Building a Comprehensive Cybersecurity Audit Strategy Using Threat Intelligence

Building a Comprehensive Cybersecurity Audit Strategy Using Threat Intelligence
7 minute read

Although nearly every business is at risk of becoming a cybercrime victim, threat actors often choose their victims based on two criteria: maximum impact and maximum revenue. Financial service organizations meet these two criteria, making them prime targets for cybercriminals

Organizations in the financial services industry keep extremely crucial and valuable data electronically, from deposit and credit card information to titles, wills, estates, and other sensitive information, and routinely handle substantial amounts of money. Besides, the digital transformation efforts of these organizations have further made them prime targets for threat actors. 

Financial service organizations can avoid falling victim to cybercrime by regularly conducting a cybersecurity audit. These audits help solve security issues while keeping your organization compliant with rules and regulations. This post will guide you on how to build a comprehensive cybersecurity audit strategy using threat intelligence

Threat intelligence in financial services

Threat intelligence refers to evidence-backed information about cyber attacks that cybersecurity professionals organize and analyze. The information may include the mechanisms of an attack, ways of identifying that an attack is happening, ways of differentiating different types of attack, and action-oriented insights on how to defend against various types of attack. There are four types of threat intelligence, namely: 

  • Strategic threat intelligence: This provides high-level information on cybersecurity posture, threats faced, and details on attack trends and the financial impact of various attacks. 
  • Tactical threat intelligence: This plays a significant role in safeguarding an organization's resources. It provides information on the threat vectors used by cybercriminals to launch attacks. 
  • Operational threat intelligence: This provides information about specific threats against an organization. This information is mainly collected from humans, chat rooms, and social media. 
  • Technical threat intelligence: This provides information about the resources a threat actor uses to launch an attack, command and control channels, software, etc. 

Threat intelligence software can look beyond the network perimeter of a financial services organization to gain early visibility of threat actors' malicious activities, tools, and plans. This visibility will enable your security teams to detect emerging threats before they escalate into damaging attacks and mitigate them at the earlier stages. In addition, it can track and monitor unknown vulnerabilities, tactics, and techniques across the Dark Web, Dark Net, and other digital cybercrime communities that threat actors can use to obtain sensitive information about a financial service institution. Threat intelligence is also crucial in mitigating threats, reducing fraud and cyber-related data loss, addressing regulatory compliance, and maintaining customer trust. As such, it supports financial institutions as they prepare for cybersecurity audits or cybersecurity assessments. 

Here are some ways cybersecurity threat intelligence can help financial services organizations mitigate risks, improve compliance, and enhance overall security: 

Vulnerability management 

Most organizations treat security patching as a numbers game. The higher the number of patches they apply, the better their metrics look, and the more content the leadership is that something is being done. However, vulnerabilities differ, and financial institutions don't have to look good only on paper. Threat intelligence allows vulnerability management professionals to mitigate vulnerabilities based on the degree of risk they pose to the organization. 

Security leadership 

The security leaders of financial institutions are usually tasked with determining how best to allocate the limited resources to safeguard their organization's assets and data. Threat intelligence helps security leaders make informed decisions on who to hire, what security technologies to purchase, and where to invest their security budget to reduce cyber risks. 

Incident response

Typically, risk analysts encounter a constant barrage of alerts and threats. As such, prioritization is vital. Threat intelligence helps incident response analysts to quickly identify the most important threats and channel their expertise and time where it is most needed. 

Risk reduction 

Threat intelligence offers increased visibility into existing and emerging cyber attacks across the threat landscape. With these insights, financial institutions can minimize the risk of data loss and prevent disruption of operations. The insights can also help you determine ways of preventing future attacks. 

What is included in a cybersecurity audit?

A cybersecurity audit is a complete analysis and review of every aspect of an organization's cybersecurity relating to its IT infrastructure, policies, procedures, and action plans. A comprehensive data security audit can reveal an organization's data security practices, regulatory and legal compliance status, hardware and software performance, vulnerabilities affecting the ecosystem, internal and external threats, and the effectiveness of existing security policies and procedures. It can help your organization comply with regulatory, legal, and contractual cybersafety requirements. 

