TRusted Anonymous Data Exchange (TRADE) Threat Intelligence Sharing With Blockchain

Co-authored Yair Allouche.

Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once said, “See that the President, the Cabinet and staff are informed. If cut out of the information flow, their decisions may be poor, not made, or not confidently or persuasively implemented.”

As we saw with the discovery of the WireX malware, threat intelligence sharing is critical to discovering new threats. So what is inhibiting the smooth flow of the highest-value threat intelligence?

According to the Ponemon Institute, 60 percent of companies that belong to industry-specific threat sharing communities, such as the IT Information Sharing & Analysis Center (ISAC), do not share intelligence outside the organization due to fear of revealing a breach and the resulting liability from that disclosure. Inadvertently revealing a vulnerability or breach leaves companies open to reputational brand damage and the threat of legal action.

Smarter Threat Intelligence Sharing With TRADE

IBM’s security research lab in Be’er Sheva, Israel invented a new way to share threat intelligence that allows companies to control who has access to this data (without revealing the source of the information) and the quality of the anonymous information they consume (without knowing exactly which organization contributed the information).

TRusted Anonymous Data Exchange (TRADE) is an IBM Hyperledger Fabric (blockchain) network that allows members to exchange information by leveraging smart contracts to define the levels of trust and anonymity required to enable collaboration. A smart contract is used to enforce organizational requirements for attributes such as reputation and contribution levels to limit who has access to the threat intelligence information that members publish.

TRADE leverages existing threat intelligence exchange protocols — such as Trusted Automated Exchange of Intelligence Information (TAXII) and Structured Threat Information Expression (STIX) — that are integrated with operational workflows. Each time a member of the networks contributes, accesses or enriches threat information, the transaction is recorded on the blockchain. This way, a full history of the information flow is immutably recorded and can be audited if necessary at a later date.

Establishing Trust Without Coverage Gaps or Delays

There are two common models for establishing trust in threat intelligence sharing communities today. The first is based on a trusted third party, and the second is point to point based on trust established through personal relationships. Both of these models have drawbacks that are addressed by TRADE. The third-party model introduces the trusted third party as a bottleneck, delaying the spread of crucial threat intelligence. Trust based on personal relationships inherently has coverage and scalability gaps. Using blockchain permits TRADE to mimic the peer-to-peer trust model, but without coverage gaps or delays.

Another Ponemon Institute study noted that the value of threat intelligence diminishes within minutes, so timely dissemination of this information is crucial to stopping attackers before they can cause widespread damage. TRADE allows threat analysts to quickly get the freshest data out to their peers, referred to as coalition members, without risk to the organization.

How TRADE Ensures Data Reliability With Karma

When threat intelligence is shared anonymously and organizations can opt in to information sharing coalitions at will, how do you avoid the “free rider” problem? What is the incentive for threat analysts to share data in a world where no one knows whether or not they are sharing? TRADE solves this problem by rewarding karma for information shared. To receive and consume threat intelligence data, organizations must spend the karma they’ve earned.

But if organizations are incented to contribute threat intelligence so they can then consume threat intelligence, what prevents them from anonymously contributing low-value data? In TRADE, each coalition member can gain or lose reputation based on the quality of the data they contribute. When a member spends karma to receive threat intelligence data that turns out to be flawed or misrepresented, he or she can rate the contribution.

Organizations can earn karma discounts for acquiring future threat intelligence by providing a rating for the information they received. If an organization’s reputation falls too low because it submitted low-quality data, they will not be able to access critical threat intelligence. This feature of TRADE ensures data reliability by isolating violators and cheaters.

Enabling Threat Intelligence to Move Freely

Western novelist Louis L’Amour wrote, “Knowledge is like money: to be of value it must circulate, and in circulating it can increase in quantity and, hopefully, in value.” It’s our hope that TRADE will allow threat intelligence to circulate more freely, leading to an increase in high-quality information that organizations can use to protect themselves from the latest threats.

Sridhar Muppidi

IBM Fellow, VP & CTO IBM Security

Dr. Sridhar Muppidi is an IBM Fellow and Chief Technology Officer in IBM Security Systems. He leads the technical...