Operational threat intelligence refers to data on specific incoming attacks that are said to be actionable. It describes the attack’s nature, identifies who is responsible for it, and indicates when it will affect an organization.

Executives use this information to design strategy-based plans and policies to protect their organizations against attacks that may affect them. Other users include business unit managers and security operations personnel.

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Operational threat intelligence, unlike strategic and tactical threat intelligence, is short-lived. As such, it can be said to be closest to technical threat intelligence in that aspect. But unlike technical threat intelligence, which is low-level, operational threat intelligence is high-level. That means it doesn’t deal with the specifics but more with the general.

Who Uses Operational Threat Intelligence?

While no single organization can gather all information about every threat actor, most companies can still obtain as much data as there is available from various sources, including:

  • Publicly accessible private chat rooms
  • Social media
  • Public and private forums on the Internet, including the Dark Web
  • Activity-related attacks

Apart from company executives, business unit managers, and security operations personnel, security managers and network defenders also use operational threat intelligence.

What Is Operational Threat Intelligence Used For?

Operational threat intelligence guides incident responders, security operations centers (SOCs), and vulnerability management specialists to understand the nature of attacks and their instigators to develop strategies to handle them.

Incident Response

Operational threat intelligence can warn organizations about similar attacks in the future, as learnings from previous incidents can guide handling them. Companies can thus prepare better and shore up their defenses.

The data gathered on threat actors, for instance, can help organizations beef up their proactive threat hunting programs to detect malicious activity bearing their signature, so to speak, even if the most advanced cybersecurity solutions can’t catch them yet.

Operational threat intelligence can also help security analysts and researchers develop solutions to address high-risk threats even if specific indicators of compromise (IoCs) are not yet available.

SOC Support

SOCs can use operational threat intelligence for security monitoring, alerting, and blocking. With the data, they can create general rules or signatures for similar IoCs to alert users of security incident and event management (SIEM) platforms, intrusion detection (IDSs) and prevention systems (IPSs), or endpoint protection products. That way, each time IoCs like those seen in previous attacks are detected, users can immediately block suspicious activities.

Vulnerability Management

While vulnerability management is generally time-consuming, we can’t deny that the simple act of patching can thwart many attacks. Operational threat intelligence can help by applying previous incidents’ learning to new ones.

Why Do They Say Gathering Operational Threat Intelligence Is Hard?

The specific nature of threats makes it hard to collect operational threat intelligence. While learnings from past attacks can provide insights into new ones, threat actors often take a page each from several books to make their latest forays unique. That way, they can more easily evade detection and blocking.

Several obstacles to operational threat intelligence gathering have been identified, such as:

  • Access barriers: Attackers don’t communicate in publicly accessible chat rooms because they know these are constantly monitored. They instead discuss tactics in private forums, which most security researchers and analysts can’t access unless they are legally allowed to.
  • Language barriers: Many of today’s sophisticated threat groups do not use English in their communications. That is why security professionals without translator resources have difficulty obtaining actionable operational threat intelligence.
  • Too much noise: We mentioned earlier that most operational threat intelligence comes from social media and chat rooms. We know that these channels have high volumes of content, making manual monitoring very tedious. Data collectors also have to ensure that whatever data they gathered was obtained legally and is relevant.
  • Obfuscation: Threat actors will do everything to hide their tracks. As such, it’s prevalent for them to use aliases and even change these regularly to avoid identification. They are also adept at using codes for target names or attack types.

While operational threat intelligence can be hard to obtain, we can’t deny that it is critical to ensure that your network can prevent threats before they can cause irreparable damage.