Understand threat intelligence in Azure Sentinel

Introduction to threat intelligence


For information about feature availability in US Government clouds, see the Azure Sentinel tables in Cloud feature availability for US Government customers.

Cyber threat intelligence (CTI) is information describing known existing or potential threats to systems and users. This type of information takes many forms, from written reports detailing a particular threat actor’s motivations, infrastructure, and techniques, to specific observations of IP addresses, domains, file hashes, and other artifacts associated with known cyber threats. CTI is used by organizations to provide essential context to unusual activity, so that security personnel can quickly take action to protect their people, information, and other assets. CTI can be sourced from many places, such as open-source data feeds, threat intelligence-sharing communities, commercial intelligence feeds, and local intelligence gathered in the course of security investigations within an organization.

Within a Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solution like Azure Sentinel, the most commonly used form of CTI is threat indicators, also known as Indicators of Compromise or IoCs. Threat indicators are data that associate observed artifacts such as URLs, file hashes, or IP addresses with known threat activity such as phishing, botnets, or malware. This form of threat intelligence is often called tactical threat intelligence because it can be applied to security products and automation in large scale to detect potential threats to an organization and protect against them. In Azure Sentinel, you can use threat indicators to help detect malicious activity observed in your environment and provide context to security investigators to help inform response decisions.

You can integrate threat intelligence (TI) into Azure Sentinel through the following activities:

  • Import threat intelligence into Azure Sentinel by enabling data connectors to various TI platforms and feeds.
  • View and manage the imported threat intelligence in Logs and in the Threat Intelligence blade of Azure Sentinel.
  • Detect threats and generate security alerts and incidents using the built-in Analytics rule templates based on your imported threat intelligence.
  • Visualize key information about your imported threat intelligence in Azure Sentinel with the Threat Intelligence workbook.

Threat Intelligence also provides useful context within other Azure Sentinel experiences such as Hunting and Notebooks, and while not covered in this article, these experiences are addressed in Ian Hellen's excellent blog post on Jupyter Notebooks in Azure Sentinel, which covers the use of CTI within Notebooks.

Import threat intelligence with data connectors

Just like all the other event data in Azure Sentinel, threat indicators are imported using data connectors. There are two data connectors in Azure Sentinel provided specifically for threat indicators, Threat Intelligence - TAXII for industry-standard STIX/TAXII feeds and Threat Intelligence Platforms for integrated and curated TI feeds. You can use either data connector alone, or both connectors together, depending on where your organization sources threat indicators.

See this catalog of threat intelligence integrations available with Azure Sentinel.

Adding threat indicators to Azure Sentinel with the Threat Intelligence Platforms data connector

Many organizations use threat intelligence platform (TIP) solutions to aggregate threat indicator feeds from a variety of sources, to curate the data within the platform, and then to choose which threat indicators to apply to various security solutions such as network devices, EDR/XDR solutions, or SIEMs such as Azure Sentinel. If your organization uses an integrated TIP solution, the Threat Intelligence Platforms data connector allows you to use your TIP to import threat indicators into Azure Sentinel.

Because the TIP data connector works with the Microsoft Graph Security tiIndicators API to accomplish this, it can also be used by any custom threat intelligence platform that communicates with the tiIndicators API to send indicators to Azure Sentinel (and to other Microsoft security solutions like Microsoft 365 Defender).

Threat intelligence import path

For more information on the TIP solutions integrated with Azure Sentinel, see Integrated threat intelligence platform products.

These are the main steps you need to follow to import threat indicators to Azure Sentinel from your integrated TIP or custom threat intelligence solution:

  1. Obtain an Application ID and Client Secret from your Azure Active Directory

  2. Input this information into your TIP solution or custom application

  3. Enable the Threat Intelligence Platforms data connector in Azure Sentinel

For a detailed look at each of these steps, see Connect your threat intelligence platform to Azure Sentinel.

Adding threat indicators to Azure Sentinel with the Threat Intelligence - TAXII data connector

The most widely-adopted industry standard for the transmission of threat intelligence is a combination of the STIX data format and the TAXII protocol. If your organization obtains threat indicators from solutions that support the current STIX/TAXII version (2.0 or 2.1), you can use the Threat Intelligence - TAXII data connector to bring your threat indicators into Azure Sentinel. The Threat Intelligence - TAXII data connector enables a built-in TAXII client in Azure Sentinel to import threat intelligence from TAXII 2.x servers.

