Cyber threat intelligence: what is it & why is it important?

In today’s world of digital threats, protecting your clients with software isn’t enough. Hackers are constantly innovating and creating new methods to infiltrate data networks. 

MSPs and system administrators must stay ahead of the curve and up-to-date on the latest threat actor TTPs. Let’s break down the fundamentals of cyber threat intelligence, a key tool in this area. 

What is cyber threat intelligence?

In the military, a good defense depends on reliable information about enemy assets, structures, and positions. In a sense, that’s what cyber threat intelligence is in the MSP world of cybersecurity. 

Members of cyber threat intelligence teams collect data on previous attacks within their system, recent attacks on other organizations’ systems, and emerging trends about new, innovative hacking methods. This cyber threat intelligence is synthesized, verified, then used to help prevent attacks from occurring. Good cyber threat intelligence not only prevents attacks from occurring in the present day, but will set you up to prevent future attacks on your clients’ systems as well.

Assembling this information aims to create a more targeted, proactive defense against cyber-attacks. Today’s threat actors are using sophisticated, targeted methods to attempt to infiltrate large data networks. Your team’s best counter is a targeted defense.

While compiling information on previous attacks is never a bad thing, the correct information needs to be processed through the proper procedure to be effective. Cybersecurity professionals have developed a trusted cycle for processing information to get the most out of your cyber threat team’s intel. 

To dive deeper into how cyber threat teams operate, be sure to check out related terms in the ConnectWise cybersecurity glossary.

How does cyber threat intelligence work?

Threat intelligence works by gathering information surrounding past, present, and future threats, then distilling it into a digestible format for everyone on your team. This is an integral part of the process, given all stakeholders in a digital attack may not be IT staffers or system administrators. As a result, they may not understand raw threat data or anything too technical.

Synthesizing this information allows cyber threat teams and non-tech stakeholders to gain a complete picture of the overall system, where it might be vulnerable, and what types of attacks to be prepared for. Being proactive and making sure everyone involved understands the potential threats minimizes the number of successful intrusions and reduces the damage of whatever intrusions may be successful. You will also decrease dwell time and downtime for your clients – two of the biggest causes of significant system and data damage.

For this type of threat protection to be successful for your team, everyone needs to be on the same page. Information needs to be gathered from a wide range of sources and put into a central report. To ensure this happens the same way every time, cyber threat teams rely on a process known as the threat intelligence cycle.

What is the threat intelligence cycle?

Cyber threat teams must go through a cycle of planning and execution in order to stop attacks before they do significant damage. These teams need to be agile and flexible, and they also need to constantly learn from previous threat events and recalibrate their procedures. The threat intelligence cycle is broken down into six distinct phases:

1. Direction

During this phase, threat teams assess how much damage a potential threat could cause. They’ll look at how many assets could be damaged, how much data could be corrupted, and the length of potential downtime. From there, they will determine what assets or data need protecting and what type and format of threat intelligence are necessary. Determining these factors is the foundation of sound threat intelligence. Getting this right is critical to starting the process on the right foot

2. Collection

Now, the threat team goes out and collects the cyber intelligence deemed necessary during the Direction phase. Analysts will scour sources like social media, network data, open-source intelligence (OSINT), and the dark web to understand what to expect from potential attacks.

3. Processing

The data collected in phase 2 comes in as a flood of raw data. Teams need to make sense of it and present it in an understandable format to act on potential threats quickly and effectively. Staying true to the important cybersecurity intelligence types and formats identified in phase 1 will help threat teams keep information organized during this phase.

4. Analysis & Production

Once the threat intelligence is in a digestible format, you’ll want to consider your client’s target security objectives. Your team members should use specific analysis techniques to decide if any behaviors within the system are suspicious or signs of a larger, coordinated attack effort. Analysts will then add elements of context to all intelligence items and prioritize them accordingly. At this point, all data collected can officially be considered “intelligence.”

5. Dissemination

Now that the cyber threat intelligence is complete and in an understandable format, it’s ready to be shared with the necessary stakeholders. This can be done via a data feed, report, or automated alert platform. This threat intelligence will be instrumental to the rest of the team in building priority lists, as well as proactive mitigation and protection plans. Cyber threat teams will also take automated remediation measures like takedown requests, defense hardening, and publishing attack indicators during this stage.

6. Feedback

This phase may be just as critical, if not more critical, than phase 1. After any threat event, it’s important to analyze what went right, what went wrong, and re-assess your client’s security goals. Ensuring your team received the right type of data, determining if the intelligence was actionable, and evaluating your current alert system are key areas where you can improve threat management for the next attack. Stopping to assess and collect feedback after every threat actor event is the best way to ensure a faster, more accurate future response.

Visit the ConnectWise library of online resources for a detailed look at cyber threat intelligence teams and how they process threat intelligence. You can contact us for additional questions about how to better structure your team or improve your threat intelligence protocols. 

Why is cyber threat intelligence important?

While it’s true that cyber threat intelligence is key to stopping current and future attacks, there are several other benefits for you and your clients. For starters, threat intelligence is cost-effective. 

Mastering the threat intelligence cycle allows cybersecurity teams to get out in front of threats. Catching intrusions while they’re still relatively new in your client’s system leads to minimal IT assets and data damage, mitigating financial loss.

Since analysts are constantly collecting and refining your intelligence, you’ll also experience a more efficient cybersecurity team – leaving you with fewer dangerous data breaches. Data breaches are a true nightmare scenario for any organization, with the average cost of a breach reaching $4.24 million in 2021. 

Prevention starts with keeping a watchful eye on the system, which means suspicious activity can be flagged and stopped in its tracks. It also fosters collaboration within your team and across organizations within your clients’ industries.

How can MSPs implement cyber threat intelligence for clients?

Collecting and managing cyber threat intelligence is one of the more valuable services you can offer clients as an MSP. Not only does it minimize the damage of potential threats, but it can also provide your clients with these additional benefits:

  • Deploy patches faster to avoid the newest security threats
  • Improve network security operations
  • Enhance attack/threat response
  • Refine triage and remediation procedures

Partnering with ConnectWise puts years of experience on your side when it comes to structuring and optimizing your cyber threat intelligence procedures. The ConnectWise Cyber Research Unit (CRU) is the only team in the industry dedicated to hunting down cyber threats for MSPs and sharing their findings publicly with the IT community. The team publishes an annual MSP Threat Report recapping major events from the previous year and regular threat reports throughout the year that dive into each threat in more detail. 

Along with these resources, MSPs can use trials & demos of any of the tools in our software suite to find the perfect fit for their clients’ needs. Your ability to provide your clients with the best cybersecurity protection possible is our mission too, and we’re here to help you succeed.