5. Concept for a new or modified system

5.1. Background, objectives, and scope

One of the objectives of DIMS is to combine the best features of several open source projects using a framework model that integrates these components into a coherent whole. All of these systems were built by groups independently of each other, often with volunteer effort, or with limited budgets within corporations that chose to make these tools available as open source to encourage use by the security community.

One of the primary challenges faced by the DIMS team will be to move beyond the mindset of installing and configuring a small set of discrete open source packages on a single workstation and using the tools like a normal security operator. This mindset is limited in that it assumes stasis, or at least little change or modification beyond that provided by regular patches or releases from the open source author.

Producing a framework means using automated build processes, commonly known today as DevOps (see What is DevOps?) as a method of automating the build+configure tasks faced by system administrators, and using Continuous Integration as a method of managing the source code for programs and system configuration, pushing those changes and compiled programs into running systems.

As much as possible, DIMS will be built through the (re)use of open source components used by other projects that are being integrated into the DIMS framework. For example, the Collective Intelligence Framework (CIF) v2 and the Mozilla Defense Platform (MozDef) both employ the ELK stack and RabbitMQ in their demonstration implementations, and the original PRISEM distributed data processing tools also used RabbitMQ. Rather than have two separate instances of Elasticsearch running in virtual machines or containers for MozDef and CIF, and two separate instances of RabbitMQ in virtual machines or containers for PRISEM tools and MozDef, a common Elasticsearch cluster and RabbitMQ cluster would be set up and shared with these and any other open source tools that someone would want to add in later. (Another example of a system made up of multiple components, packaged together into a single easy-to-install package, is the GRR Rapid Response system.)

Figure Recombination of open source systems illustrates the thinking behind this DevOps/CI mindset, and how it can be applied to build DIMS. The upper half of the figure represents (conceptually, not in precise technical terms) the way that open source systems are commonly bundled together. From left to right are the Collective Intelligence Framework described in Section Collective Intelligence Framework (CIF) Database, MozDef, some of the PRISEM system components described in Section The PRISEM System, and the ops-trust portal described in Section Ops-Trust portal Code Base. From top to bottom in this conceptual model are the common components of application user interface (in this case, a RESTful HTTP/HTTPS interface), a message bus mechanism for inter-process communication that can span computer systems, a database storage mechanism, and a base operating system within which all of these components are installed.

Recombination of open source systems

Recombination of open source systems

The bottom of the image depicts, again conceptually, how you would rip apart or docompose the subsystems in these packaged deployments, and turn them into discrete component services that are contained in smaller units. By compartmentalizing services in this way, it may be easier to integrate several open source packages that may have conflicting requirements for base operating system type, operating system version, libraries (and their versions), or configuration and tuning parameters for shared services (like the PostgreSQL database). In the bottom of Figure Recombination of open source systems one Elasticsearch cluster, and one RabbitMQ cluster, can be implemented and shared by multiple components (rather than having two seperate small clusters in two separate virtual machines or bare-metal machines. This would allow linear expansion of these clustered services as needed for growth. (It could even be possible to elminate one of the two message bus systems, either RabbitMQ or ZeroMQ, to further simply the architecture.)

5.2. Operational policies and constraints

5.3. Description of the new or modified system

Figure Overview of DIMS System depicts a high-level diagram of the system architecture for the DIMS system. DIMS provides a user interface layer on the front end, as well as a data processing layer on the back end, that integrates with two existing systems.

The first is the Security Information Event Management (SIEM) system at the core of the PRISEM project, and the technologies associated with it to perform behavioral detection of malicious activity from network flow data and support forensic analysis of historic data to respond and recover from attacks that evade detective mechanisms. This system collects and processes security related events and network flow data and supports a collective approach to responding and recovering from security events.

Overview of DIMS System

Overview of DIMS System

The second system is the Ops-Trust portal system, used by a community of several hundred computer security professionals with operational and research roles in industry, government, and academia. This system is primarily designed to facilitate trust group maintenance and communication to deal with emerging threats and events of international scope.

The DIMS software will bring these two systems together into a collaborative environment for shared analysis and shared response of shared threats, both within a regional trust community, as well as across multiple such trust communities in other regions. Through vertical sharing of indicators of compromise from US-CERT to the regional level, and lateral sharing across regional entities, the objective is to scale actionable information sharing to state, local, territorial, and tribal (SLTT) government entities across the United States, and extend the sharing to international trust groups who make up the global fabric of the internet.