TAXII import path

Follow these steps to import STIX formatted threat indicators to Azure Sentinel from a TAXII server:

  1. Obtain the TAXII server API Root and Collection ID

  2. Enable the Threat Intelligence - TAXII data connector in Azure Sentinel

For a detailed look at each of these steps, see Connect Azure Sentinel to STIX/TAXII threat intelligence feeds.

View and manage your threat indicators

You can view your successfully imported threat indicators, regardless of the source feed or the connector used, in the ThreatIntelligenceIndicator table (under the Azure Sentinel group) in Logs which is where all your Azure Sentinel event data is stored. This table is the basis for threat intelligence queries performed by other Azure Sentinel features such as Analytics and Workbooks.

Your results should look similar to the sample threat indicator shown below:

Sample query data

You can also view and manage your indicators in the new Threat Intelligence blade, accessible from the main Azure Sentinel menu. You can sort, filter, and search your imported threat indicators without even writing a Log Analytics query. This feature also allows you to create threat indicators directly within the Azure Sentinel interface, as well as perform two of the most common threat intelligence administrative tasks: indicator tagging and creating new indicators related to security investigations.

Tagging threat indicators is an easy way to group them together to make them easier to find. Typically, you might apply a tag to indicators related to a particular incident, or to those representing threats from a particular known actor or well-known attack campaign. You can tag threat indicators individually, or multi-select indicators and tag them all at once. Shown below is an example of tagging multiple indicators with an incident ID. Since tagging is free-form, a recommended practice is to create standard naming conventions for threat indicator tags. You can apply multiple tags to each indicator.

Apply tags to threat indicators

For more details on viewing and managing your threat indicators, see Work with threat indicators in Azure Sentinel.

Detect threats with threat indicator-based analytics

The most important use case for threat indicators in SIEM solutions like Azure Sentinel is to power analytics rules for threat detection. These indicator-based rules compare raw events from your data sources against your threat indicators to detect security threats in your organization. In Azure Sentinel Analytics, you create analytics rules that run on a schedule and generate security alerts. The rules are driven by queries, along with configurations that determine how often the rule should run, what kind of query results should generate security alerts and incidents, and which if any automations to trigger in response.

While you can always create new analytics rules from scratch, Azure Sentinel provides a set of built-in rule templates, created by Microsoft security engineers, that you can use as-is or modify to meet your needs. You can readily identify the rule templates that use threat indicators, as they are all titled beginning with "TI map…". All these rule templates operate similarly, with the only difference being which type of threat indicators are used (domain, email, file hash, IP address, or URL) and which event type to match against. Each template lists the required data sources needed for the rule to function, so you can see at a glance if you have the necessary events already imported in Azure Sentinel. When you edit and save an existing rule template or create a new rule, it is enabled by default.

You can find your enabled rule in the Active rules tab of the Analytics section of Azure Sentinel. You can edit, enable, disable, duplicate or delete the active rule from there. The new rule runs immediately upon activation, and from then on will run on its defined schedule.

According to the default settings, each time the rule runs on its schedule, any results found will generate a security alert. Security alerts in Azure Sentinel can be viewed in the Logs section of Azure Sentinel, in the SecurityAlert table under the Azure Sentinel group.

In Azure Sentinel, the alerts generated from analytics rules also generate security incidents which can be found in Incidents under Threat Management on the Azure Sentinel menu. Incidents are what your security operations teams will triage and investigate to determine the appropriate response actions. You can find detailed information in this Tutorial: Investigate incidents with Azure Sentinel.

For more details on using threat indicators in your analytics rules, see Work with threat indicators in Azure Sentinel.

Workbooks provide insights about your threat intelligence

Workbooks provide powerful interactive dashboards that give you insights into all aspects of Azure Sentinel, and threat intelligence is no exception. You can use the built-in Threat Intelligence workbook to visualize key information about your threat intelligence, and you can easily customize the workbook according to your business needs. You can even create new dashboards combining many different data sources so you can visualize your data in unique ways. Since Azure Sentinel workbooks are based on Azure Monitor workbooks, there is already extensive documentation available, and many more templates. A great place to start is this article on how to Create interactive reports with Azure Monitor workbooks.

There is also a rich community of Azure Monitor workbooks on GitHub where you can download additional templates and contribute your own templates.

For more details on using and customizing the Threat Intelligence workbook, see Work with threat indicators in Azure Sentinel.

Next steps

In this document, you learned about the threat intelligence capabilities of Azure Sentinel, including the Threat Intelligence blade. For practical guidance on using Azure Sentinel's threat intelligence capabilities, see the following articles: