Cyberspace is a complex system with the potential for infinite expansion. As its importance continues to grow, global organizations face threats that can cost them billions while compromising their network security and business reputation. Cyber threat intelligence is a vital strategy that prevents attacks, and web scraping is critical to its success.

The internet is far deeper and more expansive than most people imagine. Most users browse the easily-accessible pages of the “surface web” – approximately 10% of internet space – while being completely oblivious of the “deep” and “dark” web where the majority of data lives.

The terms “dark web” and “deep web” tend to be used interchangeably, however they are fundamentally different. While both are hidden from the public and inaccessible with standard search engines, the content on each varies considerably.

According to a report by Dr. Gareth Owen from the University of Portsmouth, the majority of dark web content comprises illegal activity. In contrast, most deep web content is legal and hidden behind password-protected login forms, including online banking services, social media profile pages, streaming entertainment, and webmail. Since the deep web is a repository of valuable financial, governmental, and personal data, it is most often the target of organized crime, estimated at 80%, according to a recent Verizon report.

Types of Cybersecurity Attacks

The majority of cybersecurity attacks are data-related, with the end goal of obtaining financial compensation. The most common types include:

Data Breaches

Data breaches are security violations where cybercriminals view, copy, use, transmit and/or sell data. Business and healthcare are the most targeted industries, according to Statista.

Phishing

Phishing is a technique that uses emails to obtain sensitive data from unsuspecting users.

Social Engineering

Social engineering is a set of psychological manipulation tactics that coerce individuals into revealing confidential data. Examples include:

  • Baiting – the use of a false promise to trap a victim and steal personal and financial information
  • Scareware – a type of malware that uses pop-up ads and other techniques to coerce users into downloading malicious software
  • Pretexting – a technique where an attacker lures a victim into a vulnerable situation with the goal of tricking them into giving up private information

Malware

Malware is software secretly deployed into devices, servers, and networks to access data, disrupt services, or compromise system function.

Ransomware

Ransomware is malware deployed into a machine that threatens harm unless a user pays a fee. Examples include blocking access to critical data, compromising system function, and publishing personal information.

Cyberattacks are a Growing Problem

As more businesses put their databases on the deep web, cybersecurity threats continue to grow. According to sources referenced in a recent Oxylabs threat intelligence report:

  • 36 billion records were exposed via data breaches by the end of Q3-2020
  • The global information security market is expected to reach $170.4 billion by 2022
  • 55% of enterprise executives planned to increase cybersecurity budgets in 2021
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Besides compromising security and taking systems down, cybercrime directly cuts into business profitability. According to an IBM report, the average cost of a data breach is $3.92 million at $150 per record, with an average size of 25,575 records lost per incident. 

Numerous factors contribute to security vulnerabilities that lead to data breaches. According to IBM, the five most common include extensive cloud migration, third-party involvement, system complexity, compliance failures, and issues with operational technology.

Threat intelligence is critical to reversing this trend by helping organizations obtain data to use in security strategies. In addition to ensuring that adequate security measures are in place, threat intelligence helps professionals:

  • Understand cybercriminal methods and goals
  • Trains security teams
  • Leads to the creation of tools and systems that protect data and prevent future attacks

How Web Scraping Supports Threat Intelligence

Cyber threat intelligence addresses cybercrime with information and skills that identify, minimize, and manage cyber attacks. This intelligence is typically gathered from all levels of the web, including darknet forums and websites.

Quality intelligence that is current and relevant is critical to the success of cybersecurity strategies. To obtain high-level insights, cybersecurity experts use web scraping to crawl the web and extract information from target websites.

The web scraping process comprises three main steps that include:

  1. Sending data requests to the target website server
  2. Extracting and parsing data into an easily-readable format
  3. Data analysis

Cybercriminals attempt to escape detection by identifying cybersecurity company servers and blocking their IP addresses. To address this issue, datacenter and residential proxies are used to maintain anonymity, avoid geo-location restrictions, and balance server requests to prevent bans.

Components of a Threat Intelligence Strategy

Threat intelligence strategies typical consist of a process or cycle with steps that include:

Planning and Direction

The first step is to determine the data that needs to be protected and set goals for what intelligence is required to minimize threats and prevent attacks. Additionally, analysis is conducted to identify potential impacts and outline remediation efforts.

Data Collection and Processing

Once the project scope is outlined, data is extracted via web scraping from websites, news, blogs, forums, and all other relevant locations. In addition, some closed sources may be identified and infiltrated on the dark web.

Data Analysis

Following the web scraping process, analysts examine the collected data to determine potential threats and their source.

Dissemination

The collected data and analysis are forwarded to organizations through distribution channels. Some cybersecurity companies build threat intelligence distribution platforms or feeds that provide real-time information.

Feedback

Following plan implementation, results are recorded and feedback is sent to fine-tune the strategy.

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