Don’t Go It Alone: Building Relationships and Sharing Threat Intelligence for the Common Good

As the world of security grows more complex and interconnected, cooperation between individuals and organizations becomes more vital than ever. Not even the best organizations can be successful if they aren’t sharing threat intelligence with peers, law enforcement and even competitors. Cooperation is often the only way to make up for the holes every enterprise has in its detection capabilities, understanding and capacity to mitigate the rapidly evolving threats they face every day.

Threat Intelligence in Action

I work with the team at Akamai that detected and researched the malware that came to be known as WireX. Several vendors noticed this malware strain at the beginning of August, but there wasn’t enough data to take meaningful action against the botnet until researchers from Akamai, Cloudflare, Flashpoint, Google, Oracle Dyn, RiskIQ, Team Cymru and other organizations began talking.

No single entity possessed the skill set required to research, track and deal with this botnet until they combined their efforts. While the collaboration was initiated at an organizational level, it was really the personal relationships that made the discovery possible. Several of the companies involved compete directly in their respective spaces, but each one allowed and even encouraged its employees to share threat intelligence for the greater good. The positive PR didn’t hurt, either.

The Power of Personal Relationships

Not every organization has researchers on its security team, but every company concerned with the security of its network and systems should be building relationships and cooperating with other security teams in its industry. Informal conversations between like-minded security professionals often lead to better cooperation and communication when the next big cyberthreat comes down the pipeline.

Make no mistake, formal relationships between organizations are — but they are also slow, delicate beasts that require a high level of trust, which takes time to build. Generally speaking, it’s also hard to have a formal relationship with someone who’s going to be across the table from your sales team in the near future. But two security professionals who meet at a local BSides conference or other gathering and form a personal relationship can easily exchange threat data, regardless of whether their companies sell similar products.

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An Essential Exercise in Collaboration

At the corporate level, security professionals should be looking to form general security partnerships with organizations such as the Information Technology Information Sharing and Analysis Center (IT-ISAC) or its vertical-specific cousin, the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center (FS-ISAC). These organizations foster cooperation by allowing representatives to meet in neutral environments, with the expectation that participants will not disclose sensitive information beyond the walls of the meeting place without explicit permission.

Most businesses participate in some kind of relationship and cooperation building within their industry, but the rate of change in the digital world is making this exercise essential. No organization can detect all the threats or understand what those threats mean on its own. It’s up to the individuals who make up those organizations to work together to fight widespread threats and promote a stronger culture of security across all verticals.

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Martin McKeay

Security Advocate

Martin McKeay is a Senior Security Advocate at Akamai, joining the company in 2011. As a member of Akamai's Security Intelligence Team, he is responsible for researching security threats, customer education and industry intelligence. With over fifteen years of experience in the security space and five years of direct Payment Card Industry work, Martin has provided expertise to hundreds of companies. He is also the author of the Network Security Blog and host of the Network Security Podcast.