Threat intelligence monitoring is a an important tool that managed security services providers (MSSP) use as part of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy. Despite its widespread use in the cybersecurity industry, threat intelligence monitoring solutions remains an obscure concept for most people. In this article, we’ll break down what threat intelligence monitoring is, how it is helpful, and how it fits into a cybersecurity risk management strategy. This information will highlight the important role that cybersecurity monitoring plays in safeguarding against advanced persistent threats (APT) and emerging threats.
What is Threat Intelligence?
The term “threat intelligence” refers to data that is collected and assessed regarding security threats within a cyber security context as a threat management procedure. This real time data can include information on specific external threats or threat actors. Systems digital risk vulnerabilities that can be open to exploitation will also be included in threat intelligence. Threat intelligence also encompasses known malware, viruses, code or exploits that are in development or have been used in previous attacks. Lastly, threat intelligence includes information that can help analysts in organizations identify a breach when it has occurred. Often, companies seek threat and vulnerability management services to ensure that their data is safe.
The broad scope that a threat intelligence analysis covers has a direct correlation to the threat landscape that organizations now face. Cybersecurity has experienced rapid shifts in how threats are assessed and mitigated. Organizations now face security threats that are more persistent and advanced than ever before. In response, security teams have had to continually adapt to an ever-shifting array of external threats facing organizations.
Cyber threats that lead to security incidents cost the global economy approximately $445 billion dollars per year, making the economic impact of a cyber incident an existential threat for many organizations. Developing a comprehensive threat intelligence database is one method that experts working in cybersecurity solutions have used to anticipate and mitigate threats.
What are the Advantages of Threat Intelligence?
Threat intelligence management offers a number of advantages for safeguarding key cyber assets and infrastructure from external intrusion. Today’s advanced persistent threats necessitate an “always-on” approach to cyber security. In the past, this type of heightened cybersecurity posture was adopted primarily by entities in critical infrastructure and government. Today’s cyber world requires all organizations to safeguard their data and systems against outside intrusion in a similar fashion.
One of the primary advantages is that cyber threat monitoring provides an entity utilizing it is the ability to shift from a reactive defense to a proactive cybersecurity posture. This strength is realized when information about threats is shared between organizations, allowing security teams to anticipate current threats to an organization. Threat intelligence security monitoring allows an organization to incorporate knowledge of threat actors and threat vectors into an actionable plan for defending against cyber threats.
Threat intelligence is, at its core, centered around knowledge of threats that an organization currently faces as well as threats that it may face in the future. An advantage that this knowledge brings is the ability to accurately assess risk. Risk assessment and threat detection are core components of any cybersecurity strategy. In order to adequately analyze risk, an organization must first understand the risks that it faces. In this respect, cyber security monitoring can highlight key areas of risk that an organization faces. Threat intelligence allows cybersecurity teams to accurately assess their own internal and external risks given the real threats that are facing their organization. From this, organizations are more capable of triaging the threats facing them and allocating resources to respond to those threats appropriately.
Taken together, the ability to present a more proactive line of defense against cyber threats, combined with a greater understanding of what threats face an organization, gives an organization the ability to adequately analyze risk, minimize harm, and mitigate the damage done should an event occur. Because of this, cybersecurity monitoring should be a central component of any comprehensive cybersecurity strategy.
Are There Disadvantages to Threat Intelligence?
The fact that threat intelligence and cybersecurity monitoring helps organizations anticipate and better react to threats facing them seems to have little downside. The question therefore is why isn’t every organization collecting threat intelligence data? The answer lies in how threat intelligence is collected and used. Because threat intelligence is a broad term referring to a wide variety of data collected about the types of threats facing an organization, it requires collecting and assessing a large amount of data from a variety of sources.
One of the challenges with utilizing threat intelligence effectively is first collecting that data. Many organizations simply don’t have the internal resources available to collect and utilize threat intelligence effectively. Threat intelligence data can be gleaned from a wide variety of sources, including public and private databases and governmental organizations. The challenge here lies in gaining access to up-to-date information regarding current and future threats, as well as analyzing that data and incorporating it into your security operations. Many organizations are quickly overwhelmed with the threat intelligence data they receive on an ongoing basis. It can be difficult to sift through this data to glean insights that allow an organization to analyze risk and allocate resources accordingly.
How is Threat Intelligence Monitoring Used?
Threat intelligence monitoring is one aspect of a comprehensive cybersecurity program. Specifically, threat intelligence monitoring is an active program that is used to incorporate relevant knowledge of threats facing an organization into actionable insights that drive improvements to your security presence. Threat intelligence itself can be separated from the activity of cybersecurity monitoring. Cybersecurity programs often rely on an MSSP to conduct constant monitoring of critical systems. Real-time monitoring is one important aspect of a forward cybersecurity posture, and is directly informed by threat intelligence.
While a key feature of threat intelligence monitoring is to determine if an attack is in progress and to quickly take the necessary steps to contain and eliminate the attack, threat intelligence can also be used to guide operational decisions. Threat intelligence monitoring can highlight advanced persistent threats that face your organization, allowing you to shore up any vulnerabilities that may exist. With an active cyber threat intelligence service, organizations can quickly recognize and assess threats, and tailor security recommendations based on the specific threats facing them.
