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How to Operationalize Cyber Threat Intelligence

The problem with threat intelligence isn’t that it’s hard to find. It’s not that there isn’t enough of it out there. And it’s certainly not that it doesn’t matter – at least 95% of CISOs agree that it’s a priority.
In fact, the problems with threat intelligence are quite the opposite. Most of the time, there’s just too much of it to know where to begin. And as is often the case in cybersecurity, finding that starting point can be the highest barrier of all.

Cybersecurity Threat Intelligence (CTI): Why Does It Matter?

Cyber threat intelligence is a powerful research tool that security teams, analysts, and threat hunters leverage to measurably improve their security standing. By operationalizing cyber threat intel to investigate and prepare for incoming threats, security teams gain peace of mind knowing they can stay a step ahead of adversaries in today’s threat landscape.

But if they don’t know how to leverage that powerful data to drive action, what good does threat intel do them?

To effectively operationalize cyber threat intelligence, cybersecurity professionals need to understand what it is, how to use it, which threats to prioritize, and the critical role CTI plays within their organization. 

What is Cyber Threat Intelligence (CTI)?

Cybersecurity threat intelligence (CTI) is the information that analysts and threat hunters gather and analyze to assess their security standing. Threat intel provides organizations with valuable insights into the motivations, techniques, tactics, procedures, and telltale signs of threat actors.
Analysts collect threat intelligence data from a variety of sources, including:
  • Internal network logs
  • External threat intelligence feeds (from both paid and free sources)
  • Social media
  • Dark web forums 
  • And more

This data is then analyzed to prioritize the most pressing threats. 

Enacting a threat-informed defense strategy helps security teams leverage threat intel proactively, tracking down the adversary before they even get past your defenses. 

Related Resource: Find out how to leverage threat-informed defense in our webinar replay, “Demystifying the Tradecraft of Threat-Informed Defense.”

Benefits of Cyber Threat Intelligence

There are several benefits to operationalizing cyber threat intelligence across the entire security operations life cycle.

PREPARE: Cyber Threat Intelligence Strengthens Risk Management

Organizations can more effectively manage and measure cybersecurity risks by leveraging CTI to prioritize security investments and allocate resources. CTI is a helpful tool in understanding threat actor motivations and their thought process in carrying out attacks.

With a more comprehensive view of how emergent threats stack up against their security landscape, organizations can focus their efforts on the most pressing threats and vulnerabilities, reducing their overall risk profile.

PREVENT: Cyber Threat Intelligence Enhances Visibility

CTI provides organizations with greater visibility into potential cyber threats, including the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) used by threat actors. With a greater view of the threat landscape, organizations are theoretically better positioned to proactively prioritize and respond to incoming threats.

DETECT: Cyber Threat Intelligence Improves Threat Detection

CTI enables organizations to detect threats earlier so they can take proactive measures to prevent or mitigate the impact of a cyberattack. Researching threats on the horizon or threats already impacting other businesses / industries can help security teams direct their attention and efforts towards what might lie ahead. When security teams get ahead of the threat, they can prevent them from being exploited by threat actors.

RESPOND: Cyber Threat Intelligence Leads to Stronger and Swifter Incident Response

CTI plays a critical role in incident response by providing organizations with real-time information about potential threats and threat actors’ tactics. This enables organizations to respond more quickly and effectively to cyber incidents, minimizing the impact on their operations and reputation.

Additionally, threat intelligence can be illuminating for stakeholders and decision makers such as CISOs and SOC managers, as well as their advisors. Mission-critical decisions can be informed by prominent trends and concerns outlined in threat intel data.

Challenges to Operationalizing Cyber Threat Intelligence

Cyber threat intelligence is indispensable to a security team’s threat management strategy. So why do so many organizations struggle to find value in CTI?

CTI CHALLENGE #1: Threat Intelligence Lacks Context

The information a security team can glean from threat intelligence is vast – but that’s only if analysts know what it is they’re looking at. A lot of the time, threat intelligence can look like heaps of data without any context…and without that context, it’s incredibly difficult to tell whether something is a threat.

For example, threat intelligence may tell a security analyst that a certain indicator is associated with a certain threat actor. But whether that threat actor poses any pressing danger to their individual organization relies on the security landscape and environment in which they’re operating.

CTI CHALLENGE #2: Teams Don't Know How to Prioritize Incoming Threats

Even when security analysts do have the context they need, they don’t necessarily know where to start.

The volume of incoming threats can easily surpass 500 a day For many organizations, at that rate, even putting their top 10 threats into perspective is an immense challenge.

