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Our Need For Security Intelligence

May 3, 2011
Ed Bellis
Chief Technology Officer, Co-founder

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Note: This post is an archive and was originally posted on CSO Online. I will be posting a follow up to this with additional ways to use data and intelligence tools to help make security decisions.

No I am not speaking of military intelligence, but rather, business intelligence within a security context. Business intelligence and decision support systems have now been widely used by many of our counterparts within our organizations to obtain a better view of reality and in turn make better decisions based on that reality. These decision support systems have been helping teams throughout our companies in identifying areas of poor product performance, highlighting areas of current and potential future demand, key performance indicators, etc. We in the information security field need to learn from our business counterparts in taking advantage of some of the existing underlying technology within this space to make better security decisions.

While many of the tools and technology already exist, much of the data sadly does not. This has been a common complaint of security practitioners who have examined this space. This fact, however, should not prevent us from doing anything. There is still data out there we are all sitting on today waiting to be culled and mined.

From books such as The New School of Information Security and Security Metrics, we know there are a lot of areas we could be measuring within information security to allow us to make better decisions. A simple example might lie within enterprise vulnerability management.

Where are the sources?

Certainly the data isn’t a panacea (the publicly available and open shared data) , but there is enough of it out there that we can improve some of our decision making. There are a number of vulnerability data sources companies can leverage to aggregate this information in a meaningful way beginning of course with it’s own internal vulnerability data across its known hosts, networks, and applications. Add to the mix relevant configuration and asset management data and publicly available sources and subscription services. Some of this information can be bucketed by industry as well.

Sprinkle in some threat data.

So it’s one thing to understand your vulnerable state, but that doesn’t really give us a clear picture on any sort of likelihood, probability or risk of compromise. We also need to understand what some of our threats are. Unfortunately, this set of data isn’t as clear. There are some sources we can begin to pull information from in order to overlay some basic decision support. These include, Honeynet and honeypot sources, public databases such as datalossdb and malwaredb, threat clearinghouses (currently not fully available to the public), publications such as the Verizon DBIR, and so on. To quote the New School, “breach data is not actuarial data”, but combined with some intelligence it can add a small level of priority. Imagine feeding real-time honeynet data into your BI systems.

…And start tying it to your business.

This space is clearly in it’s infancy and we have a long way to go, but I like many others, believe this is a discipline we must take up if we are to begin making more credible and rational decisions within information security. Using the data discussed, we can begin to tie in some of the sources the other parts of the business are already using readily to understand values of various transactions. This gives us at least a high level of what’s important and where we may be able to focus some near term effort. If we analyze the industry data, we may be able to understand whether we are a ‘target of choice’ or a ‘target of opportunity’, which may play into the level of effort to remediate a given bug and whether to invest more or less in detective controls. We can use clickstream from our web analytics tools to detect fraudulent behavior or business logic flaws within our web applications. Companies like SilverTail Systems are already taking advantage of this type of information.

As we get higher quality data, we can make decisions that help us align with the risk appetite of the business by measuring the difference between current state and targets. Then envision, as Mark Curpheyspeaks of, using Business Process Management tools to automate the remediation workflow. There all kinds of places this information can take us, but we have to start using what we have and not just sit around hoping for a day of “better data”.

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