Threat intelligence monitoring also goes beyond recognizing and reacting to threats directly facing an organization. Threats facing other organizations can be assessed to see if your operations may be at risk as well. This can allow organizations to quickly incorporate security patches of fixes for vulnerabilities highlighted by an attack on another entity. Emergent threats can similarly be identified and prepared for. Some threat intelligence monitoring services go as far as analyzing emergent threats on known hacker forums. By identifying malware in such a manner, a cybersecurity team can incorporate defensive measures into their cybersecurity program. This gives organizations a way to defend against a “zero-day” attack, or rather an attack that occurs before an exploit or vulnerability is discovered.
As we have mentioned, one of the challenges in using threat intelligence effectively is having access to threat intelligence sources that provide relevant and timely data about potential attacks. While it is extremely useful to be able to be able to see an attack happening on another organization and incorporate knowledge of that threat vector and actor into your own cyber defense, gaining access to that information can be challenging. Companies may not share information about successful attacks for a variety of reasons. Because of the challenge of gaining access to timely threat intelligence, it is often preferred to have threat intelligence monitoring conducted through an external provider.
An MSSP that provides a threat and vulnerability management service can have a number of advantages over an in-house program. First, MSSPs are much more likely to have access to a broad array of sources that inform their threat intelligence program. This is because MSSPs are a frontline defender for a variety of organizations in different industries, giving them exposure to real threats facing organizations. This allows an MSSP to incorporate knowledge they have gained from other attacks into the managed security services provided to your organization. Put another way, attacks on another organization can provide information on threat vectors, threat actors, or specific vulnerabilities. This information can then be applied to all organizations that the MSSP protects.
Although threat intelligence monitoring is an important tool, it is also one of many ways that an MSSP defends an organization they have been tasked with protecting. Threat intelligence monitoring works together with a variety of other cybersecurity services to protect sensitive information and cyber assets from attack. These often include training programs to bring your staff up to speed on cybersecurity best practices, along with continual training on emergent threats facing your organization. Alongside training, identity and access management, incident response and management, and implementation of a patch management program are all some of the ways that an MSSP secures cyber assets and sensitive data.
Is Threat Intelligence Monitoring Worth It?
One of the most frequent questions that organizations ask when determining whether to implement an in-house or outsourced threat intelligence monitoring service is whether the results justify the costs. To be sure, threat intelligence monitoring is time-consuming and requires a particular expertise. When determining how to allocate resources, it is worthwhile to explore if threat intelligence monitoring is warranted. This is particularly true if an organization is considering tasking internal IT staff with threat intelligence monitoring because it requires a 24/7 presence to be effective. In order to better answer whether threat intelligence monitoring is worth it, it is helpful to consider the risks of a cybersecurity event to your organization.
Cyber threats facing organizations are expanding every day. The host of tools that threat actors have at their disposal are becoming more widely available and sophisticated each year. At the same time, the proliferation of more sophisticated tools has allowed hackers with less expertise to mount sophisticated and persistent attacks. This has challenged security professionals to not only shore up defenses for existing known threats, but also to anticipate potential vulnerabilities to unknown threats on the horizon.
One does not have to look far to see the consequences of cyber attacks in today’s world. In a very real sense, there is a high likelihood that your personal information has been involved in a data breach at one or more organizations. For example, the email and search provider Yahoo suffered a massive data breach in 2013. This breach was initially believed to affect more than 1 billion customers. By 2016, Yahoo corrected their initial estimate to include an additional 2 billion accounts. In the end, the 2013 data breach is believed to have involved the personal information, including emails and passwords, for every Yahoo user at the time. If one considers that the world population in 2018 is approximately 7.6 billion people, the Yahoo data breach affected slightly less than half of the world population.
A second data breach affecting the credit monitoring bureau Equifax in 2017 further highlights the risks of not utilizing effective threat intelligence monitoring. The data breach affecting Equifax resulted in the loss of sensitive data for 147.7 million Americans. A recent report released by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) illustrates some key factors about the breach itself. According to the GAO report, the still unidentified hackers identified a vulnerability in Equifax’s dispute portal servers. Once they had gained access to the system, they then proceeded to slowly extract sensitive data over a period of 76 days. By extracting small amounts of data over a long period of time, hackers were able to evade detection.These issues, even on a smaller scale, should be on every business owner’s radar. Learn more about avoiding a credit card breach.
Both the Equifax and Yahoo data breaches demonstrate the serious risks facing today’s organizations that store sensitive data. The extent of both data breaches wasn’t fully understood until months or years after the actual breach occurred. The Equifax breach in particular demonstrates the need for real-time monitoring and an effective threat detection and intelligence effort. Today’s data breaches are more sophisticated and more massive than ever before. Because of this, it is crucial that if a data breach occurs it is identified quickly, the extent of the breach is understood, and efforts are made to mitigate further data breaches through the same vulnerability. Threat intelligence monitoring helps organizations more effectively identify potential vulnerabilities before they are exploited, while also minimizing the extent of a breach once it has occured. To learn more information about cyber security solutions, contact RSI Security.
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