CTI CHALLENGE #3: Teams Don't Have Enough Resources

When it’s finally time to put threat intelligence into action by threat hunting, building detections, or otherwise fortifying security defenses, it takes more than the knowledge teams gain from threat intelligence. It takes time and people – time and people that many teams just don’t have.
In the midst of a massive talent shortage, security leaders don’t have the manpower to fill advanced roles such as threat hunters or senior analysts to turn threat intelligence into threat defense.

SnapAttack’s threat intelligence library, IOC hunter, and TTP hunter help you get left-of-boom and break the kill chain earlier.
Try it out in the free Community edition of our platform.

How Organizations Can Operationalize CTI

Organizations utilize cyber threat intelligence to improve their cybersecurity posture in a variety of ways.

STEP 1: Understand Your Security Environment

Organizations utilize cyber threat intelligence to improve their cybersecurity posture in a variety of ways. Some of the key applications of CTI include:

STEP 2: Define Cyber Threat Intelligence Goals

When you know where threat actors have the greatest chance of hurting you, you can start to set goals for your threat intelligence usage. When setting these goals, it’s important to think about them in the context of your organization’s needs.
  • What are you trying to accomplish in your research?
  • Where are you most vulnerable?
  • What kinds of attacks have been the most threatening or damaging in the past?
  • And what kinds of threat actor behaviors is your network most susceptible to?

Setting these goals can help you prioritize in the vast sea of threat intelligence.

STEP 3: Define Threat Intelligence Roles and Responsibilities

Threat intelligence has different uses for those in different roles. For example, a security analyst will use threat intelligence differently than a CISO. That said, it’s important that each team member knows what their role is when it comes to operationalizing threat intelligence.
Some examples of how different team members may use threat intelligence are:

CISOs may use threat intelligence to define business goals, request threat defense budgets, and communicate with shareholders.

  • Threat hunters may use threat intelligence to direct their hunts and guide their research.
  • Detection engineers may look into threat intelligence when assessing an organization’s detection needs

And so on.

STEP 4: Tailor Threat Intelligence Feeds

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with threat intelligence – there’s a plethora of information from several different sources, and if you don’t know where to focus, data can pile up quickly. Based on your organization’s needs and plans for cyber threat intelligence, you can tailor your CTI feeds.

Automation can assist with this, as organizations can filter the threat intelligence feeds they’re analyzing to only include those that will impact their organization. CTI vendors and platforms can also provide the structure organizations need when conducting threat intel research.

Operationalizing Threat Intelligence Across Teams

Again, various roles have different responsibilities when it comes to operationalizing threat intelligence.

Threat Hunters: Use Threat Intelligence in Cyber Threat Hunting

CTI is a key component to an organization’s proactive threat hunting strategy. It can be used to guide security teams towards the threats that pose the greatest risk to their organization to proactively identify and respond to them.

Threat hunters analyze network logs and other data sources to identify suspicious activity and investigate potential threats before they result in a cyberattack.

Vulnerability Management: Leverage CTI as Part of Vulnerability Management

Following the identification of new vulnerabilities and potential exploits, organizations can leverage cyber threat intelligence to proactively patch or mitigate them before they are exploited by threat actors.

Incident Response Teams: CTI and Incident Response

Well-rounded CTI supports more rapid response to identified threat activity which saves security teams time, money, and effort. When security teams can respond to incidents more quickly, they minimize the damage to their operations, reputation, and relationships.

Beyond Internal Teams: Threat Intelligence Sharing

CTI can be shared across organizations and industries to improve their overall cybersecurity posture. The sharing of threat intelligence, especially via established networks such as ISACs and ISAOs, fosters collaboration on threat identification and mitigation, thus improving the security of the entire community.

Conclusion: Make Cyber Threat Intelligence Actionable

It’s easy for security teams to get overwhelmed by cyber threat intelligence – especially when they don’t have the context or clarity to operationalize the vast sea of data they’re looking at. But once they can align their needs, priorities, and threat intelligence feeds in the same direction, cyber threat intelligence becomes a powerful, indispensable tool to security teams of any size or maturity level.

SnapAttack is the only comprehensive solution in the market that combines threat intelligence, detection engineering, adversary emulation, purple teaming, and threat hunting into a single, easy-to-use platform that enables you to use your existing technology more effectively and streamline collaboration across teams.

Ready to start operationalizing your threat intel with SnapAttack? 
Book a demo today to see how you can finally answer the question, “Are we protected?” with confidence.

Streamlining the Threat Detection Development Lifecycle with SnapAttackGet even more guidance on how to operationalize CTI with speed and at scale in our free eBook:
Streamlining the Threat Detection Development Lifecycle.