The recent announcement of a forward-looking cyberthreat tool from the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) is an example of a developing trend in security of using broad-based data that bad guys themselves put out to try and get ahead of threats. It’s also a tacit admission that security solely based on reacting to threats is not, and will not, work.
The GTRI tool, called BlackForest, collects information from the public Internet such as hacker forums and other places those said bad guys gather to swap information and details about the malware they write and sell. It then relates that information to past activities, and uses all of that collated intelligence to warn organizations of potential threats against them – and once attacks have happened, how to make their security better.
Ryan Spanier, the head of GTRI’s Threat Intelligence Branch, said the intention is give organizations some kind of predictive ability so that, if they see certain things happening, they’ll know they may need to take action to protect their networks.
These and similar tools are badly needed. The CyberEdge Group, in its 2014 Cyberthreat Defense Report, found that more than a quarter of the organizations it surveyed had no effective foundation for threat defense. Overall, investment in those next-generation tools that could be most effective against advanced threats is still “fairly low.”
In addition, it said, because of the speed at which threats are deployed these days, the relative security and confidence of today can be gone tomorrow, and IT security teams can only make educated guesses at what attackers will try next, and where they will try it. The bottom line, it said, is that maintaining effective cyberthreat defenses not only requires constant vigilance, “but also an eye on the road ahead.”
It’s something both government and industry organizations are starting to push with more urgency. Greg Garcia, the former head of cybersecurity and communications at the Department of Homeland Security, recently said he expects to see more investment in tools that will help banks and financial institutions anticipate emerging risks. As the new executive director at the Financial Services Sector Coordinating Council for Critical Infrastructure Protection and Homeland Security, he knows how important that will be for an industry that is a primary target for cyberattacks.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology is also trying to push government agencies in that direction. In the first iteration of a cybersecurity framework it published in February this year, NIST listed four levels at which the framework could be implemented and which would “provide context on how an organization views cybersecurity risk and the processes in place to manage that risk.”
The highest level, Tier 4, is labeled Adaptive and describes an organization that “actively adapts to a changing cybersecurity landscape and responds to evolving and sophisticated threats in a timely manner” and has “continuous awareness of activities on their systems and networks.” Though NIST takes pains to say that the tiers don’t represent actually maturity of cybersecurity defenses, it also says agencies should be “encouraged” to move to higher levels.
The methodology GTRI uses for BlackForest is not that new to the security field, at least in broad terms. Security companies have for years trawled global networks to identify threats and develop defenses against them, and that’s the basis for the regular update of antivirus signatures they send to their customers. As CyberEye recently pointed out, however, those techniques are become less effective and are all but useless against the most sophisticated, and most damaging, kinds of malware.
Success for organizations in the future will not be based on how many attackers it can keep out of their networks and systems, but how fast and how effectively they can detect and respond to attacks that are already on the inside. That’s the understanding for a rush to big data analytics, which organizations are betting on will enable that kind of timely response. Gartner believes that, by 2016, fully 25 percent of large companies around the world will have adopted big data analytics for that purpose.
Whether or not BlackForest and similar tools provide the level of security their developers say they will is still to be seen. After all, the attackers have proven they are just as intelligent and creative as defenders. But these tools merely indicate the direction security needs to go, because the regular way of doing things just ain’t working.