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Tech Insight: Five Steps To Implementing Security Intelligence

Building an initiative to collect and analyze threat and risk information takes some planning. Here's a look at the key steps toward making it happen

[Jason Sachowski is a security professional at ScotiaBank. His content is contributed through the auspices of the (ISC)2 Executive Writers Bureau.]

To understand security -- and the risks and threats that your organization faces -- you need information. This information, collectively known as "security intelligence," is becoming more critical to enterprises as attackers become more sophisticated in their exploits.

What is security intelligence? In a blog posted last year, security vendor Q1 Labs offered this definition:

"Security Intelligence is the real-time collection, normalization, and analysis of the data generated by users, applications and infrastructure that impacts the IT security and risk posture of an enterprise. The goal of security intelligence is to provide actionable and comprehensive insight that reduces risk and operational effort for any size organization."

The concept of security intelligence is evolving rapidly, but it seems likely to following much the same pattern as the evolution of criminal intelligence in law enforcement. The first approach was to remove the criminal entities (the tactical approach). Next, there was an effort to analyze how crime was being committed (the operational approach). Today, there is a focus on building effective defenses (the strategic approach).

Until recently, most organizations' efforts in security have been focused more on stopping the threat than on analyzing attacks and threats. To make the leap from tactical/operational approaches, enterprises need to take a more strategic approach to collecting and analyzing security intelligence. Here's a look at five of the key steps in this transition.

1. Planning
Perhaps the most important step of developing a security intelligence initiative is defining what information it will provide -- and how that information relates to the business. Before going out and identifying data sources for input, consider the multiple outputs that will come from building this service. Three of the most important outputs are threat intelligence, risk trending, and due diligence.

Threat intelligence is the first and foremost piece of information that will be obtained from your security intelligence initiative. Threat intelligence allows your enteprise to meet tactical and operational needs through the real-time alerting of threats. With good threat intelligence, organizations are also in a better position to recognize the most serious threats and build strategic defenses to address them.

Risk trending -- a key component of security planning and decision making -- becomes more effective as the amount of threat intelligence data increases. By capturing and storing data from internal and external sources, security intelligence can help identify threat and vulnerability trends that might impact the organization's specific business functions.

Due diligence is the the case-by-case evaluation of business partners -- such as contractors and vendors -- to determine the potential security risks associated with business relationships. Ultimately, threat intelligence data can help the business make good security choices when evaluating potential partners.

It's important that the planning process include not just short-term threats, but longer term trends. By placing greater emphasis on building long-term solution (strategic approach), organizations will be able deliver more consistent business defenses that distinguish strategic security intelligence gathering from tactical and operational practices.

2. Collection
IT security professionals spends much of their time reading security-related news, conducting independent research, and attending various training sessions. These efforts mostly provide information that's nice to know, but not always directly relevant to the security pro's specific organization.

Most security professionals need to re-direct their efforts toward more substantial and relevant data – including threat intelligence sources, open source information, industry contacts, and law enforcement. By focusing more closely on directly-relevant sources of information, organizations will collect less redundant information and keep interested parties more accurately informed.

Collecting security intelligence data is something like a loose thread on a sweater; the more you pull, the bigger it gets. But if you've defined specific goals during the Planning stage, you should be able to narrow down your list of data sources. Security information and event management [SIEM] tools, open source information (such as news feeds), industry sources (such as Gartner or Forrester), and professional peers at other organizations may all be useful sources in the information-gathering effort.

3. Analysis
Your security intelligence can be used to support further research, investigations, and defensive measures. It's not enough to aggregate, normalize, and present data -- you must analyze it to ensure its accuracy, reliability, and usefulness to the organization.

A security intelligence analyst should be able to apply critical thinking efforts to truly understand the collected data, perform comparisons against other known data, and format it into meaningful reports that support the business' needs.

4. Information Distribution
Communicating security intelligence data to non-technical people can be difficult, primarily because the data does not translate very easily to business operations. More often than not, intelligence data communicated in reports is viewed as a snapshot in time -- it becomes outdated quickly and no action is taken.

Intelligence reporting should be business-focused and targeted at primary stakeholders, including executives and non-technical decsion makers. It should include analytical data that can be easily understood and used to make informed business decisions. Those decisions will only be as good as the data you provide.

5. Prioritization
With the right data in hand, organizations can move on the the final step: determining the next set of priorities. While some intelligence is focused on a single security issue (start/middle/end), there are other times when intelligence becomes a cycle (wash/rinse/repeat) of collecting, analyzing, and reporting.

Security intelligence is a key source of information for making security decisions, but it is only one point of discussion. The data and analyses must be combined with other information, both on the IT and business sides, and considered in context.

The most effective security intelligence-gathering efforts are done on a strategic level, taking longer-term trends, risks, and business issues into account. This is not to say that tactical and operational intelligence are declining practices – they remain critical for understanding the organization's security and risk posture.

By placing greater emphasis on strategic, long-term threat intelligence, organizations will be able deliver more consistent security defenses that are flexible enough to deal with changing requirements and protect the business as threats evolve.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add a Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Jason is an Information Security professional with over 10 years of experience. He is currently the Director of Security Forensics & Civil Investigations within the Scotiabank group. Throughout his career at Scotiabank, he has been responsible for digital investigations, ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Apprentice
11/6/2012 | 6:27:41 PM
re: Tech Insight: Five Steps To Implementing Security Intelligence
Nice work on this issue Jason.
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