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Attacks/Breaches

4/15/2015
11:00 AM
Bill Nelson
Bill Nelson
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Why Standardized Threat Data Will Help Stop the Next Big Breach

Adopting industry standards for threat intelligence will reduce a lot of the heavy lifting and free cyber security first responders to focus on what they do best.

When you post your next Facebook update, I will bet that you are not thinking about tcp/ip, http nor html. I imagine that when you buy the next season of Game of Thrones using your credit card you are not really thinking about the impact of TLS/SSL. And when you access your corporate network I am fairly certain you are not thanking the OSI stack in any way shape nor form. Yet these are the standards that are part of an invisible fabric underpinning our digital lives.

For security professionals, the digital world isn’t quite that organized nor standardized…yet. Today’s threat intelligence feels very much like the Internet did back in 1993.With dozens of threat intelligence sources, multiple formats and thousands of threat indicators, it takes the average security operations professional about seven hours to properly chase down a threat indicator. There’s plenty of good threat data out there, both structured and unstructured from sources including: communities (ISACs, NCFTA), government entities (CERTS, DHS, USS, FBI), industry peers, private sector sources (threat intelligence providers) and public source (e.g. open source feeds). But the formats are inconsistent. It’s like trying to find a needle across many different types of haystacks.

Most security practitioners I know are very savvy and very well trained. But a lack of standardized data forces them to do a lot more work. They cut and paste threat data into text files or spreadsheets for further analysis. They call or email their colleagues to correlate data. They jump back and forth between structured and unstructured data. They double check the data sources to make sure they are accurate. And often they must “cherry pick” the most pressing threats. These talented individuals are the first responders in a world of escalating cyber threats and risks, but lack of standardization is holding them back.

So, how can we help these heroes do their jobs better? Standardized threat data sure goes a long way.

Streamlining the process
The good news is that there are emerging standards out there. Two of the best known standards are protocols developed with MITRE and the US Department of Homeland Security to improve how cyber threat information is handled: STIX (Structured Threat Information eXpression) and TAXII (Trusted Automated eXchange of Indication Information). By using data converted to standardized STIX and TAXII formats, security practitioners can rapidly answer questions around current threats, how they act, who is responsible and the course of action based on standard categories (or “objects” in STIX/TAXII lingo).

Instead of working so hard to consume, correlate and analyze data in disparate formats, security professionals can leverage standards to streamline the process and focus on prevention and remediation when required. That is why hundreds of FS-ISAC members and thousands of organizations worldwide are actively using tools that automatically translate structured and unstructured data into STIX and TAXII.

What used to take up to seven hours can now take just seven seconds in some cases. It gives security practitioners higher confidence in the normalized data. It enables them to share information from trusted sources with other entities faster. And it helps them take action faster, by either using security information & event management tools to home in on issues or by actually flowing the data to security controls like firewalls and intrusion detection and prevention solutions.

Cyber security intelligence and information sharing is now top of mind in the executive suite across nearly every sector. From the recent Presidential Executive Order promoting sharing within the private sector and government to high profile attacks and criminal activities regularly reported in the media, businesses large and small are looking for a new approach to strengthen cyber security. Adopting industry standards for threat intelligence reduces a lot of the heavy lifting and enables cyber security first responders to focus on doing what they do best: preventing potential attacks before any harm can be done. A little standardization can go a long way.

Bill Nelson is the President and CEO of the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center (FS-ISAC) and President of Soltra, the security automation joint venture with DTCC. FS-ISAC is a non-profit association dedicated to protecting the global financial services ... View Full Bio
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