Applied Threat Intelligence: Defining TI

As we looked back on our research output for the past 2 years it became clear that threat intelligence (TI) has been a topic of interest. We have written no less than 6 papers on this topic, and feel like we have only scratched the surface of how TI can impact your security program. So why the wide-ranging interest in TI? Because security practitioners have basically been failing to keep pace with adversaries for the past decade. It’s a sad story, but it is reality. Adversaries can (and do) launch new attacks using new techniques, and the broken negative security model of looking for attacks you have seen before consistently misses them. If your organization hasn’t seen the new attacks and updated your controls and monitors to look for the new patterns, you are out of luck. What if you could see attacks without actually being attacked? What if you could benefit from the experience of higher-profile targets, learn what adversaries are trying against them, and then look for those patterns in your own environment? That would improve your odds of detecting and preventing attacks. It doesn’t put defenders on an even footing with attackers, but it certainly helps. So what’s the catch? It’s easy to buy data but hard to make proper use of it. Knowing what attacks may be coming at you doesn’t help if your security operations functions cannot detect the patterns, block the attacks, or use the data to investigate possible compromise. Without those capabilities it’s just more useless data, and you already have plenty of that. As we discussed in detail in both Leveraging Threat Intelligence in Security Monitoring and Leveraging Threat Intelligence in Incident Response/Management, TI can only help if your security program evolves to take advantage of intelligence data. As we wrote in the TI+SM paper: One of the most compelling uses for threat intelligence is helping to detect attacks earlier. By looking for attack patterns identified via threat intelligence in your security monitoring and analytics processes, you can shorten the window between compromise and detection. But TI is not just useful for security monitoring and analytics. You can leverage it in almost every aspect of your security program. Our new Applied Threat Intelligence series will briefly revisit how processes need to change (as discussed in those papers) and then focus on how to use threat intelligence to improve your ability to detect, prevent, and investigate attacks. Evolving your processes is great. Impacting your security posture is better. A lot better. Defining Threat Intelligence We cannot write about TI without acknowledging that, with a broad enough definition, pretty much any security data qualifies as threat intelligence. New technologies like anti-virus and intrusion detection (yes, that’s sarcasm, folks) have been driven by security research data since they emerged 10-15 years ago. Those DAT files you (still) send all over your network? Yup, that’s TI. The IPS rules and vulnerability scanner updates your products download? That’s all TI too. Over the past couple years we have seen a number of new kinds of TI sources emerge, including IP reputation, Indicators of Compromise, command and control patterns, etc. There is a lot of data out there, that’s for sure. And that’s great because without this raw material you have nothing but what you see in your own environment. So let’s throw some stuff against the wall to see what sticks. Here is a starter definition of threat intelligence: Threat Intelligence is security data that provides the ability to prepare to detect, prevent, or investigate emerging attacks before your organization is attacked. That definition is intentionally quite broad because we don’t want to exclude interesting security data. Notice the definition doesn’t restrict TI to external data either, although in most cases TI is externally sourced. Organizations with very advanced security programs can do proactive research on potential adversaries and develop proprietary intelligence to identify likely attack vectors and techniques, but most organizations rely on third-party data sources to make internal tools and processes more effective. That’s what leveraging threat intelligence is all about. Adversary Analysis So who is most likely to attack? That’s a good start for your threat intelligence process, because the attacks you will see vary greatly based on the attacker’s mission, and their assessment of the easiest and most effective way to compromise your environment. Evaluate the mission: You need to start by learning what’s important in your environment, so you can identify interesting targets. They usually break down into a few discrete categories – including intellectual property, protected customer data, and business operations information. Profile the adversary: To defend yourself you need to know not only what adversaries are likely to look for, but what kinds of tactics various types of attackers typically use. So figure out which categories of attacker you are likely to face. Types include unsophisticated (using widely available tools), organized crime, competitors, and state-sponsored. Each class has a different range of capabilities. Identify likely attack scenarios: Based on the adversary’s probable mission and typical tactics, put your attacker hat on to figure out which path you would most likely take to achieve it. At this point the attack has already taken place (or is still in progress) and you are trying to assess and contain the damage. Hopefully investigating your proposed paths will prove or disprove your hypothesis. Keep in mind that you don’t need to be exactly right about the scenario. You need to make assumptions about what the attacker has done, and you cannot predict their actions perfectly. The objective is to get a head start on response, narrowing down investigation by focusing on specific devices and attacks. Nor do you need a 200-page dossier on each adversary – instead focus on information needed to understand the attacker and what they are likely to do. Collecting Data Next start to gather data which will help you identify/detect the activity of these potential adversaries in your environment. You can get effective threat intelligence from a number of different

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