Cyberspace is an unpredictable domain, with cybercriminals constantly devising advanced techniques and technologies to exploit system vulnerabilities and networks.1 This has made the traditional defensive cybersecurity solutions against evolving and existing cyber threats by simply gathering threat intelligence quite ineffective.
According to a recent Microsoft survey, 22% of global organizations ranked cyber risks to be the top concern over other significant business risks. A lack of robust cyber defense led to companies being extorted by cybercriminals. To this end, many organizations have started exploring threat intelligence to better understand the motive/techniques behind an attack and launch a counterattack before it escalates.
As the famous saying goes, “the best defense is a good offense.” In this article, we will breakdown everything you need to know about cyber counterintelligence and how to implement it.
What Is Threat Intelligence?
Threat intelligence is essentially data analysis using tools and techniques to gather information about existing and emerging cyber threats that might target an organization. Along with mitigating risks, cyber intelligence provides organizations with a faster and more informed security decision to change their behavior from reactive to proactive for combatting attacks.
Cyber counterintelligence (CCI) is the umbrella term for the efforts taken by an organization to prevent cyberattacks on its infrastructure from adversaries. These include competitor intelligence advances, malicious actors, nation-states, or criminal organizations that are involved in sensitive information gathering and exploitation of an organization’s IT weaknesses. Furthermore, while the major objective of cyber counterintelligence is to defend, much of the methods are usually offensive.
This simply means that for cyber counterintelligence to be effective, it must be on both the defensive and offensive sides.
Data Collection Through Cyber Counterintelligence
CCI’s main purpose is to identify, degrade, neutralize, and protect organizations from adversarial intelligence activities. This can be done by utilizing both passive and active counterintelligence approaches to gather data.
Defensive Cyber Counterintelligence
Defensive cyber counterintelligence is used to identify and understand cyber threats and minimize the threat landscape a cyber attacker can exploit.2 This helps protect the organization against vulnerabilities from internal and external threats. Cyber intelligence analysts can gather data through a variety of venues, such as penetration testing, threat hunting, vulnerability assessment, and threat management.
Penetration testing to detect vulnerabilities in the organization’s network is performed using an attacker’s Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP). This will provide the organization with insight into possible attack vectors, their methods, and system vulnerabilities. Such intelligence help security teams to prepare for better detections and responses to possible cyberattacks.
Once threats and vulnerabilities have been identified, the next step is performing a vulnerability assessment. This starts with enumerating, classifying, and prioritizing vulnerabilities identified in the network system.
Cyber intelligence involves predicting future cyberattacks by collecting and analyzing data about past, current, and future cyber threats. This equips the organization with predictive capabilities and allows it to deploy security controls.
Threat hunting is the search for cyber threats in an organization’s network infrastructure. It involves detecting and isolating the more advanced threats that might have evaded traditional endpoint security measures.
Offensive Cyber Counterintelligence
Offensive cyber counterintelligence is a term used for active interaction with attackers. This includes gathering information about hostile intelligence gathering process, capabilities, and techniques, and devising deceit tactics to trick attackers into thinking they have successfully accessed confidential information.
There are numerous ways of data collection using offensive cyber counterintelligence like honeypots, honeynets, sock puppets, false flags, publishing false reports, spreading information to deceive adversarial intrusion attempts, and so on. Moreover, these efforts can be performed from both inside and outside networks.
Honeypots are a computer security mechanism to attract cyberattacks that mimic a target for hackers by fooling them into thinking it’s a genuine target, using their penetration attempts to gain information about attackers to understand how they operate. Once they initiate the attack, they can be tracked, and their methodology is analyzed for clues on how to make the real IT systems more secure.
Different types of honeypots are email traps, decoy database, malware honeypot, and spider honeypot. By monitoring how cybercriminals attack the honeypot system, you can understand where the attackers are coming from, threats associated, their motive, modus operandi, and how effective your security controls are.
Sock puppets are a fictitious online identity with credible social history and legitimate appearance created for the purposes of deception. They interact online to gather information about potential adversary operations and their capabilities.
Training for Data Collection Through Cyber Counterintelligence
EC-Council’s Certified Threat Intelligence Analyst (CTIA) course is one of the best cyber threat intelligence training programs for you to master counter cyber intelligence. The program offers a comprehensive and specialist-level cyber threat intelligence ecosystem, where you will learn a structured approach to build an effective and strategic cyber threat intelligence platform.
Furthermore, the course is designed to help organizations identify and mitigate business risks by converting unknown internal and external threats into a known threat.