Just like with other organizations, financial institutions often carry out cybersecurity audits to assess their cybersecurity posture and compliance with cybersecurity laws and regulations. However, cybersecurity audits in the financial sector are a bit different. Here's a look at some characteristics that this sector's audit from the rest: 

It is comprehensive 

A cybersecurity audit for financial services is usually more comprehensive, assessing an organization's IT infrastructure and policies, cybersecurity posture, and compliance with data protection policies such as GDPR and other regulations. It entails cyber risk assessment, vulnerability assessment, compliance audits, penetration tests, and cyber maturity assessments. 

It is usually carried out by third-parties 

Unlike most sectors that conduct an internal cybersecurity audit, third parties usually conduct audits for financial institutions. Some financial institutions task internal personnel to conduct the audit, after which a third party also audits their cybersecurity. Third parties work independently, thereby eliminating conflict of interest. 

It is conducted more frequently 

Given the nature of data stored by financial institutions, the financial prowess of these organizations, and the fact they are prime targets for threat actors, financial institutions usually conduct cybersecurity audits more frequently. This is done to determine whether these institutions comply with data privacy laws, have a healthy security posture, and have sound measures and policies for protecting themselves against cyber threats. Preferably, financial institutions should conduct cybersecurity audits at least twice a year. 

Incorporating threat intelligence into cybersecurity audits 

Cybercriminals are increasingly threatening financial institutions. Cyber attacks and data breaches targeting these organizations have been a regular occurrence in the media. As cybercriminals become more aggressive and develop complex attack techniques, it's important for financial institutions to come up with measures for safeguarding their organization and ensuring compliance with data and cybersecurity regulations. 

One great way of achieving this feat is by incorporating threat intelligence into cybersecurity audits. But how exactly can you do this? You could start by integrating it into your existing cybersecurity processes. For example, you could use threat intelligence during security operations to gather information about potential threats, eliminate false positives, and make overall incident analysis easier. You could also use it to manage vulnerabilities—it effectively combines internal vulnerability scans and scans of external data to provide insight into attack techniques, tactics, and procedures. You could also use threat intelligence for effective risk analysis—threat intelligence feeds offer valuable context for defining risk measurements more accurately. 

Insights from threat intelligence can also be used during cybersecurity audits to make the process more effective and streamlined. Some best practices for incorporating threat intelligence into cybersecurity audits include: 

Integrating threat intelligence with existing cybersecurity solutions 

Threat intelligence solutions aren't very effective as standalone tools. As such, you should integrate it with existing solutions to improve its effectiveness. For instance, combining threat intelligence with SIEM solutions provides early warnings with context for alerts. In addition, incorporating it with an incident management system helps protect sensitive data and security alerts both in transit and at rest, as well as leverage threat intel to help expedite investigations and determine a course of action to remediate and resolve issues.

Adopt a proactive approach to threat intelligence and cybersecurity audits

Threat intelligence helps guide security policies, enabling security teams to identify vulnerabilities before an attack happens. Security teams should leverage threat intelligence platforms to make informed decisions on restricting access permissions, identifying necessary updates and patches, and setting access controls to prevent and limit attacks. 

At the same time, audit teams should leverage insights from threat intelligence when auditing an organization's cybersecurity posture, policies, procedures, and compliance with data and  industry regulations

Align your threat intelligence with your organization's threat model 

Threat modeling is a crucial strategy for ensuring that resources are channeled to controls that address the real threats of an organization. To ensure that your threat intelligence strategy is incorporated into your cybersecurity audit process, it must first support your existing threat model. A crucial part of your review should involve determining whether your threat intelligence and threat modeling are aligned and whether this helps make your cybersecurity audits more effective. 

ZeroFox can help protect your financial institution 

Financial service organizations face a wide range of threats, including phishing attacks, ransomware, DDoS attacks, SQL injections, supply chain attacks, and bank drops. When these attacks become successful, these organizations can suffer significant financial losses as well as reputational damage. 

Unlike most organizations, financial institutions not only have to keep customers' data safe but also safeguard their customer's money. ZeroFox can help protect your financial institution. We offer external threat intelligence services tailored to your security needs. Combining AI processing, dark ops agents, and deep learning tools, ZeroFox combs through the surface, deep, and dark web to provide relevant and timely intelligence. Book a demo to see our threat intelligence solution in action. 

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