An online portal launched by the FBI to gather information about cyber threats from companies could be an important step in fighting cyber crime, but information sharing between government and private industry remains a challenge, according to security pros.
The FBI's iGuardian portal, launched last week, is a pilot program designed to give companies a designated location to report cyber threats they've encountered.
Initially, the program will be open only to members of the InfraGuard Network, an association of businesses, academic institutions, state and local law enforcement agencies and other participants who share information and intelligence to prevent hostile acts against the United States. The group's chapters are geographically linked with FBI field offices.
Having one go-to place for reporting cyber threats is very valuable, said Shane Shook, chief knowledge officer and global vice president of consulting with Cylance. "One of the problems in the security industry has always been, 'Who do I notify?'" he said in an interview. "Do I notify local police? Local federal law enforcement? National federal law enforcement?
"Just the fact that they're providing a one-stop, information submission is actually very valuable to these customers," he said.
Since the portal will be, initially, a one-way street, it remains to be seen how valuable it will be to companies who use it, he continued. "The utility of a portal is you have access to information, not just the ability to submit information," he said.
InfraGuard companies have always had a variety of ways to report cyber incidents to the FBI, said FBI Special Agent Tim Marsh. "Now they can do it electronically through iGuardian, and it will submit them directly to the bureau, so it's a very efficient way of getting cyber incidents to us," he said in an interview.
Although iGuardian will initially be a one-way street, that could change. "Down the road, we may integrate malware analysis with the site," Marsh said. "They will submit malware to us and we will provide them with an unclassified report on it."
If the pilot is successful, it may be expanded beyond the InfraGuard community.
The program could actually be a cornerstone for more effective fighting of cyber crime in the future, predicted Peter Cassidy, secretary general of the Anti Phishing Work Group. "Non-proprietary databases like this will, over time, form part of the foundation of a unified response model for cyber crime that will resemble, operationally speaking, the sort used to manage predictable threats like weather and communicable disease," he said via email.
"For that reason, this is good and heartening news," he said.
Up to now, there hasn't been an effective means for the broader IT security community to report cyber threats to the FBI, said John C. A. Bambenek, of the SANS Internet Storm Center and president of Bambenek Consulting.
"Even if you knew an FBI agent, you could try to send a malware sample to him, but their mail servers would strip it so you'd have to find another way to get it to him," he said in an interview. "This is a way for the FBI to do intake of cyber security relevant information and to make it easy for IT professionals.
"It provides a mechanism that didn't exist in an effective way previously," he added.
Unfortunately for the FBI, any government cyber initiatives are likely to be viewed with skepticism in light of the massive amount of government surveillance that's been exposed in recent weeks.
"If you're the FBI trying to solve the cyber crime problem by sharing information, there are going to be people who raise a red flag and say this will violate privacy," Stephen Cobb, a security evangelist with ESET, said in an interview. "It's incumbent upon us who are trying to protect businesses and consumers from cyber criminals to keep the message clear that law enforcement does fight crime that needs to be fought."
Sharing information will be an important part of that fight and something cyber criminals already do very well. "The bad guys are better at sharing information than the good guys," John Pirc, a research vice president at NSS Labs said in an interview.
"The bad guys are very good at doing what they do," he added. "They've got it down to a business model."
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