Ransomware criminals are masters of their trade. They deploy a wide variety of techniques to infiltrate targeted systems and exfiltrate valuable data. Threat actors are located all over the world, and it can often seem impossible to keep track of emerging threats.
Intelligence is a necessity
Much like any field of technology, threat actors are constantly evolving and improving. Armed with new and sophisticated intrusion methods, adversaries continue to successfully find their way into customer environments. This is why the importance of continuous proactive threat hunting cannot be overstated. Today, as ransomware becomes more and more prevalent, it's vital to stay one step ahead of the criminals.
Threat intelligence is derived from data that is collected, processed, and analyzed to understand threat actors’ motives, targets and attack behaviors. Comprehensive threat intelligence enables organizations to make faster, more informed, data-backed security decisions and enables a proactive stance in the fight against threat actors. The best threat intelligence databases are armed with cloud-scale telemetry of upward of a trillion endpoint-related events collected per day and have detailed information on the more than 160 active adversary groups. Databases like this, coupled with an active global analyst team, provide an unparalleled ability to see and stop the most sophisticated threats — leaving adversaries with nowhere to hide.
Some companies can perform threat intelligence on their own, but, in most cases, only larger corporations have the people power for this. The best threat intelligence solutions should be able to provide the highest level of protection, whether managed by the company’s own security team or by the provider’s own experts, adding value to the team without draining their time and resources.
Top to bottom benefits
Threat intelligence benefits businesses of all shapes and sizes from top to bottom. It sheds light on the unknown and reveals adversarial motives and tactics, enabling security teams to make better decisions. It also helps security professionals to understand the threat actor's decision-making process better and empowers business stakeholders, such as executive boards, CISOs, CIOs and CTOs; to understand the risks the organization faces, what the options are to address their impact, how to invest wisely and mitigate risk and generally, become more efficient.
For SMBs, threat intelligence can help achieve a level of protection that would otherwise be difficult to replicate internally due to limited time and resources. Large enterprises with large security teams can also benefit and reduce their costs by outsourcing the data processing to external threat intel groups and making their analysts more effective.
The threat intelligence lifecycle
Threat intelligence research has tracked a 60% increase in interactive intrusion activity in the past year, including multiple campaigns from China and consistent levels of threat activity attributed to North Korea. The only way any of this was possible was through a well-oiled threat intelligence lifecycle process that helped guide cybersecurity teams through the development and execution of an effective threat intelligence program.
The most effective programs will first set out a roadmap for a specific threat intelligence operation. This involves defining the goals and methodologies of their intelligence program based on the needs of the business. The team may set out to discover: who the attackers are and their motivations, what is the attack vector, and what specific actions should be taken to strengthen defenses against a future attack.
Once the requirements are defined, the threat intelligence team collects information from traffic logs, publicly available data sources, relevant forums and social media. This raw data is then processed into a suitable format and the expert analysis begins. Here, the threat hunters begin conducting a thorough analysis to find answers to the questions posed in the requirements phase. During the analysis phase, the team also works to decipher the dataset into digestible action items and valuable recommendations for the business. The cycle then enters a feedback loop to encourage continuous improvement to understand the attackers better, respond faster to incidents, and proactively get ahead of a threat actor's next move.
Not all threat intelligence is equal
There are three different levels of threat intelligence. Each tier provides intel ranging from information such as a straightforward malicious domain name to a complex, in-depth profile of a known threat actor. Companies that stick to this basic level of threat intelligence are missing out on real advantages that could significantly strengthen their security postures. With each level, the context and analysis become deeper and more sophisticated and cater to different audiences.
The most basic level is known as tactical threat intelligence. This is the most accessible type of intelligence to generate and is usually automated using AI models. However, it often has an incredibly short lifespan because indicators of attack such as malicious IPs or domain names can become obsolete in days or even hours.
Operational threat intelligence is the second level. Here, human threat hunters will analyze not only who or what the attackers are, but they also begin to delve into the how and the why. This often involves human analysis to convert data into a readily usable format by customers. Operational intelligence has a longer useful life because adversaries can't change their tactics, techniques and procedures as quickly as they can alter their tools.
The last and most challenging level of threat intelligence to acquire is Strategic intelligence. This requires human data collection and analysis that demands an intimate understanding of both cybersecurity and the nuances of the world's geopolitical situation. Strategic intelligence shows how global events, foreign policies, and other long-term local and international movements can potentially impact an organization's cyber security.
Threat intelligence is one of the most valuable security investments an organization can make. The most proficient threat investigators will specifically tailor the investigation process to your organization and combine automation with real human expertise. This team of experts will uncover unique threats, provide groundbreaking research and deliver proactive intelligence that can help dramatically improve your security posture and help you get ahead of attackers now and in the future.