What is Threat Intel Ingestion?
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What is Threat Intel Ingestion?

  • Cyber Threat Intelligence

Posted on: July 21, 2022

What is Threat Intel Ingestion?
Security teams need a high-performing threat intelligence platform (TIP) to give their cybersecurity defense an edge against sophisticated and fast-moving cyber threats. For a successful cyber threat intelligence program, a TIP must continually be able to ingest, enrich, and analyze vast volumes of both structured and unstructured raw data which is essential for delivering high-fidelity and contextual intel for timely and decisive response actions. 

Ingestion of threat data from a variety of sources forms a critical component of threat intelligence platforms (TIPs)

What is Data Ingestion in Cybersecurity?

Data ingestion in cybersecurity is the process of importing threat data from multiple sources for further processing and analysis. Security analysts enrich this threat data to produce higher-quality threat intelligence to get a better understanding of the threat landscape. 

Threat data is the raw information that mostly includes indicators of compromise (IoCs), such as malicious IP addresses, domains, and file hashes. It can also contain other information such as the personally identifiable information (PII) of customers, raw code from paste sites, and text from news sources or social media. In its raw form, the data cannot be used for accurate threat detection as it does not convey any information or provide any context about the scope, intent, and nature of cyberattacks. 

Typically, the threat data is categorized as structured or unstructured data. 

What is Structured Threat Data?

Structured data is delivered in a standard format that follows a well-defined structure, complies with a data model, follows a persistent order, and is easily accessed by human analysts and technology platforms. It is highly organized and formatted so that it can be easily researched. Some of the standard formats are:
  • Structured Threat Information and eXpression (STIX)
  • JSON, Cybox, MAEC, and XML

What is Unstructured Threat Data?

In comparison, unstructured data has no organizational framework. It does not follow a data model and has no identifiable structure such that it can be used by a computer program easily. This type of data can be from:
  • Emails, blog posts, or web pages
  • CSV, TXT, PDF files 
  • Microsoft Word Documents

Typically, in a threat intelligence lifecycle process, this threat data is aggregated and normalized/converted into a standard STIX format for further processes of the threat intelligence lifecycle. STIX has emerged as a standard format for threat data sharing owing to its various benefits such as providing a common structural framework for threat ingestion, analysis, and sharing. Standardization of threat data sharing in STIX enables security teams to build processes around it without having to run multiple separate processes for different formats thereby preventing analyst fatigue, enabling efficient security automation, and driving threat intelligence operations at scale. Usually, security teams ingest threat data from multiple sources in multiple formats and the entire data is normalized into STIX by threat intelligence standards before setting up for enrichment, analysis, and actioning processes. 

Sources of Threat Data

A threat intelligence platform collects threat data from internal and external sources to provide an organization with a meaningful context about cyber threats it is likely to face. By combining and correlating both internal and external data, security teams can visualize threats better and take proactive mitigation actions.  

Internal Threat Intelligence Sources

This involves data obtained from an organization’s own internal networks, including log files, alerts, and records of past incident responses. Internally deployed technologies such as Antivirus, Security Information and Event Management (SIEM), Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR), User and Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA), Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS), Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS), Honeypots, firewalls, etc. are also tasked with collecting threat data from event logs, DNS logs, and networks. A  TIP (threat intelligence platform) collects data from these internally deployed technologies and uses that for correlation and analysis in conjunction with the externally ingested threat intelligence and reported security incidents. 

External Threat Intelligence Sources

The external sources can include information from commercial feed providers, security researchers’ blogs, publicly available information, the dark web, ISAC/ISAO hubs, CERTs, and regulatory bodies. This could also include intelligence that is ingested from external sharing partners, such as business units, subsidiaries, ISAC/ISAO members, etc. The feeds include indicators of compromise (IOCs), threat actor TTPs, exploit alerts, ATT&CK mapping, and much more.  

Why is STIX a Preferred Standard for Threat Intelligence?

To prevent cyber attacks successfully, it is important for security teams to make sense of the massive volume of threat data that is ingested from multiple sources. It is also time-consuming and a mundane task to sift through millions of raw data that are bombarded on a daily basis, causing alert fatigue among security teams. Overall, this leads to information overload and increases the chance of missing a genuine threat that matters to an organization most. To compensate for these problems, there are specific formats to present this threat information. One of the popular formats includes Structured Threat Information and eXpression (STIX). It is a machine-readable standard developed by MITRE for removing barriers to threat intelligence ingestion, analysis, and processing.  

