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White House Initiative on Cyber Threat Sharing: A Good Start

collaborationLast week President Obama announced and signed an executive order to encourage companies to share their cyber threat information and launched the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center (CTIIC). This of course draws comparisons and criticisms to the current ISAC models and more, but overall is a great thing for the security industry. We know that sharing critical data can lead to uncovering related tactics and threats targeting specific industries or organizations. We are stronger together than we are apart, and the increase of private to private and public to private sharing can only benefit organizations looking to proactively protect themselves. With this new initiative that forces top government agencies to share threat intelligence, it becomes clearer that the private sector needs to determine what makes sense for them to work with the government, and each other.

Collaboration within a trusted community can be the most effective source of threat intelligence you have, aside from internal data. Communities provide a place where internal groups, external vendors, corporate partnerships, and membership groups can come together to analyze their threat data. Security teams should be enabled to and prepared for sharing across industries as well as within their own organization.

However, sharing threat intelligence between organizations is not as simple as just allowing the exchange of data; it needs to take into account many considerations around access control, data markings or classifications, and acceptable use of the data shared. It also takes into account WHAT threat data should be shared. Right now, the CTIIC shared data would include “indicators of compromise.” These can be the IP addresses from which attacks occur, malware samples and phishing emails and other information about techniques attackers use to gain access to systems. Many ISAC groups are already sharing this type of information with their members. Sharing is a critical component to understanding complex threats targeting an organization, and brings one or more sources of new intelligence and data to that organization.

There are three main use cases for sharing threat intelligence. Organizations are going to need to determine what makes sense for their privacy, even internally.

  • The first use case is cloud-based, in which communities with multiple user organizations and accounts often have access to the same cloud instance. This is an example of the majority of the current ISAC models.
  • The second case is a federated model of sharing, in which threat intelligence is packaged between two private instances and data is exchanged between them. This is an example of the White House directed ISAO (information sharing and analysis organizations), where companies share cyber threat data with each other (by region or industry) and with the Department of Homeland Security (mainly their NCCIC arm).
  • The third sharing model is the most secure, utilizing an on-premises instance. The on-premises instance allows sharing of threat intelligence and collaboration of data analysis between team members of one organization dispersed by geographic location, team/role, or level. This is an example that the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center may be taking.

Once sharing is enabled, a Threat Intelligence Platform (TIP) is required to fuse all the data together, provide support for processing to make it meaningful (i.e. create intelligence), and integrate the intelligence into the network defenses of the organization. Without software to help do this for you, all you have is a lot of data and a lot of manual work to do to make it actionable.

We’re glad that President Obama has gotten the sharing conversation started, but there is much to be done for organizations to feel comfortable not only sharing their data, but able to act on it later and take control of their networks using the information they have. Standards such as STIX will come into play, as well as privacy concerns, bureaucracy worries, general trust issues, liability questions, regulatory and compliance requests, and more among corporations and government agencies.

But, consider this as a warning for what happens when sharing does not occur with the recent Sony hack:

President Obama wanted to know the details. What was the impact? Who was behind it? Monaco called meetings of the key agencies involved in the investigation, including the FBI, the NSA and the CIA. “Okay, who do we think did this?” she asked, according to one participant. “She got back six views.” All pointed to North Korea, but they differed in the degree of certainty. The key gap: No one was responsible for an analysis that integrated all the agency views.

Sharing is only the first step of a mature threat intelligence program. But, when you are able to collaborate first, it makes the analysis and action that much easier when you have a full integrated view of the attacker and threat.

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More Stories By Adam Vincent

Adam is an internationally renowned information security expert and is currently the CEO and a founder at Cyber Squared Inc. He possesses over a decade of experience in programming, network security, penetration testing, cryptography design & cryptanalysis, identity and access control, and a detailed expertise in information security. The culmination of this knowledge has led to the company’s creation of ThreatConnect™, the first-of-its-kind threat intelligence platform. He currently serves as an advisor to multiple security-focused organizations and has provided consultation to numerous businesses ranging from start-ups to governments, Fortune 500 organizations, and top financial institutions. Adam holds an MS in computer science with graduate certifications in computer security and information assurance from George Washington University. Vincent lives in Arlington, VA with his wife, two children, and dog.