Threat Data and Threat Intelligence: What’s the Difference?

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threat data

Any successful and comprehensive security program in operation today has its individual focus and goals, as well as its own understanding and processes of how its data becomes useful intelligence.

The phrase threat intelligence is a top buzzword commonly used in today’s cybersecurity landscape. As often happens with buzzwords, it may used in the wrong context and/or overused at the same time, which can create unnecessary confusion around the topic.

Many believe that threat data and threat intelligence are the same thing, but in fact threat data is only one piece of the puzzle.

What is Threat Data?

Threat data is a raw summary of malicious domains, hash values or IP addresses, and consequently it is data that does not provide any context on cyber threats or attacks whatsoever. Threat data is typically available in large volumes and describes individual and unarguable facts.

What is Threat Intelligence?

Cyber threat intelligence is organized, analyzed and refined information about potential or current security attacks that threaten an organization. The primary purpose of threat intelligence is to help organization understand their threat landscape and the risks they are potentially exposed to, internal or external.

Threat data becomes threat intelligence when it is enriched with threat context in order to produce actionable and relevant information to enable companies to align their business and security strategies and goals.

How To Utilize Threat Data and Threat Intelligence

Even though threat data does have its uses, the benefits of it are limited in the absence of context to enable security teams to make informed decisions. In order to utilize threat intelligence, an organization should have a clear idea of its end goal, and how this can be achieved by introducing threat data into their security programs. The failure to do this properly will result in any threat intelligence program delivering little real value, with vast amounts of data being generated with little or no significant benefit.

Threat data feeds are a core part of a threat intelligence program, although it’s important to bear in mind that not all sources are created equally. Despite the fact that there are many sources of threat intelligence, the most common are the following: scanning/crawling, malware processing, human intelligence, honeypots and internal telemetry. Threat intelligence is usually provided as a free resource, open source or a paid subscription.

Organizations need to have a good grasp on the source of their threat data feeds if they want to see the maximum benefit from these sources in order to evaluate the data relevant to their internal intelligence. The best feeds are relayed at near real-time. Any old or incomplete data can defocus the company and security team from its goals, and this can result in alert fatigue and data overload. This is specifically true with cloud computing, where IP addresses could be released and re-used many times in a day. With this in mind, successful threat intelligence programs requires proper analysis of data feeds in order to get the context necessary for operational changes surrounding securing their environment.

Without careful planning and execution, the incorporation of threat intelligence into an existing security program can lead to failure. For example, a company in the manufacturing industry won’t have much success with their desired goals if it incorporates threat intelligence from a financial services sector, because that source has financial context and it’s not focused on industry-relevant threats.

Another core element of a successful threat intelligence program is its alignment with the organization’s overall business goals. The best way to do this is to check how data feeds solve security problems for specific business operations.

Automating Threat Intelligence in Incident Response

When a security incident happens, specialists usually know very little about its severity and scope. Their knowledge is usually limited to an alert or indicator which needs to be enriched with context and intelligence, so that specialists can determine the full scope of the incident. The security team must assess and triage each single event and establish its severity in order to determine whether it needs further investigation.

The security team usually relies on threat intelligence to establish the scope of the incident and the potential damage. For example, a single alert about a file may contain only a hash indicator. While manual analysis can reveal other indicators, such activity would take a lot of time.

Instead, a better approach would be to incorporate an automated threat intelligence enrichment system.

Incorporating an automated approach can do the same work in just seconds. Automated threat intelligence enrichment can be used to implement repeatable and predictable processes that are fast, effective and efficient. This method also releases specialists from time-consuming and error-prone tasks of data gathering and data verifying, which gives them more free time for analysis and threat hunting.


The aim of threat intelligence is to use data and raise security and visibility to a higher level, so that security specialists can prioritize remediation steps based on the risk they pose. The choice of the right data feeds would be step number 1, but the more important steps are setting up mechanisms and workflows to mine, enrich, and turn it into actionable intelligence.

If you would like to learn more about how to automate and orchestrate your security operations with Security Orchestration, Automation and Response (SOAR) technology, including integrations with a number of popular Threat Intelligence solutions including AlienVault OTX, Cisco ThreatGrid, IBM X-Force Exchange, Palo Alto Wildfire, Recorded Future, ThreatConnect, VirusTotal and more, get in touch today to arrange a personalized one-one demo.

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