The Gartner definition of threat intelligence is “…evidence-based knowledge, including context, mechanisms, indicators, implications and actionable advice, about an existing or emerging menace or hazard to assets that can be used to inform decisions regarding the subject’s response to that menace or hazard.”

Good in concept, complicated in practice. The most important part of actionable threat intelligence is that it “informs decisions,” allowing teams to make quicker and more proactive action towards protecting their digital estates. Unfortunately, many teams struggle to benefit from threat intelligence in their day-to-day actions or the company’s bottom line for various reasons. Perhaps the threat intelligence tool lacks fit with coverage for the company’s industry, geography, and use cases. More often than not, there is a mismatch between the SOC team’s size and the volume of raw data sent from a traditional threat intelligence feed. Although timely and accurate, the data may not be beneficial or even be shut off and ignored if analysts are overwhelmed. Finally, there is threat intelligence that is useful! But crossing the chasm between understanding an exposure and its threat to the business to actioning on the alert is difficult.

What is Actionable Threat Intelligence?

For threat intelligence to be considered actionable threat intelligence, it must be at an appropriate volume, enriched with context, and lead to a clear understanding and remediation. We’ve outlined our top five actions on threat intelligence below:

Block IOCs

Traditionally, taking actions from threat intelligence has been synonymous with blocking related indicators of compromise (IOCs). Much of the focus on IOCs has been on collection, but actionable threat intelligence is about getting to that decision on which IOCs to block faster. Inverting that focus, as Optiv recommends, and populating your environment with rich data from the incident (i.e., email attachment data, hash of an email attachment, etc.) can do more to help further your understanding of the threat and take additional actions.

In our blog on threat intelligence feeds, we outline that without contextual information, IOCs are not intelligence; they’re just a data point. When evaluating threat intelligence providers, it’s essential to get rich context to understand if the IOC is a risk in your industry vertical and quickly notify incident response teams to block the most urgent IOCs.

Map to Mitre ATT&CK

Mapping threat intelligence to the Mitre ATT&CK framework helps security practitioners create a comprehensive list of behaviors threat actors in their area may employ when compromising systems or networks. By mapping it with this framework, teams are better prepared to identify gaps in their defensive strategies. Additionally, combining the Mitre ATT&CK framework with the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) Essential 8 mitigation strategies allows teams to see how their organization can obstruct adversaries

Takedown the Domain

If an impersonating domain or phishing website has been detected and determined to be risky, the next course of action is to start a takedown of the domain. This can be done by directly emailing the offending registrar from the WHOIS record info with a takedown notice from a request for content removal (DMCA), a copyright infringement, or terms and condition violation notice. Since these notices are relatively standard across the industry in the format they provide, it can be best practice to create a template to automate takedowns within your team.

You may also consider prioritizing a threat intelligence provider with a managed takedown service or the ability to pivot from the domain alert and its context directly into launching a takedown of the domain once it has been determined to be a risk. In the case of managed takedowns with SearchLight, the process is entirely handled from client request to a completed takedown with updates on the domain’s status via the portal or email.

Reset Accounts

Exposed credential pair proved to be valid? A great threat intelligence provider will make you aware of exposed credentials and eliminate the false positives of incomplete pairs and provide options to automate validation of the credentials. Once the credentials are validated, it’s a race against the clock to notify the user and reset the account before an attacker can get system access. If you have consumer accounts, these accounts should be monitored and reset too.

Prioritize Vulnerabilities

Accurate and timely detection of vulnerabilities is great and everything, but does your vulnerability management system have a risk scoring or way of grouping by prioritization? With average time from a vulnerability being detected to an exploit in the wild close to 15 days, teams have as little as two weeks to patch. Thankfully, few vulnerabilities are actually exploited, but these exploits are only potential crises averted if teams can assess which vulnerabilities may have the highest business impact if exploited against the likelihood of being exploited.

How to Get Your Organization Started on Actionable Threat Intelligence

Another advocate for actionable threat intelligence, Forrester, outlined the importance of taking informed action on risk and evaluating vendors based on use-cases in their Q4 2020 NowTech Report. In a crowded market, it can be challenging to assess vendors and select the provider, which can be leveraged versus a data feed that may overwhelm you with false positives— or worse, cause you to miss important details.

Forrester recommends focusing on brand-focused intelligence and vulnerability intelligence precisely because they are so actionable to get started on moving from traditional threat intelligence to actionable threat intelligence. For brand intelligence, organizations can evaluate based on the timeliness and success of takedowns. Vulnerability intelligence has a few more nuances, but vulnerability discovery and risk assessment measures that reach beyond CVSS scoring are excellent capabilities to consider.

Interested in experiencing actionable intelligence from Forrester’s industry leader in Digital Risk Protection? Get a free test drive of SearchLight (now ReliaQuest’s GreyMatter Digital Risk Protection) here.