February 19, 2024

What is cyber threat intelligence?

Cyber threat intelligence focuses on the collection, analysis, and dissemination of information related to potential threats to digital environments, including systems, networks, applications, and data. The insights enabled by cyber threat intelligence are used to create informed plans and defenses against potential cyber threats and enhance an organization’s cybersecurity posture. 

A branch of cybersecurity, cyber threat intelligence involves understanding and learning from the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) as well as the intentions of potential attackers. It is used to proactively prevent attacks and mitigate cyber threats by predicting adversarial behavior and identifying signs of an attack.  

Cyber threat intelligence not only supports immediate protection against ongoing threats, but also helps build long-term strategies against future cyber threats.   

In addition to individuals, cyber threat intelligence is consumed primarily by three types of stakeholders in an organization. 

  1. Executive teams use strategic threat intelligence to understand the broader threat landscape, make informed decisions about resource allocation, and align cybersecurity strategies with overall business goals. 
  2. Security operations and incident response teams use tactical and operational threat intelligence for daily operations, incident response, and configuring security controls. 
  3. IT and security teams use operational threat intelligence to direct the implementation of security measures, help patch vulnerabilities, and guide the configuration of security tools. 

Why is cyber threat intelligence important?

Cyber threat intelligence plays an essential role in strategic cyber defenses. Security teams rely on cyber threat intelligence to: 

  • Determine where to invest resources, such as network security, employee training, or incident response capabilities. 
  • Direct the adaptation of security measures and updates to security policies. 
  • Gain insights into the TTPs of potential attackers. 
  • Guide the development of an organization’s overall security strategy. 
  • Identify potential vulnerabilities and implement targeted cyber threat mitigation strategies. 
  • Prioritize defensive security measures. 
  • Provide insights into known and emerging attack vectors
  • Understand the motives of threat actors. 

Benefits of cyber threat intelligence

The following are primary benefits of cyber threat intelligence. It helps organizations: 

  • Anticipate emerging threats and vulnerabilities 
  • Eliminate false positives, reducing unnecessary workload on security teams  
  • Enhance incident response capabilities by providing timely and relevant information about threat actors’ TTPs 
  • Focus security teams on areas of most significant risk  
  • Gain valuable cyber threat context that speeds up response times and helps to limit damage 
  • Meet regulatory compliance requirements  
  • Minimize the impact and reduce the likelihood of successful cyber attacks  
  • Prioritize security efforts by identifying the most severe and likely threats specific to the industry, infrastructure, and assets  
  • Raise awareness about potential threats and vulnerabilities among users  
  • Strengthen cybersecurity posture, mitigate risks, and respond effectively to cyber threats 
  • Take steps to proactively identify and detect potential cyber threats before they can cause significant damage 
  • Understand the nature of the attack, the motives of the attacker, and the optimal remediation tactics 

The cyber threat intelligence lifecycle

The cyber threat intelligence lifecycle consists of several stages that organizations follow to effectively collect, analyze, and act upon cyber threat intelligence. The following is an outline of a typical cyber threat intelligence lifecycle.

Requirements definition

Identify assets that need protection, the types of threats that are most likely to impact the organization, and the types of intelligence needed to facilitate decision-making and achieve security objectives. 

Data collection

Raw data is collected to build a cyber threat intelligence suited for the organization’s unique requirements and the processes necessary to maintain it. The many types of cyber threat intelligence available to organizations are reviewed below. 


Once the raw data has been collected, it needs to be normalized, and any irrelevant information should be discarded. This step includes removing duplicates, standardizing formats, and converting raw data into a format that can be easily analyzed. 


The cleaned-up cyber threat intelligence data is then evaluated and analyzed. The objective is to identify patterns and trends that can be used to make assessments about potential threats or risks.   


Using the insights derived from analyzing the raw data, cyber threat intelligence reports need to be created. These should be actionable with details about specific threats, recommendations for mitigations, and relevant contextual information to support decision-making. 


Cyber threat intelligence reports should be made available to all stakeholders. When appropriate, they can be shared with external partners and information-sharing communities. 


