How to start your own threat intel company?

Have you ever wondered where all the threat intel feeds come from? How do these companies know that this, or that email account has been compromised? How do they identify breaches, early? How do they collect data in a way that does not force them to manually search the internet, dark web, social media, join highly vetted dodgy forums?

The answer is simple:

  • they hoard lots of data
  • they automate the process of acquiring this data, and
  • they keep themselves in the loop.

Here’s list of data sources, assets, know-how they leverage:

  • networking (many years in the industry helps to build connections, relationships, and people moving around between different companies still keep in touch, often sharing highly confidential information between themselves; it’s often the best source of intel, really) – this involves industry peers, but also Law Enforcement, Cloud providers, FinTech, Card Schemes contacts, and … yes, Clients!
  • participation in trusted/vetted peer groups (often focused on ransomware, emerging threats, criminal activities, BEC, etc.)
  • methodology and know-how learned working for the government agencies drives activities in a proper direction — not rewriting the news, but actively participating in strategic processes by providing information to support C-level individuals so they can make educated decisions about IT and IT Security
  • data from security sensors (AV, EDR, FIM, email, proxy logs, etc.) – both high-fidelity detections, and low-, mid- fidelity threat hunting exercises, ideally, across many environments; also, asset inventories!
  • OS vendors and selected software shops have access to crash reports (often indicating failed exploitation attempts, and sometimes in progress)
  • ongoing web crawling, mirroring, and scraping (what is there today, may not be available tomorrow, plus, building the most comprehensive data sets is a must – everything is assumed to be ephemeral!)
  • social media analysis
  • security vendor reports
  • gov agencies reports (f.ex. CISA, FBI)
  • card schemes reports
  • *-ISAC reports
  • specific entities covering 0days (f.ex. Project Zero)
  • staying up to date with the CVE security vulnerability database
  • understanding the historical context (f.ex. trends in security, ups and downs, bugtraq, etc.)
  • actively pursuing understanding of IT Security domain in the the most broadest way (f.ex. CISSP, CISM, SANS courses, but also reading RFCs, OS internals, etc.)
  • working and being comfortable with Vulnerability Management circles
  • working with Support functions (often being the first one to hear about ‘something funny going on’)
  • ongoing repository searches (f.ex. github)
  • ongoing cloud storage facilities scans (f.ex. S3)
  • DNS and WHOIS data analysis
  • internet-wide data analysis (f.ex. shodan, alexa, umbrella, etc.)
  • actively pursuing at least high-level info/know-how on actively developing domains/new areas of interest (f.ex. DoH, deep fakes, SaaS threat models)
  • ongoing dark web scraping and analysis
  • analysis of data dumps from past breaches
  • leveraging findings from DFIR engagements
  • malware sample metadata collection – identifying IOCs
  • malware sample sandboxing (f.ex. extracting configs, credentials, domains, emails, (S)FTP accounts) – identifying TTPs
  • clean sample metadata collection – to understand how ‘good’ looks like
  • hacking admin panels (gray area, but it does happen)
  • purchasing software and services from ‘providers’ with a sole purpose of analysing them
  • virustotal rules (f.ex. for textual files that look like credential dumps)
  • leveraging existing data sets (f.ex. pihole, ad-blocking lists)
  • leveraging passive DNS
  • purchasing data dumps from dodgy providers
  • purchasing feeds from other threat intel providers
  • purchasing VPN software to ID their IPs
  • TOR-new identity rotation to discover TOR IPs
  • analytics of disposable emails and messaging platforms
  • setting up canary tokens
  • setting up google alerts
  • maintaining a network of informers (I made it up, but maybe it does happen)
  • leveraging and aggregating various rules f.ex.: yara, sigma, suricata, lol-anything
  • leveraging Red Team-related project announcements (code injections, evasions, new techniques, iterations of existing techniques, etc.)
  • leveraging existing threat encyclopedias (f.ex. malpedia, APTNotes)
  • leveraging malware samples repos (f.ex. vx-underground, virusshare, malshare, etc.)
  • active and ongoing manual OSINT research
  • leveraging publicly available research (new ideas, powerful google or shodan dorks, etc.)
  • following developments in areas parallel to malware and hacking f.ex. game cheating, warez, P2P, TOR, AI, new programming languages, platforms, package managers
  • learning about and embracing new asset inventory tools (f.ex. for Cloud)
  • leveraging information obtained from clients (f.ex. during tabletop or IR preparedness exercises, hardening exercises, presales and sales talks, SOWs, questionnaires)
  • acquiring existing Threat Intel companies
  • poaching experienced Threat Intel analysts
  • PR stunts

As you can see, it’s a piece of cake.

When I started jotting these items down I thought it will be probably 10-15 items, max. It’s actually over 50 now and I am sure there is actually more… If you can think of any that I missed, please let me know and I will add it to the list. TA!

Can you start your own TI company today?

Probably, but it’s gonna cost you, and the existing companies that have millions of dollars in their budget will not give their piece of the pie away easily…

Full disclosure: I have never ran a Threat Intel company or function. After years of not seeing much value in TI I finally grew up, and feel that this discipline will mature in ways most of us will find surprising. Especially in purchasing decision area. This is why I wrote that other post.