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What is Cyber Threat Intelligence?

You may have heard of the term “Cyber Threat Intelligence”, sometimes abbreviated as “CTI”. 

The term is often thrown around with little to no explanation, so, what actually is CTI? It’s always useful to know what an acronym means 🙂

The origin of the term can be traced back to 2009 in reference to research on the Tactics, Techniques, and Practices (TTP) of APT 1. 

Traditional threat intelligence, meaning the collection and dissemination of intelligence of emerging and reoccurring threats, was a key part of the intelligence apparatus during the Cold War. 

However, traditional threat intelligence is a very general term, referring to intelligence on anything from nation-states to small guerrilla insurgent groups. 

The rise of Advanced Persistent Threats (APT) forever changed the threat intelligence landscape. 

Like any other covert action, a nation-state sponsored cyber attack is designed to cause as much damage as possible, while maintaining plausible deniability for guilty parties. 

Threat intelligence on these APT groups became known as Cyber Threat Intelligence. 

CTI analysts analyse the tactics, techniques, and practices of these groups. They collect everything from the groups’ malware to their chat logs to build a full profile for defensive purposes. 

Since the rise of APTs in the mid-2000s, the field of CTI has had to  evolve and adapt to new threats and attack styles. Threat actors less sophisticated than APTs can now emulate many of the tactics APTs use. 

As a result, CTI has had to expand to collect intelligence on these groups as well. CTI is now not only crucial for governments, but also private organisations and businesses. 

2021 saw a 1,885% increase in ransomware attacks. This was an unprecedented increase with the healthcare industry alone reported a 775% increase in cyber attacks. 

CTI is not only for large businesses either, roughly 60% of ransomware attacks target businesses with less than 500 employees. However, building a CTI team is easier said than done. Collecting intelligence on relevant threat actors is often a time consuming and expensive task. 

What we see time and time again is the “it won’t happen to us” conversation which can then turn into…

Why didn’t we know about this?! 

The question posed by the CEO or MD when there has been a data breach.

Here at SOS Intelligence, it’s our mission to provide cyber threat intelligence that won’t break the bank and is accessible. You don’t need a big team to use it.

Our Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) tool automatically collects and aggregates data from the top cybercriminal forums, including some private forums. 

Using the web UI or the custom API, you can set alerts for keywords like emails or usernames. If a keyword is posted on one of the many forums we monitor, you will get an immediate alert via several communication channels. 

Using our OSINT tool you will have the capabilities of a full CTI team, minus the overhead and head count.

Save yourself the headache and risk, let SOS Intelligence be your eyes and ears in the dark world cyber criminals have built online.

Cyber Threat Intelligence is clearly an essential pillar of a modern defence strategy, but don’t take our word for it. Let’s look into a case involving CTI…

LAPSUS$ – A Study of Cyber Threat Intelligence Successes

There is no better case study of modern Cyber Threat Intelligence than the case of the international hacking group known as LAPSUS$. 

LAPSUS$ was first noticed in early December of 2021 when the group compromised systems belonging to the Brazilian Ministry of Health. This attack was a classic extortion attempt and would pale in comparison to LAPSUS$’s later attacks. 

It took the Brazilian government more than a month to make a full recovery, the attack effectively halted the roll out of Brazil’s COVID-19 vaccine certification app; ConectSUS. 

Over the next few months LAPSUS$ would go on to breach several more companies, including Impresa, a Portuguese media company and Vodafone Portugal. LAPSUS$’s first 5 attacks took place in quick succession, in just 3 months. 

The group exclusively targeted Portuguese localised companies leading many CTI researchers to suspect the hackers were located in Brazil or Portugal. Members of the group solidified this suspicion, using slang like “kkkkkkkkk” the Portuguese equivalent of the English slang “hahaha”.

LAPSUS$ member using Portuguese slang in Telegram chat

LAPSUS$ was put on the map after the attack on the Brazilian Ministry of Health garnering headlines like “Lapsus$: The Hot New Name in Ransomware Gangs” and “Watch Out LockBit, Here Comes Lapsus$!”. 

While these headlines were catchy, the articles themselves offered no insight into the tactics or motivations of the group. At the time, many thought LAPSUS$ was just like any other ransomware/extortion group, financially-motivated with the goal of encrypting or exfiltrating data and holding it for ransom. 

However, LAPSUS$’s next attack would challenge everything we thought we knew about LAPSUS$. On February 25th 2022, GPU chipmaker Nvidia announced it was investigating an “incident” that knocked some of its systems offline for 2 days. 3 days later LAPSUS$ announced “We hacked NVIDIA” on their telegram…

NVIDIA hacked

 LAPSUS$’s breach of Nvidia was, no doubt, a big deal, but what was far more interesting were their demands. 

More often than not, hacking groups fall into one of 3 motivational categories: financially-motivated, ideologically-motivated, or state-sponsored. Up until the Nvidia breach LAPSUS$ fell squarely in the financially-motivated category, but their unusual demands for Nvidia changed this fact. 