Cyber threat intelligence should be ingested into applicable systems and integrated into existing security infrastructure and processes, such as security tools (e.g., firewalls and incident detection and protection systems (IDS/IP) and incident response plans to fortify the organization’s overall cybersecurity posture. 

Monitoring and review

Continuously monitor the threat landscape for cyber threat intelligence changes and new developments. The cyber threat intelligence lifecycle should be considered iterative. It should be used repeatedly to reflect the dynamic nature of the cybersecurity landscape. To keep pace with evolving threats and technologies, organizations must use the lifecycle continuously to refine their cyber threat intelligence processes. 

Cyber threat intelligence use cases

Security teams use cyber threat intelligence in a number of ways across organizations to optimize cybersecurity prevention and response capabilities. Following are several use cases that highlight how cyber threat intelligence is used to address a wide range of cybersecurity challenges and support key functions. 

Cybersecurity awareness and training

Including cyber threat intelligence in cybersecurity awareness and training helps fine-tune programming by sharing information about threats and attack techniques. Using real-world risks helps organizations better engage users by making the education about recognizing and avoiding potential risks feel more tangible and relevant. 

Fraud detection and prevention

Across industries, cyber threat intelligence can be used to identify patterns that indicate fraudulent activity coming from external threat actors and malicious insiders.   

Incident detection and response

Cyber threat intelligence helps security teams detect and respond to cyber threats more effectively by providing early indicators of compromise (IOCs) and crucial context, such as the methods and motives of the attacker. By understanding threat actors’ TTPs, incident response teams are able to respond to incidents more effectively and efficiently. 

Insider threat detection

Potential insider threats can be detected using cyber threat intelligence to identify unusual or suspicious behavior. 

Malware analysis and attribution

Cyber threat intelligence is used to support the analysis of malware and other cyber threats. This gives security teams insights into how it works as well as helps them attribute it to threat actors and groups to understand their motives. This understanding speeds and focuses the development of effective countermeasures and responses to ongoing or future attacks. 

Policy and compliance management

Organizations often use cyber threat intelligence in their efforts to meet regulatory compliance and internal policy requirements. The visibility that cyber threat intelligence provides into existing and emerging threats and vulnerabilities helps organizations mitigate risk and implement the appropriate threat protection. 

Red team and penetration testing 

Cyber threat intelligence is valuable for red teaming and penetration testing activities. It helps security teams simulate real-world attack scenarios by incorporating the latest threat intelligence into their testing methodologies. 

Risk assessment

Cyber threat intelligence can inform risk assessments by helping to identify and prioritize the most significant threats based on an organization’s industry, IT environment, and assets.   

Social engineering defense

Threat intelligence can be used to identify phishing campaigns, malicious domains, and social engineering tactics. This information helps organizations strengthen their email security and user awareness programs. 

Strategic planning and risk management

Organizations leverage cyber threat intelligence to inform strategic security planning and risk management processes with details about the existing and evolving threat landscape. Security teams use this information to make data-driven decisions about how to allocate resources and cybersecurity investments for the greatest impact. 

Supply chain security

Cyber threat intelligence can call to attention threats to an organization’s supply chain. This information helps mitigate threats associated with compromised suppliers or vulnerabilities in software, hardware, or services provided by external entities. 

Threat hunting

Security teams use cyber threat intelligence to proactively hunt for indicators of compromise (IOCs) within their networks and systems. 

Vulnerability management

Cyber threat intelligence assists in the identification and prioritization of vulnerabilities with details about known exploits and emerging threats targeting software or hardware used by the organization. It also provides information about available patches, updates, or mitigation tactics. 

Types of cyber threat intelligence

The three primary types of cyber threat intelligence each play a different role in an organization’s cybersecurity program.

