In this scenario, cybersecurity is the main tool to keep safe the confidentiality of the information, the integrity of processes, and the continuity of business. Cybersecurity presents several solutions that can be applied preventatively, reactively, or proactively. Behind all these activities is Cyber Threat Intelligence, a methodology that embeds the operations of gathering information about cyber criminals’ intentions and capabilities to breach security.
1. What is Cyber Threat Intelligence?
Cyber Threat Intelligence consists of the centralization of information from diversified sources related to cyber-attacks that affect or may affect an organization’s security. The number of sources involves both domestic systems and international bodies such as NIST and ENISA. Additional sources of relevant information are OSINT (Open-Source Intelligence) such as social networks, video games, and platforms in general where an active user involvement can be identified. OSINT sources are useful for analyzing online user behavior and understanding the actions taken by cyber criminals.
Threat Intelligence plays a key role in updating an organization’s security posture, which, through the daily work of cybersecurity managers, must be equipped to deal with cyber-attacks. Indeed, CTI is tasked with detecting and recognizing the latest attacks that have not yet been reported by industry bodies such as Zero-Day attacks, new malware, and Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs). The focus of this methodology is to constantly update data through real-time analysis of cyber-attacks and provide in-depth reports on their characteristics, and how to take action against them.
The importance of CTI also lies in its contribution to defensive structures such as Security Operation Centers (SOCs) and Incident Response Teams, which can benefit from the documentation produced after system and network log investigation activities. Indeed, thanks to these activities, it is possible to recognize the behavior of an attacker and prevent the success of a cyber-attack by assigning a correct Indicator of Compromise (IOC) and the magnitude of the attack.
2. Typologies of Cyber Threat Intelligence
Threat Intelligence consists of a set of strategies designed to acquire useful information about illicit activities and methodologies that can damage an organization’s digital infrastructure. Information gathering is done by the following principles that involve preliminary knowledge of the most underground cyber environments, among all the Dark Web, which often represent the privileged places where criminals meet and exchange information. The four approaches are commonly adopted and differ in scope and mode of communication.
Strategic Cyber Threat Intelligence
This is a method specifically designed to engage corporate decision-makers. This group typically lacks the technical expertise necessary for understanding specific cybersecurity considerations. At the same time, they are the ones who must allocate resources for the proper conduct of defense activities. is this methodology aims to make threats and the impact of risks understandable to C-Suite figures who do not have expertise in this area. This is done by producing reports and insights centered on data visualization.
Tactical Cyber Threat Intelligence
Focused on detecting the actions taken by cybercriminals: behaviors, techniques, and procedures. All elements that individually may be insignificant but, when put together, result in a highly threatening scenario. The recipients of this type of report are information security technicians, who benefit from this information to protect systems and data and who possess the skills necessary to decipher what is contained within it.
Technical Cyber Threat Intelligence
A type of approach focused on attack indicators. Specifically, technical threat intelligence takes as its main target social engineering attacks, studying their methodologies and shedding light on employee ignorance and carelessness. This macro category of elements includes phishing attacks, business e-mail compromise, and identity and credential theft. Therefore, the privileged recipients of this methodology are employees who, thanks to what has been identified and defined during the intelligence phase, can be educated about the knowledge needed to handle critical situations.
Operational Cyber Threat Intelligence
The keyword in this methodology is “operational“. The process involves the initial collection of data from disparate sources, from social to internal email to machine logs and the corporate network. It applies techniques such as Data Mining and Machine Learning to perform predictive analytics that is functional in creating a framework that can detect potential cyber-attacks based on historical data. It brings benefits in terms of infrastructure defense, efficiency, time savings, and automatic categorization of information.
The data analysis software provided by cybersecurity monitoring systems enables the processing of huge streams of data, structured and unstructured, easily overcoming even language barriers. Such tools are the bread and butter of SOCs and IRTs, which set their activities precisely on the baseline of operational threat intelligence. A concrete example is the configuration of controls such as firewall rules and automatic event detection, which are calibrated precisely on the baseline of information received from security data analysis.
3. The MITRE ATT&CK
The Cyber Threat Intelligence process has now become extremely widespread, and over the years, several frameworks have been devised to support the activities of SOCs and IRTs to execute it. The most important and widespread of all threat intelligence frameworks is the MITRE ATT&CK, which stands for Adversarial Tactics, Techniques, and Common Knowledge. This framework is not only used by SOC and IRT systems but also by consultants offering CTI services and solutions or within penetration testing.
