenting. They are always in a state of growth and flux, with new attack methods springing up every day. Your good guys are constantly at war with hackers, and threat intelligence gives you an edge.
It can play an essential role in cybersecurity, including:
- Offering information on the unknown, which much of the cyber landscape is, to support better decisions
- Empowering cyber stakeholders to uncover the motives of threat actors and the tactics, techniques, and procedures they use
- Ensuring cyber professionals are aware of the perspective and motivations behind hacker decision-making
- Providing essential information to the business side of a company, so they invest in cybersecurity and mitigate risk
When you use threat intelligence, you can tailor your defenses, which builds cyber resilience. While many see its value, it’s not as easy to realize it. Most cyber teams are still at the basic level, such as integrating data feeds related to threats into existing networks, firewalls, IPS (intrusion prevention systems), and SIEM (security information and event management).
What do those using it actually experience?
How Are Organizations Using Threat Intelligence?
In a recent cyber risk survey, professionals had differing views of threat intelligence. Many stated it’s a significant support for cyber resilience, enabling them to be more proactive. Its other positive reviews include its ability to deliver insights and visibility. It allows greater awareness of the mind of a hacker, enabling cyber professionals to know what to look for in the threat landscape.
This sentiment wasn’t echoed by everyone. Other companies said it overwhelmed their team with all the alerts. Some also indicated that it produced failures in managing third-party risk.
Overall, a thread throughout respondents was that adapting is key to outmaneuvering threat actors. This approach requires several things, including:
- Automating some parts of threat detection
- Collecting more data about threats for human analysis
- Investing in tools and technology to support threat intelligence and integrating them into the enterprise
- Improving the soft skills of cyber professionals so they can effectively communicate the intelligence and act on it
These varied viewpoints put into focus where the opportunities and challenges are.
The Opportunities and Challenges of Threat Intelligence
In evaluating the current use cases and value of threat intelligence, you have to account for the possibilities and the problems. Let’s look at those:
How You Use Data Determines Its Value
Most threat intelligence data comes from internal network traffic, not external sources like the dark web. As a result, its value often aligns with two areas of cybersecurity — improving incident response and internal awareness.
Those are critical areas of your strategy and demonstrate the ability to be proactive. Enhancing your plans for reacting to threats fits in this category. The actual response is not, so the benefit is being more prepared.
With internal awareness, you are using the data to predict where threat actors will attack. How your technical folks use it could be the problem. In general terms, those in the field lack awareness of themselves and others. They have narrow perspectives and think in ones and zeros. The most technically adept cyber professional can still falter here because they aren’t adapting their mindset to align with what hackers are doing right now. Thus, you have to help them develop awareness for this intelligence to be actionable.
Automating Threat Intelligence Reduces Manual Work, But Human Analysis Is Still Necessary
There are lots of great systems that can automate threat detection and respond to it. It’s an early warning tool that puts less strain on your team, which may already be short-staffed. These tools are helpful and practical, but you still need human intelligence for analysis and improvement of strategies.
This is going to require communication and collaboration inside your team and with other parties. For the analysis to be valuable, people have to think critically and creatively about the threat landscape. It’s not just a technical assessment of the information.
Threat Intelligence Offers a Better Way to Update Your Playbook
The policies, protocols, and strategies of cybersecurity reside in your playbook. It’s a fluid document that evolves as threats and risks do. What you learn from threat intelligence has a big impact on this playbook.
When your playbook goes through these updates, you also have to change the behavior of your people in relation to them. Change is hard for anyone or any organization. It may be even more difficult for technical folks. They like to keep things the same because it’s comfortable and gives them a better sense of control. Mindsets like these don’t help you manage risks and threats, so more development needs to happen in your people to align with what you get from threat intelligence.
In reviewing these components, you can see that threat intelligence is more than data, monitoring, and analysis. The human element is critical for it to really move your cyber operations forward. Developing specific attributes and abilities in the realm of people skills is just as necessary as implementing tools and technology.
As a result of this complex ecosystem, you can improve on the people part with the Secure Methodology™. It’s a seven-step program I developed to help cyber leaders do just that.
Threat Intelligence and the Secure Methodology
Having more data and information in cybersecurity doesn’t automatically mean it’s usable, practical, or seen as valuable. Technical people don’t deny data and its insights, but they can overlook them based on their own biases and fears. The Secure Methodology offers a way to overcome those. Here’s a quick introduction to the seven steps, which are the central theme in my book, The Smartest Person in the Room:
- Awareness: I mentioned awareness earlier and its importance in threat intelligence. It’s where the Secure Methodology begins, with the objective of opening people up to new perspectives, including those of cybercriminals. You can do this by coaching your people in a personalized way by understanding their motivations.
- Mindset: Next is mindset, which is also very critical. You want to assist people in expanding their mindset from one that’s fixed to one that’s growing. Your people have to break outside of the black-and-white thinking that doesn’t allow for new ideas. The Secure Methodology offers exercises on reflection and accountability to foster this shift.
- Acknowledgment: In this phase, you must rethink how you acknowledge the work of your team (or start if you don’t do it at all). When you do this outwardly in response to how someone took intelligence and made a difference, it demonstrates to everyone that this is a means to an end. It also builds rapport and trust.
- Communication: Transforming technical people into better communicators isn’t easy, but it is always necessary. Open and transparent communication regarding threat intelligence is essential for it to be usable to deter hackers and thwart attacks.
- Monotasking: We are an industry of multitasking, but it’s not always a great way to be productive. Instead, encourage team members that while they are assessing threat intelligence, they should do only that and not be distracted, which triggers more critical thinking.
- Empathy: Step six refers to others being able to put themselves in the place of others. It aligns with all the stages before it and is crucial in deciphering and acting on threat intelligence. Your people have to think like hackers.
- Kaizen: The final stage is a Japanese term that translates to “continuous improvement.” It’s a step that never ends because cybersecurity will always need to evolve, and threat intelligence is a key driver for continuous adaptation.
By applying the Secure Methodology, your organization can derive more value from threat intelligence, leading to better defenses. Get started today by reading my book and exploring the Secure Methodology course.