It enables security analysts to easily digest, assess, and analyze numerous threat intelligence feeds without having to worry about disparate intelligence languages or multiple sources. Security analysts can leverage this standard to accelerate their cyber intelligence analysis process and correlate threat data by identifying attack patterns, indicators of compromise (IOCs), tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs), malware attributes, victim characteristics, and other key aspects of the cyber attack chain. This is all done with clarity whilst avoiding any miscommunication, error, or loss of information. STIX conversion of threat data is also easily understood by security tools and technologies that support it. 

STIX also facilitates the consistent sharing of cyber threat information between organizations or within sharing communities (ISACs and ISAOs) that can benefit from the information.

Deriving Actionable Threat Intelligence from Raw Threat Data

Context has always been a critical delineator in threat intelligence. It’s what distinguishes data from information, information from intelligence, and the meaningless from the meaningful. By getting answers to questions like ‘Who, What, Where, When, How, and Why?’, security analysts can prioritize and establish proactive stances against potential threats. For defenders, it is the contextual information that provides insights into security events, helping them to make better decisions and take the right action against threats. 

Threat data, which is available in huge volumes, do not provide in-depth insights and are less relevant as they are unprocessed. It becomes a daunting task for security teams to take accurate response actions and augment security postures as they do not have a full picture of the threat. While this data is invaluable and lacks context, it is considered merely noise unless it is processed to provide meaningful information. The information is the output of processed data that gives meaning and context to the threat data. 

This overall process equips security teams with actionable threat intelligence. Rooted in data, cyber threat intelligence provides a full context or knowledge of the capabilities, techniques, infrastructure, motives, goals, and resources of an existing or emerging threat. Security teams can use this threat intelligence to better understand and identify adversaries.

Role of Threat Intelligence Platform

TIP is a technology platform that assists security teams in providing accurate threat information by ingesting, analyzing, and enriching threat data from multiple sources and formats. It empowers security teams with information on known malware and other threats, powering efficient and accurate threat identification, investigation, and response. By connecting the dots between threat actors, campaigns, malware, and more, TIP assists security teams to expedite their prediction-making process. 

An advanced threat intelligence platform automates the normalization, enrichment, and analysis of threat intelligence to help security teams more quickly identify, manage, and take action on cyber threats. A modern TIP has the ability to integrate with other security technologies such as SOAR to automate threat response. This enables security teams to be more predictive, proactive, and efficient. Moreover, an integrated SOAR and TIP solution drives contextualized and faster threat investigations. 

Multi-Source Format-Agnostic Approach Helps Reach a Wider Range

An advanced TIP offers a format-agnostic approach to threat data ingested from multiple external sources and internally deployed security tools. This means that any form of threat data can be converted to widely used formats such as STIX. A TIP can ingest and normalize observables, indicators, incidents, exploit targets, threat actors, campaigns, and other types of threat data coming in multiple formats such as XML, MAEC, YARA, MISP, CSV, PDF, JSON, OpenIOC, Email, and CybOX into STIX format without human interference. With this unique approach of TIP that maximizes the flexibility, extensibility, and readability of threat data, security teams of any size and from any industry sector can gain a full spectrum of cyber threat information. The information includes observables, indicators, incidents, exploit targets, threat actors, and campaigns, just to name a few. 

Summarizing Threat Intelligence Ingestion

Threat data ingestion plays a vital role in the cyber threat intelligence lifecycle. It acts as a pair of glasses for security teams to enhance their awareness and organizations’ security posture by getting an idea of the current attack trends and improving threat detection, investigation, and analysis. With relevant IoCs, TTPs, and other vital facts, security teams can get a better understanding and prioritize a threat that needs immediate action. In nutshell, TIP ingests and analyzes raw threat data to provide contextual intelligence, with relevant IoCs and TTPs, needed to quickly and effectively mitigate a threat. With automation, the full value of TIP can be unlocked in security operations to combine and analyze threat information in a way that delivers actionable threat intelligence. This in turn accelerates and streamlines the entire security lifecycle. 

To know more about how Cyware performs threat intel ingestion, book a free demo today!

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