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Graduation Day: From Cyber Threat Intelligence to Intelligence

Intelligence Can be Aligned With Larger Objectives to Improve Decision-Making Beyond the Cybersecurity Domain

Cyber threat intelligence (CTI) has been a growing part of the cybersecurity industry for the past several years. Over-focus on this specific intelligence type may be undercutting the ROI that personnel and technologies used to manage CTI could be providing. Teams and solutions that are built for long-term success in the CTI field are by design capable of providing much greater impact than the current CTI mission is designed to deliver. This means we are spending far too much on technology, personnel, and accesses to constrain these teams to such a small focus. Since these investments can provide enterprise-wide, intelligence-driven security, it may be time to graduate from CTI and move on to “intelligence.”

Let’s consider the term “cyber threat intelligence.” “Cyber” limits us to the digital realm, yet our teams are built on intelligence principles that are equally applicable in the physical world. Additionally, the tools and accesses needed to build a successful team can just as easily be used to address physical security concerns. For instance, if a company has an intruder on its campus or someone who has made threats against an employee, wouldn’t it want to leverage a CTI team’s access to powerful tools and data from threat feed providers? We would want our physical security team to be supported by our CTI team for the express purpose of better understanding the potential risks posed by possible threats, right? 

This is a very real example of how a current CTI team could support physical concerns through intelligence collection and reporting, even though this rarely happens. It is time to stop confusing stakeholders with a term that does not properly represent the full value that CTI teams can provide. Let’s drop cyber from the name.

Risk IntelligenceWith this removed, we are down to “threat intelligence” (TI). Let’s now focus on the word “threat.” How do we define it? Do we only focus on actors, groups, and tools that are already defined as such? Do we ignore everything else not currently assessed as posing a threat to enterprises or personnel now, if so, would this be proactive? Threat is another limiting term that does not accurately describe what intelligence teams can do to support their companies. Intelligence is most impactful when it is focused on both current threats AND on identifying concerns that are not threats today but have the potential to become so in the future. This can include actors, groups, or tools impacting other industries or geographies that have the potential to become hazards to our market sector or specific organization at a later date. “Threat” limits the impact of intelligence teams and misrepresents the complete value an intelligence team can offer to a company. Maybe it’s time to drop this term as well. 

By removing both terms, we are left with “intelligence” … and this is the point. We should not be building CTI teams or even TI teams. For the amount of money spent on building effective programs, often millions of dollars, we need to build “intelligence” teams that have much larger mandates and can thus return much more value for the expenditure. Once we shed the shackles of “cyber” and “threat,” we free our teams to consider a full spectrum of intelligence, including support to physical security, insider threats, procurement, mergers and acquisitions, and executive decision-making.

CTI has been a useful term. It has moved cybersecurity conversations from a purely technology-driven discussion focused on data to a more strategic understanding of adversary intentions and capabilities pitted against our defensive capabilities and limitations. But CTI has outlived that usefulness. The term is now incomplete. Let’s replace CTI teams with “intelligence teams” that provide better value for the investment companies make in personnel, tools, and accesses. Intelligence, unlike CTI, can be aligned with larger corporate objectives to improve decision-making well beyond the cybersecurity domain. It is time to graduate from CTI and enroll in the age of private sector intelligence.

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Related: The Changing Face of Cloud Threat Intelligence

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AJ Nash is Director of Cyber Intelligence Strategy at Anomali. He has more than two decades of experience in intelligence collection, analysis, reporting, briefing, process improvement, and leadership. Prior to Anomali, he was a Senior Manager of Cyber Threat Intelligence at Capital One, Global Head of Cyber Intelligence at Symantec, and a guest lecturer at several universities. His background includes time spent in the United States Air Force, the National Security Agency, and the United States Cyber Command.