Instead of demanding money or selling the data to the highest bidder, LAPSUS$ demanded Nvidia release their GPU drivers as open source software. Naturally, Nvidia refused to release their code. In response LAPSUS$ would leak some source code from Nvidia on in their Telegram group, but nothing all that interesting or noteworthy. 

Less than 2 weeks after the Nvidia breach, LAPSUS$ announced they had compromised Samsung. The attackers stole roughly 200 gigabytes of data which included some source code for the Samsung Galaxy. 

By this point, threat intelligence researchers were keenly aware of LAPSUS$’s tactics, techniques and procedures. CTI analysts drew up models of how LAPSUS$ operates, giving defenders insight on how to avoid a possible breach. 

Intrusion Analysis Diamond model for LAPSUS$

Continuing their attacks on large tech companies, LAPSUS$ compromised Microsoft. Again, the group started exfiltrating source code. 

LAPSUS$ was able to download the partial source code for Bing, Bing Maps, and even some Windows code. However, Microsoft CTI researchers were able to halt the download before it could be completed. LAPSUS$ mentioned in a public Telegram chat how they were able to access Microsoft systems before the data exfiltration had finished. 

LAPSUS$ chat about MS

Microsoft’s threat intelligence team had been monitoring this chat and was able to stop the exfiltration in real-time. That’s something even advanced EDR software can’t do. While LAPSUS$ would never admit their mistakes, one member did acknowledge the download was interrupted.

A close call for MS

LAPSUS$ would soon after be exposed to be led by a teenage boy out of the United Kingdom who was arrested with six other teenagers associated with the group. Many still suspect there may have been a member located in Brazil, but as of now, this has not been confirmed. 

The LAPSUS$ affair is an excellent showcase of how Cyber Threat Intelligence can protect your organisation from advanced and emerging threat actors.

The SOS Intelligence toolkit can provide you and your company the capability to monitor threats like LAPSUS$. Just as Microsoft leveraged CTI analysis to minimise damage of the LAPSUS$ attack, your organisation can use our CTI tools.

The SOS Intelligence toolkit includes advanced CTI tools capable of monitoring both Dark Web and Clear Web hacking forums and chats. Protect your assets from sophisticated threats today by checking out the SOS Intel toolkit.

Would you like to discover how SOS Intelligence can help you mitigate the cyber threats?

Click the link below to book a call:


What is Cyber Threat Intelligence?

Cyber Threat Intelligence or CTI, is the process of collecting and analysing threat actor’s behaviours. CTI analysts build profiles of known threat actors by investigating their Tactics Techniques and Procedures (TTPs).

How is Cyber Threat Intelligence used?

Network defenders use profiles as well as the TTPs collected by CTI analysts to make informed decisions on how to protect their network. 

Threat actors will often reuse attack vectors on many targets. When CTI analysts discover these attack vectors, they pass on the information to defenders. 

Cyber Threat Intelligence provides the defenders the ability to fight existing and emerging threat actors. 

What is a CTI framework?

A Cyber Threat Intelligence framework is an organisational tool for CTI analysts. There are many CTI frameworks, one of the most popular being the MITRE ATT&CK framework.

MITRE ATT&CK is a globally-accessible knowledge base of adversary tactics and techniques based on real-world observations. The ATT&CK knowledge base is used as a foundation for the development of specific threat models and methodologies in the private sector, in government, and in the cybersecurity product and service community.


Why is Cyber Threat Intelligence Important?

Much like a physical conflict, cyber conflicts need proactive intelligence for good defence. 

Cyber criminals often use forums and chat rooms to communicate with each other. Infiltrating these groups can provide great insight into upcoming and ongoing cyber attacks. 

With the shocking increase of ransomware attacks, proper threat intelligence has become imperative. Ransomware groups are tracked and monitored day and night by CTI analysts. Analysts then alert defenders to a possible breach or upcoming attack. 

Who do cyber criminals target?

The cyber criminal atmosphere is constantly evolving, but most cyber criminals fall into one of three categories. 

First, you have your typical financially-motivated cyber criminal. These threat actors are motivated by one thing and one thing only; money. 

They will scam, hack, and steal anything or anyone for money. In fact, sometimes they scam other cyber criminals! 

The second category is the ideologically-motivated threat actor. Often dubbed hacktivists, these cyber criminals care less about money and are motivated by a political cause. Prime examples of “hacktivist” style hacking groups are “AgainstTheWest” or “Anonymous”. 

The third and most dangerous category is the state-sponsored threat actor. These threat actors work directly or indirectly for a nation-state. 

State-backed threat actors have almost unlimited resources as well as legal protection provided by their government. CTI analysts classify these groups as Advanced Persistent Threats or APTs. 

While not every APT group is state-backed, all state-backed groups are APTs. For cyber criminals, their motivation is the key behind who they target. Financially-motivated cyber criminals often target businesses both small and large. 

Ideologically-motivated threat actors tend to target governments, institutions, or individuals who they deem political enemies. State-backed threats have very specific targets given to them by whatever nation-state they work for. These targets often control vital systems, i.e. energy companies or defence contractors.

Photo by Philipp Katzenberger on Unsplash

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