We previously talked about the advantages and implications of strategic threat intelligence, which sheds light on cyberattackers’ goals. This type of intelligence is non-technical, giving people a broad overview of the threats. Organizations need more information about their attackers’ capabilities than just who they are up against in order to conduct a successful defence. Operational threat intelligence is now present. Operational threat intelligence gives security incidents and occurrences context, enabling defenders to:

  • Identify any possible dangers
  • Gain an accurate and deep understanding of cybercriminals’ techniques
  • Pursue malicious behavior that has not yet been uncovered
  • Expedite and intensify your research of suspicious behavior

What Is Operational Threat Intelligence?

A key tool for cyber resilience, Operational Threat Intelligence (OTI) focuses on particular cyberattacks or campaigns. It gives insight into the origin and complexity of the group(s) involved and aids responders in comprehending the type, intent, and timeframe of a specific attack. But frequently, only a portion of the context is available.

True operational threat intelligence gives defenders the chance to implement controls in advance and thwart assaults, making it the golden standard of security in so many aspects. Even incomplete intelligence might offer important clues about impending attacks, for instance by pointing out potential attack vectors before they are deployed. Since dedicated security staff and supervisors make up the majority of the public for operational threat intelligence, technical context is a given.

Forensic analysts and incident investigators are normally the ones who uncover this type of intelligence, which usually consists of the following:

  • Specific threat groupings resources (backdoor families, shared infrastructure)
  • TTPs pertaining to specific danger groups (standard file names, ports, staging directories, protocols, preferred file types)
  • Upcoming TTPs (new strategies for persistence, exploitation, and phishing)

From the standpoint of incident response, think about the following: If you are addressing an intrusion incident, you might be curious about how a certain attacker pulls off data theft, lateral movement, or privilege escalation. You might wish to start your search for unknown malicious activity by looking for certain behavior.

A variety of cybersecurity experts can use operational cyber threat intelligence. Threats are not just identified for internal operations; weaknesses related to clients, competition, vendors, affiliated companies, and anybody else in the market or sector are also examined.

The following professionals could make use of operational CTI:

  • Incident Response Teams
  • Malware Analysts
  • Security Operation Center
  • Network Defense Teams
  • Security Managers
  • Host Analysts
  • Managers and Executives

Obtaining Operational Threat Intelligence

As it’s linked to specific threat strategies, there are exactly two ways to acquire OTI:

  1. Nurturing human informants, probably through recruitment or penetration, within an active threat group;
  2. Infiltrating and monitoring the communication of a threat group.

Therefore, it is not unusual that operational threat intelligence is most likely to be gathered from closed channels out of the four main categories of threat intelligence. While a few groups do use open routes for communication (such as social networks, open IRC channels, etc.), the majority adopts a more covert strategy.

Among the most popular sources are:

  • Internet chat rooms
  • Social networks
  • Private forums on the open web or dark web

More serious criminal operations are much more likely to take measures, whereas less advanced threat groups—particularly those motivated by ideology—are willing to communicate their strategies through fairly vulnerable methods.

This leads us to a significant juncture: the gathering of operational threat intelligence poses a variety of legal and ethical questions because it relates to the actions and communications of particular people and groups.

OTI Lifecycle

Operational threat intelligence is a comprehensive approach that provides all the information required to tackle efforts at a security breach. Different phases can be used to outline the collection of cyber threat intelligence, from the first stages of planning to evaluate the data’s utility.


You must have a clear understanding of what you are looking for before you can start looking for adequate data for your company. You ought to be aware of who will employ this knowledge and why. The CTI should be relevant to the company or sector and make it obvious how it would help. You should also think about the kind of people who will use the data as well (technical specialists, board members, the CEO, etc).

Data Collection

Data collection is necessary on both an internal and external level. Records like event logs, IDS/IPS, firewall data, and EDR/EPP events are all examples of internal data.

Data Processing

This phase involves filtering large amounts of data after it has been gathered in its raw form (malicious IPs and domains, uncompiled code, personal information, etc.). This includes updating meta tags with relevant information and deleting unnecessary or old information. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are typically used to do this work.


After being processed and having irrelevant information eliminated, the data can be evaluated and connected to find potential security risks. Before sending the information to the relevant parties, it must be structured to make it simple to comprehend.


In this phase, the user will receive the gathered intelligence for action. To serve as a guide for the upcoming cycle of data collecting, the intelligence and its utilization will also be monitored.


In order to assess whether the intelligence was useful and to plan and organize for upcoming tasks, feedback from the person(s) who requested it should be obtained.

You must keep in mind that OTI collection is not an easy process. It can take a while and calls for a lot of skill and technical understanding. To properly collect an adequate amount of data, a machine learning technology investment might be necessary. Also, you must be aware that cyber attackers could create their own coding and terminology, making it difficult, if not impossible, to record their communications.

Fortunately, the evaluation of activity-related attacks is one type of operational threat intelligence that is totally free from moral and legal restrictions.

Similar to physical security, certain recurrent cyberattacks are connected to actual situations, such as media exposure or a company’s actions. Ideological groups are especially likely to launch repeated attacks, and they frequently deploy DDoS campaigns and other brute-force techniques in reaction to specific triggers.

Threat analysts may typically link assaults with particular trigger events by looking at prior activity, which allows them to predict future potential attacks ahead.

Operational Threat Intelligence Benefits

Operational intelligence is information acquired through studying the specifics of previous attacks (commonly known as tactical intelligence). By putting tactical indications and artifacts together, an analyst can create a thorough image of actor methodology and generate operational information. This can aid in:

  • Giving security workers the context they need to make smarter security judgments by enhancing security events and notifications for recognized IOCs.
  • Improving incident response strategies and mitigation methods to prepare for upcoming cyberattacks and intrusions.
  • Finding suspect files and activity that has eluded conventional security measures, establishing and strengthening a proactive discovery process (a “hunting program”).
  • Adapting practical red-teaming strategies based on attacker methods used in the wild.
  • Analyzing malware families and actors to identify high-risk threats to your business, industry, region, or country.
  • Creating detection techniques that are independent of IOCs to provide wider coverage of threats in a quicker manner.

How Can Heimdal® Help?

The Endpoint Detection and Response solution from Heimdal offers many of the advantages of a threat intelligence platform. All of a company’s components cooperate and make use of the intelligence offered by the other modules in order to secure the ecosystem as a whole. When threats emerge, Heimdal’s EDR offers better endpoint visibility for businesses and enables quicker reaction times.

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Wrapping Up…

The main goal of threat intelligence is to anticipate (and ideally thwart) incoming attacks, but for most companies, producing real operational threat intelligence is a difficult task given how difficult it is to penetrate threat groups or monitor their communications. There are, however, means of beginning the procedure.

If you have the correct technology in place, tracking open channels like social networks and online forums, for instance, needs little work and can give you important information about impending threats. The capacity to predict recurrent cyberattacks can be greatly enhanced by working to recognize the real-world circumstances that spur cyber activity.

However, given the difficulties involved in producing operational threat information, most companies should pursue it as a minor component of a larger intelligence program that primarily focuses on emerging trends in their threat environment.

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