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Using Avalanche for Real-Time Information Sharing

Last Friday at ICS-ISAC’s Fall Conference, I participated on a panel with Aharon Chernin and Johan Rambi that discussed STIX/TAXII and Avalanche.  As a recap, STIX is an emerging standard to describe Cyber Threat Intelligence.  TAXII is a protocol/service that allows STIX XML instances to be exchanged. Avalanche is a soon to be released open source product created by the FS-ISAC that exchanges STIX via TAXII between organizations.

Think of STIX as a super language like XML. It’s a starting point to creating an infinite number of standards. In order to make STIX usable as a means to exchange machine readable threat intelligence, a profile needs to be created that defines exactly what the data structure is and that definition must be agreed upon by all parties using it. Once you have a tightly constrained definition, then and only then can developers on either end build interoperable applications.

The fact that STIX is ready for usage without a profile is the largest misconception of the language today.  Many believe that everyone should just speak STIX and if that happens everyone will know what we are saying.  That is simply not the case. A standard implementation of the language has to be created for interoperability. Trying to use STIX today across multiple groups would be like trying to speak different pidgin variants of English. Each version uses the same basic framework, but the words, meanings, and even grammar do not match. With humans, we may be able to make out the meaning, but with machines this completely breaks down. Hence, the application you build must understand the language with a standard set of vocabulary and grammar.

Because STIX should be used to integrate products and solutions from various vendors, the definition must be created and supported by multiple parties.  Although, many in the industry are saying – “just start using it”, hundreds of different profiles, one for each ISAC or product company, etc. will create a great deal of confusion towards the goal of STIX – which is creating a standard that machines can rely upon.

“I support STIX” is what everyone says, but the real goal is for everyone to understand each other.

Avalanche is an open source product developed by the FS-ISAC.  Avalanche’s goal is to create a federated network of STIX-based repositories sharing intelligence in real time. People often ask what the difference between ThreatConnect and Avalanche is, and the answer is simple – ThreatConnect is a Threat Intelligence Platform (TIP) used by organizations to collaboratively analyze data from Avalanche and many other sources to aggregate, analyze, and act on actionable intelligence across the organization. Although we still need STIX profiles for like products and use-cases, Avalanche is going to make our lives easier in the short term while standard profiles are being created.  As of writing this, the “countdown to Avalanche” counter on their web site said that there was just over 22 days until Avalanche is released.  We are working with them and will have a product integration shortly after their launch.


P.S. – I’d like to thank Chris Blask and Debbie Windle for allowing me to sit on this panel as well as and the Evolution of Threat Intelligence panel. I’d like to make a general observation about the conference.  Many conferences talk about being collaborative, but miss the mark for a variety of reasons.  The ICS-ISAC Fall #SARACon conference was attended by very smart people with great ideas and Chris and Debbie did an amazing job getting everyone involved and talking together, which many conferences don’t achieve and have panels of “talking heads” without a lot of opportunity to interact. Something as simple as a round table session was a great idea and fun to partake in.  Thanks!  

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More Stories By Adam Vincent

Adam is an internationally renowned information security expert and is currently the CEO and a founder at Cyber Squared Inc. He possesses over a decade of experience in programming, network security, penetration testing, cryptography design & cryptanalysis, identity and access control, and a detailed expertise in information security. The culmination of this knowledge has led to the company’s creation of ThreatConnect™, the first-of-its-kind threat intelligence platform. He currently serves as an advisor to multiple security-focused organizations and has provided consultation to numerous businesses ranging from start-ups to governments, Fortune 500 organizations, and top financial institutions. Adam holds an MS in computer science with graduate certifications in computer security and information assurance from George Washington University. Vincent lives in Arlington, VA with his wife, two children, and dog.

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