Interpret technical threat intelligence and recommend risk mitigations


Threat intelligence at Microsoft includes signals inside and outside the company, related to areas shown in the figure below, like denial of service, malware, or unauthorized data access. With the right context, this intelligence leads to targeted actions---for example, releasing system updates, enforcing security policies like multi-factor authentication, or applying other security measures.

This diagram gives examples of the types of intelligence that Microsoft gets about phishing, malware, and other attacks from analyzing things like device sign-ins, user sign-ins, and system updates.

Threat intelligence is used as a tool to learn about threat and help mitigate risks. This is because threat intelligence gives context, relevance, and priority. Threat intelligence goes beyond the lists of bad domains or bad hashes. It provides the necessary context, relevance, and priority---sometimes called enrichment. This helps people to make faster, better, and more proactive cybersecurity decisions. Below you have examples of scenarios where threat intelligence can be used:

  • A security analyst who uses threat intelligence to analyze the highest priority signals and takes action.

  • An information worker who knows to watch for emails with links that appear suspicious and could be a phishing campaign targeting the company. This awareness could, for example, influence the email recipient to be vigilant, avoid opening files or clicking questionable links, and report the email as suspicious.

  • An organization that uses threat intelligence to alert employees that a particular email attachment is associated with ransomware that has affected other companies in the same sector.

Security concerns aren't limited to any sector. All organizations need to defend themselves against cyberthreats, making it a core part of their strategies and operations. Visibility and intelligence into threats are crucial for preparedness---for example, knowing the type of attack, who's being targeted, how often, and the source of attacks. Through threat intelligence, organizations can gain visibility, context, and relevance of security events. Having access to---and sharing this knowledge---helps decision makers both inside and outside security teams prioritize actions and reduce risk.

Identify technical threat intelligence

Cyber threat intelligence (CTI) can come from many sources, such as open-source data feeds, threat intelligence sharing communities, paid intelligence feeds, and security investigations within organizations. CTI can range from written reports on a threat actor's motivations, infrastructure, and techniques, to specific observations of IP addresses, domains, and file hashes. CTI provides essential context for unusual activity, so security personnel can act quickly to protect people and assets.

The most utilized CTI in SIEM solutions like Microsoft Sentinel is threat indicator data, sometimes called Indicators of Compromise (IoCs). Threat indicators associate URLs, file hashes, IP addresses, and other data with known threat activity like phishing, botnets, or malware. This form of threat intelligence is often called tactical threat intelligence, because security products and automation can use it in large scale to protect and detect potential threats. The diagram below shows the core architecture of this solution:

Diagram showing Microsoft Sentinel data flow.

Microsoft Sentinel can help detect, respond to, and provide CTI context for malicious cyber activity. You can also use Microsoft Sentinel to:

  • Import threat indicators from Structured Threat Information Expression (STIX) and Trusted Automated Exchange of Intelligence Information (TAXII) servers, or from any threat intelligence platform (TIP) solution
  • View and query threat indicator data
  • Create analytics rules to generate security alerts, incidents, and automated responses from CTI data
  • Visualize key CTI information in workbooks

Another product that also uses threat intelligence is Microsoft Defender for Cloud. Defender for Cloud's threat protection works by monitoring security information from your Azure resources, the network, and connected partner solutions. It analyzes this information, often correlating information from multiple sources, to identify threats. When Defender for Cloud identifies a threat, it triggers a security alert, which contains detailed information regarding the event, including suggestions for remediation. To help incident response teams investigate and remediate threats, Defender for Cloud provides threat intelligence reports containing information about detected threats. The report includes information such as:

  • Attacker's identity or associations (if this information is available)
  • Attackers' objectives
  • Current and historical attack campaigns (if this information is available)
  • Attackers' tactics, tools, and procedures
  • Associated indicators of compromise (IoC) such as URLs and file hashes
  • Victimology, which is the industry and geographic prevalence to assist you in determining if your Azure resources are at risk
  • Mitigation and remediation information Defender for Cloud has three types of threat reports, which can vary according to the attack. The reports available are:
    • Activity Group Report: provides deep dives into attackers, their objectives, and tactics.
    • Campaign Report: focuses on details of specific attack campaigns.
    • Threat Summary Report: covers all of the items in the previous two reports.

This type of information is useful during the incident response process, where there's an ongoing investigation to understand the source of the attack, the attacker's motivations, and what to do to mitigate this issue in the future.

Threat intelligence is also used in other Microsoft Security solutions, such as Azure AD Identity Protection, which has a featured called Risk Detection. Risk detections (both user and sign-in linked) contribute to the overall user risk score that is found in the Risky Users report. These risks are calculated offline using Microsoft's internal and external threat intelligence sources including security researchers, law enforcement professionals, security teams at Microsoft, and other trusted sources. The image below has an example of the risk detection capability in Azure AD Identity Protection:

Diagram showing an example of the risk detection capability in Azure A D Identity Protection.

Risk mitigations

Thinking of risks in this manner is sometimes referred to as the event-driven risk model. This term implies that a list of risks is a list of potential future events. Each risk describes some event that could occur in the future. The risk might include some information about the probability of occurrence. It should include a description of the impact that such an occurrence would have on the project plan. It may also include a description of ways to reduce the probability of occurrence and ways to mitigate the impact of occurrence.

Risk management activities fall into four phases: identification, assessment, response, and monitoring and reporting. In the list below you have more details about each phase:

  • Identification: The risk management process starts with identifying all possible risks to all key control areas, internal and external threats, and vulnerabilities in the environment. The identification phase is also when decision logs, active security and compliance exceptions, and mitigation work from previous risk assessments are reviewed

  • Assessment: Each identified risk is assessed using three metrics: impact, likelihood, and control deficiency. Impact refers to the damage that would occur to the service or business. Likelihood defines the probability of the potential risk being realized and control deficiency measures the effectiveness of implemented mitigation controls.

  • Response: How you'll respond to the risk that was identified, which could be based on the following options:

    • Tolerate: Areas of low-risk exposure with a low level of control.
    • Operate: Areas of low-risk exposure where controls are deemed adequate.
    • Monitor: Areas of high-risk exposure where controls are deemed adequate and should be monitored for effectiveness.
    • Improve: Areas of high-risk exposure with a low level of control that are top priorities in addressing.
  • Monitoring and reporting: Risks identified as part of the risk assessment are monitored and reported to relevant stakeholders. Monitoring strategies include security monitoring, periodic risk reviews, penetration testing, and vulnerability scanning.