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COORDINATION AND INFORMATION SHARING IN COMPUTER SECURITY DEFENSE

The nature of contemporary threats and attacks makes it more important than ever for organizations to work together during incident response. Organizations should ensure that they effectively coordinate portions of their incident response activities with appropriate partners. The most important aspect of incident response coordination is information sharing, where different organizations share threat, attack, and vulnerability information with each other so that each organization’s knowledge benefits the other. Incident information sharing is frequently mutually beneficial because the same threats and attacks often affect multiple organizations simultaneously.

Coordinating and sharing information with partner organizations can strengthen the organization’s ability to effectively respond to IT incidents. For example, if an organization identifies some behavior on its network that seems suspicious and sends information about the event to a set of trusted partners, someone else in that network may have already seen similar behavior and be able to respond with additional details about the suspicious activity, including signatures, other indicators to look for, or suggested remediation actions. Collaboration with the trusted partner can enable an organization to respond to the incident more quickly and efficiently than an organization operating in isolation. This increase in efficiency for standard incident response techniques is not the only incentive for cross-organization coordination and information sharing. Another incentive for information sharing is the ability to respond to incidents using techniques that may not be available to a single organization, especially if that organization is small to medium size. For example, a small organization that identifies a particularly complex instance of malware on its network may not have the in-house resources to fully analyze the malware and determine its effect on the system. In this case, the organization may be able to leverage a trusted information-sharing network to effectively outsource the analysis of this malware to third-party resources that have the adequate technical capabilities to perform the malware analysis.

COORDINATION

An organization may need to interact with several types of external organizations in the course of conducting incident response activities. Examples of these organizations include other incident response teams, law enforcement agencies, Internet service providers, and constituents and customers. An organization’s incident response team should plan its incident coordination with those parties before incidents occur to ensure that all parties know their roles and that effective lines of communication are established.

An incident response team within an organization may participate in different types of coordination arrangements, depending on the type of organization with which it is coordinating. For example, the team members responsible for the technical details of incident response may coordinate with operational colleagues at partner organizations to share strategies for mitigating an attack spanning multiple organizations. Alternatively, during the same incident, the incident response team manager may coordinate with ISACs to satisfy necessary reporting requirements and seek advice and additional resources for successfully responding to the incident.

Team-to-team | Team-to-team relationships exist whenever technical incident responders in different organizations collaborate with their peers during any phase of the incident handling life cycle. The organizations participating in this type of relationship are usually peers without any authority over each other and choose to share information, pool resources, and reuse knowledge to solve problems common to both teams. The information most frequently shared in team-to-team relationships is tactical and technical (e.g., technical indicators of compromise, suggested remediation actions) but may also include other types of information (plans, procedures, lessons learned) is conducted as part of the Preparation phase.

Team-to-coordinating team | Team-to-coordinating team relationships exist between an organizational incident response team and a separate organization that acts as a central point for coordinated incident response and management. This type of relationship may include some degree of required reporting from the member organizations by the coordinating body, as well as the expectation that the coordinating team will disseminate timely and useful information to participating member organizations. Teams and coordinating teams frequently share tactical, technical information as well as information regarding threats, vulnerabilities, and risks to the community served by the coordinating team. The coordinating team may also need specific impact information about incidents in order to help make decisions on where to focus its resources and attention.

Coordinating team-to-coordinating team | Relationships between multiple coordinating teams such as ISACs exist to share information relating to cross-cutting incidents which may affect multiple communities. The coordinating teams act on behalf of their respective community member organizations to share information on the nature and scope of cross-cutting incidents and reusable mitigation strategies to assist in the inter-community response. The type of information shared by coordinating teams with their counterparts often consists of periodical summaries during “steady state” operations, punctuated by the exchange of tactical, technical details, response plans, and impact or risk assessment information during coordinated incident response activities.

Organizations may find it challenging to build the relationships needed for coordination. Good places to start building a community include the industry sector that the organization belongs to and the geographic region where the organization operates. An organization’s incident response team can try to form relationships with other teams (at the team-to-team level) within its own industry sector and region, or join established bodies within the industry sector that already facilitate information sharing. Another consideration for building relationships is that some relationships are mandatory and others voluntary; for example, team-to-coordinating team relationships are often mandatory, while team-to-team relationships are usually voluntary. Organizations pursue voluntary relationships because they fulfill mutual self-interests. Mandatory relationships are usually defined by a regulatory body within the industry or by another entity.

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