For the execution of a fruitful Cyber Threat Intelligence process, it is necessary to equip oneself with a proper method because the study of data, information, and the production of reports must be carried out with order and organization. This is the goal of the MITRE ATT&CK framework, which churns out to its users a compendium of tactics, techniques, and behaviors commonly used by cybercriminals. This information is collected within special matrices characterized by simple and intuitive use.
MITRE has created three distinct matrices based on the type of technology support or time of the attack. The Enterprise matrix encapsulates all the techniques and tactics applicable to Windows, Linux, and macOS. The Mobile matrix contains tactics and techniques applicable to mobile devices, and finally, the Pre-Atta&ck matrix pulls together tactics and techniques related to the activities that malicious users implement before attempting to exploit a particular network or system.
MITRE-ATT&CK Matrix Example
MITRE ATT&CK is extremely useful for Cyber Threat Intelligence as it allows the collection and standardization of adversaries’ behaviors. Indeed, thanks to the techniques and tactics associated with the matrices, it is much easier to identify a malicious actor. In addition, to support detection, this tool can be useful in delving into the strengths and weaknesses of attackers. Just think that ATT&CK provides details on about seventy actors or groups, including tactics and tools they are wont to use. An additional benefit concerns the countermeasures commonly taken by SOCs, which are also recorded and shared.
The ATT&CK MITRE covers the entire Cyber Threat Intelligence process, from the study of malicious behavior to the recognition of attack and defense methodologies. Using this tool makes all the activities in the process easier
4. The Threat Intelligence Life Cycle
The implementation of a Cyber Threat Intelligence process requires the implementation of 6 main steps:
The 6 steps of the Cyber Threat Intelligence process
1. Goal setting and planning
The data collection phase involves a preliminary definition of what the objectives of threat intelligence are and planning how it should be implemented.
2. Data collection
Data collection is crucial in understanding threats and whether the system has been compromised. Therefore, data from sources as diverse as logs, database audits, firewalls, and files are needed. The data collection phase can be implemented either before a breach, to see if the infrastructure is under attack, or in the incident response phase.
During the processing step, all the raw data collected in the previous stage must be processed so that it is possible to skim the data cluster and reduce the effort to be expended in analyzing it. SIEMs and artificial intelligence are systems often used to distinguish relevant information from superfluous information.
Within this phase, a breach is ascertained. Using data analysis software such as SIEMs, experts can verify the infrastructure’s security posture and the tightness of its defenses.
This is a crucial phase in which the results of threat intelligence are disseminated inside and outside the organization. Based on the breaches found, the engineers in charge of resolving the issues and the relevant stakeholders are informed.
Goals and resolution schedules are set for the violation remediation phase. Feedback is needed to monitor the proper handling of critical issues and ensure the successful completion of activities.
What are the types of data that are collected to identify threats? Indicators of Compromise (IOCs) serve as a thermometer for the infrastructure because through their analysis it is possible to verify their tampering. There are essentially three pieces of data marked as IOCs: Domains and IP addresses, Email messages, and files stored on compromised devices. In the first case, suspicious traffic and continuous authentication attempts coming from the same IP address may underplay an attack attempt. Emails can be the gateway for malware, which is why boxes should be constantly monitored. Finally, compromised devices must be deeply scanned for breadcrumbs left behind by attackers.
External resources can also be exploited to verify the health of the infrastructure. Hacker communities and dark web marketplaces are dense with databases inherent in malicious IP addresses and domains that can be consulted to understand whether a company is the victim of an attack.
5. Benefits of Cyber Threat Intelligence
The benefits that make Threat Intelligence a highly reliable tool are many and have implications across business processes. Primarily, the benefits are related to risk, data, and costs:
- Risk reduction is not an insignificant benefit to organizations, because CTI allows them to nip new vulnerabilities and tactics in the bud by concretely reducing threats.
- With Threat Intelligence, the data of an organization are more secure. By monitoring suspicious domains and IP addresses, the system will be able to block access by malicious actors, reducing the danger of DDoS attacks typically used to flood the network with fake traffic and paralyze systems.
- Finally, cost reduction. Each Data breach brings significant harm in multiple aspects, among them the financial outlay required to fulfill legal fees, penalties, and systems restoration. Cyber Threat Intelligence helps keep the organization on alert and protect it from new and increasingly dangerous attacks.
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