Threat Intelligence – Paid or Free?

Threat Intelligence (TI) is evidence-based knowledge, including context, mechanisms, indicators, implications and actionable advice, about an existing or emerging menace or hazard to assets that can be used to inform decisions regarding the subject’s response to that menace or hazard. The challenge is that leading indicators of risk to an organization are difficult to identify when the organization’s adversaries, including their thoughts, capabilities and actions, are unknown. Therefore “black lists” of various types have become popular which list top attackers, spammers, poisoned URLs, malware domains etc have become popular. These lists are either community (free) maintained (eg SANS DShield), paid for by your tax dollars (eg InfraGuard) or paid services.

EventTracker 7.6 introduced formal support to automatically import and use such lists. We are often asked the question, which list(s) to use. Is it worth it to pay for TI service? Here is our thinking on the subject:

– External v/s Internal
In most cases, we find “white lists” to be much smaller, more effective and easier to tune/maintain than any “black list”. EventTracker supports the generation of such White lists from internal sources (the Change Audit feature) or the list of known good IP ranges (internal range, your Amazon EC2 or Azure instances, your O365 instances etc). Using the NOTIN match option of the Behavior module gives you a small list of suspicious activities (grey list) which can be quickly sorted to either black or white for future processing. As a first step, this is a quick/inexpensive/effective solution.

– Paid v/s Free
Free services include well regarded sources such as,,, FBI Infraguard, US CERT and EventTracker ThreatCenter (a curated list of low volume, high confidence sources formatted for quick import into EventTracker. Many customers in industry verticals (e.g., Electric power have lists circulated within their community.)

If you are thinking of paid services, then ask yourself:

– Will the feed allow me to detect threats faster? (e.g., a feed of top attackers updated in real-time v/s once in 6/12 hours). If faster is your motivation, are you able to respond to the threat detection faster? If the threat is detected at 8PM on a Friday, when will you be able to properly respond (not just acknowledge)?

– Will the feed allow me to detect threats better? i.e., you would have missed this threat if it had not been for that paid feed. At this time, many paid services for tactical TI are aggregating, cleaning and de-duplicating free sources and/or offering analysis that is also available in the public domain (e.g. McAfee and Kaspersky analysis of Dark Seoul, the malware that created havoc at Sony Pictures is available from US CERT).

Bottom line, Threat Intelligence is an excellent extension to SIEM solutions. The order of implementation should be internal/whitelist first, external free lists next and finally paid services to cover any remaining gaps.

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