  1. Strategic cyber threat intelligence
    Strategic cyber threat intelligence is high-level information that provides long-term insights to help executives and other decision-makers understand the broad threat landscape and inform decisions. It includes trends in cybercrime, economics, geopolitics, emerging threats, changes in laws and regulations, and industry-specific trends.
  2. Tactical cyber threat intelligence
    Tactical cyber threat intelligence provides detailed information about specific threats. Security teams use this mid-level operational information to support day-to-day security operations (e.g., detection and response) and incident response efforts.
  3. Operational cyber threat intelligence
    Operational cyber threat intelligence provides information about cyber threats that are currently targeting an organization. It includes low-level, technical details about known attacks, such as domain names associated with specific threats, malicious internet protocol (IP) addresses, and malware signatures. Operational cyber threat intelligence is used to respond to threats (e.g., reconfiguring firewalls and updating intrusion detection systems). 

Cyber threat intelligence can be gathered from a variety of sources, including the following.

  • Government and non-profit organizations
    Government and non-profit organizations often provide cyber threat intelligence to help organizations and individuals defend themselves against cyber threats and enhance cybersecurity postures. This information is usually publicly available at no cost.  
  • Government sources  
    • CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) shares information about current cyber threats and provides tools and resources to help organizations protect their systems. 
    • The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) collects online complaints from victims of internet crime and shares information on common scams and frauds. 
    • US-CERT (United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team) provides information about current security issues, vulnerabilities, exploits, and other resources (e.g., alerts, tips, and best practices for security). 
  • Non-profit sources 
    • Center for Internet Security (CIS) offers a variety of tools, best practices, guidelines, and frameworks to help organizations protect their systems and data. 
    • Internet Storm Center (ISC), run by the SANS (SysAdmin, Audit, Network and Security) Technology Institute, provides a free analysis and warning service to individuals and organizations. 
    • MITRE ATT&ACK (Adversarial Tactics, Techniques, and Common Knowledge) offers a globally accessible framework of threat actors’ TTPs, IOCs, and mitigations based on real-world observations. 
  • Human
    Human cyber threat intelligence provides information that helps security teams understand the capabilities, intentions, and motivations of threat actors. This type of cyber threat intelligence is gathered from technical data, expert analysis, and research into public and private sources. Sources of human cyber threat intelligence include geopolitical analysis, industry trends, legal and regulatory changes, and threat actor profiling.
  • Open-source
    Open-source cyber threat intelligence includes information that can be obtained freely from publicly accessible sources, such as blogs, forums, news outlets, and social media. This type of cyber threat intelligence provides real-time information about emerging threats and vulnerabilities at no cost. It is typically used to augment other cyber threat intelligence sources.   
  • Technical
    Technical cyber threat intelligence provides immediate, actionable data about known or emerging threats. Security analysts, incident response teams, and other IT professionals use technical cyber threat intelligence to strengthen defenses, respond effectively to incidents, and keep an organization’s cybersecurity optimally configured.
  • Threat intelligence feeds
    Threat intelligence feeds provide automated, continuous streams of real-time threat information data about current or potential threats in the cyber landscape. It is sourced from cybersecurity firms, organizations, and individuals and usually includes contextual information (e.g., the nature of the threat, its potential impact, and how to respond effectively). 

    Threat intelligence feed data can be ingested into security tools and platforms. These feeds provide real-time, actionable information that helps security teams detect, prevent, and respond to a wide range of cyber threats (e.g., advanced persistent threats, malware, phishing attacks, and zero-day exploits). 
  • Threat cyber intelligence platforms
    Threat intelligence platforms collect, correlate, and analyze threat data from multiple internal and external sources to provide customizable reports and actionable intelligence.  

Cyber threat intelligence: For today and in the future

Properly gathered and utilized, cyber threat intelligence is a highly effective security tool. Organizations that invest in the right systems, processes, and personnel find value in this intelligence beyond the data it offers. When integrated into the larger security posture, cyber threat intelligence optimizes other tools and processes by directing efforts at known targets. 

Organizations seeking to bolster their cybersecurity defenses find cyber threat intelligence a powerful addition. Leveraging timely and relevant intelligence, organizations can strengthen their cyber defenses and respond more effectively to the dynamic and evolving landscape of increasingly sophisticated cybersecurity threats. 

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