"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle" – Edmund Burke.
This quote from Edmund Burke in Thoughts on the Cause of Present Discontents, was meant to be a political statement in 18th century England, when the Whigs and Tories were dominant. But many centuries later, it’s an appropriate call-to-action for those of us in the cybersecurity industry to collaborate and share.
The kind of sharing I mean is when you give the IT security community information about the attacks you’re seeing against your own organization. When you do that, that data becomes useful to everyone as threat intelligence.
Gartner describes threat intelligence as "evidence-based knowledge, including context, mechanisms, indicators, implications and actionable advice, about an existing or emerging menace or hazard to assets that can be used to inform decisions regarding the subject's response to that menace or hazard." In other words, threat intelligence is the stuff that informs the good guys about how the bad guys operate. It helps the IT security community learn how the hackers operate, and how they might attack a given organization.
If all an organization knows about their adversary is what it has learned from its own experience, the organization will remain on the defensive. But if attack data from the collective experience of thousands of companies, associations, industries and governments is collected and aggregated, that creates a far richer tapestry, and allows companies to prepare for attacks in such a way as to anticipate and prevent them, rather than discover and react.
When you get your hands on the opposition’s game plan — the hacker’s playbook — it gives you an advantage. You can test your defenses and shore up weaknesses and you can take steps to disrupt the kill chain the hacker must follow to get to his or her objective. Such capabilities are only possible when threats, attack methods and industry-specific targets most likely to put your organization at risk are known.
The spirit of cooperation and sharing is what makes that possible and the reason why threat intelligence services and threat sharing are becoming vital to IT security. Using threat intelligence feeds to constantly inform a dynamic data protection strategy continuously tests the strength of your cybersecurity and challenges convention. The result: your organization gets up on its toes and the hackers are put back on their heels. That is a big advantage.
Share and Share Alike
The spirit of cooperation seems to be taking hold. Not only are threat intelligence services thriving, but there are organizations now that exist for the sole purpose of analyzing threats specific to specific communities.
VirusTotal is one of the legacy collaborative platforms, enabling security users and vendors alike to upload files and determine if a specific malware has been detected. By changing its business model, VirusTotal now ensures that all security vendors that are taking advantage of its data are also contributing data.
At a national level, CyberUSA is a nonprofit aiming to foster American leadership in cybersecurity by shaping education, innovation and policy at both the state and federal levels. Launching with seven charter members from California, Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, South Carolina and Texas, CyberUSA hopes to extend the value of shared intelligence to businesses that might not have resources on their own.
There’s also ample evidence of collaboration in the private sector. For example, the National Credit Union Information Sharing and Analysis Organization (NCU-ISAO) was recently founded to collect, analyze and disseminate threat intelligence targeting Credit Unions. NCU-ISAO is the first operational and threat intelligence sharing organization dedicated wholly to credit unions, NCU-ISAO executive director Gene Fredriksen told Credit Union Times, noting the group's support for "innovative, member-driven initiatives around benchmarking, process improvement, and regulatory strategies.” It’s the latest addition to the parent Information Sharing and Analysis Organization (ISAO), which tracks other organizations that have industry-focused threat intel sharing operations.
Each day millions of security events hammer away at the defenses of U.S. companies. Individual organizations in high-risk sectors such as financial services, high tech, or government may endure hundreds of thousands of attacks. While the volume and persistence may be frustrating, each attack results in a greater understanding of the adversary — but only when it is shared and added to threat intelligence feeds, hacker playbooks and breach simulations.
When bad men combine, the good must associate. Together, we’re moving in the right direction.