Data Flows Between Stakeholders

Figure Data Flows Between Stakeholders depicts the data flows between a subset of the stakeholders who will be using the DIMS software system. The solid lines depict data that has the highest degree of sensitivity and trust, often being transmitted in un-redacted form (possibly tagged with TLP indicators for most restricted sharing). The dashed lines depict data flows that are at lower levels of trust, and may be transmitted only in redacted form (possibly tagged with TLP indicators for the least restricted sharing). The type of data shared may be structured IOC and Observables in STIX format, Course of Action information in either PDF or structured format, Situational Awareness Report (SITREP) documents that describe observed campaign level activity at a high level, possibly with structure data containing IOCs or Observables to assist recipients in searching for related activity, and incident reports that may similarly be a combination of human-readable PDF and machine-readable IOCs/Observables. There are two types of data that will be shared in most use cases: high-frequency, high-volume, automated data feeds of reputation data and IOCs/Observables coming from analytic and research groups; low-frequency, low-volume, manually triggered bundles of IOCs/Observables, Course of Action information, and/or high-level SITREPs for specific incident-level up to campaign-level activity. The DIMS software, layered on top of the Ops-Trust portal system, will facilitate production of these reports and transmission/reception of structure data files and facilitate automated processing of the structure data files to pre-process data for an analyst to consume when ready, rather than forcing the analyst to do a lot of work manipulating files, processing their contents, and manually entering data into report generation front ends in web based portals.

5.4. Users/Affected Personnel for New System

The full list of stakeholders and prospective users of the new system includes:

  1. PRISEM participants: Existing participants in the PRISEM project in the Puget Sound will be the primary users of the DIMS system. DIMS is being designed to provide them with advanced mechanisms for rapid response, situational awareness, and communication within the trusted group. Next highest priority is to provide structured data interchange between the existing Ops-Trust portal and the DIMS system, allowing lateral sharing of IOCs and observables between the existing Ops-Trust community members and PRISEM participants as allowed by policy (or with redaction and/or anonymization, as appropriate.) Some features added to the Ops-Trust portal by the DIMS project team will be integrated in such a manner that they are available to Ops-Trust members without having to use the DIMS front end software. Those users who are not part of the existing Ops-Trust community, or Ops-Trust members willing to learn a new interface, can use the DIMS front end and will have access to a larger set of features than are available via the normal Ops-Trust services.
  2. PRISEM Administrators and DIMS developers: Related to the PRISEM membership is an entity being formed to administer the PRISEM model in the form of a not-for-profit organization responsible for daily operations, system administration, provisioning of SIEM collectors and SIEM configuration, training, etc. This entity is still being formulated and does not exist today (however it is likely to exist before the end of the option year for the DIMS project.) The DIMS developers will also serve as system administrators, trainers, and user support for the initial DIMS deployment while the PRISEM stand-alone entity is being stood up.
  3. US-CERT: Provides IOCs in STIX format to PRISEM participants as part of an existing Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) between US-CERT and the PRISEM project.
  4. Ops-Trust: This is a community of several hundred operational security professionals from the private sector, academia, etc. They currently share information in ad-hoc ways, primarily through email communications and IRC chat.
  5. NCFTA: This is a federal government and industry collaborative organization primarily focused on computer crime related information sharing and analysis. They are located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but interact with corporate and government entities from a number of countries. NCFTA has complementary needs to those of the PRISEM participant base (though focused more on investigation than day-to-day monitoring). They are eager to take advantage of features provided by DIMS that support the investigator and analyst use cases. They have offered to compare requirements and use cases to their own needs, to help test new Ops-Trust and DIMS features, and provide feedback for test and evaluation of DIMS products.
  6. Western Cyber Exchange (WCX): WCX is a non-profit entity located in Colorado Springs, Colorado, that integrates horizontally on a cross-sector and regional basis to allow for non-traditional information sharing between government and industry. They have expressed an interest in replicating the PRISEM model and in participating in DIMS software development and testing. Web site: wcyberx.org
  7. True Digital Security: True Digital provides network security assessments, vulnerability analysis, network security monitoring. They operate in the Tulsa, Oklahoma region. Like WCX, they have expressed an interest in replicating the PRISEM model and in participating in DIMS software development and testing. Web site: truedigitalsecurity.com
  8. United States Secret Service: Federal law enforcement agency who would consume cybercriminal case information from victimized SLTT entities (such as the PRISEM user base an other similar stakeholder groups). They operate on a similar model to the UC1 and UC3 entities shown in Figure STIX uses cases (from MITRE), only focused on criminal investigative and national security situational awareness tasks and not security operations tasks like other federated groups like ISACs.

5.5. Support concept

Efforts are underway to create a non-profit, tax-exempt non-governmental organization who is capable of engaging with SLTT government entities via inter-local agreements. This entity will operate on a self-sustaining, fee-based model that has been described by Parker Montgomery in his report, “Organization Design: A Sustainable and Self-Sufficient Model for Washington State’s PRISEM Partnership” (see Referenced documents).

The open source tools used to create DIMS, as well as the source code and development infrastructure used to create DIMS, will all be released to the public and will be deployable on modestly priced commodity hardware. This makes for an affordable solution for SLTT government groups or other organizations who wish to participate in trusted information sharing in a scalable manner. There will be some ongoing costs associated with maintaining and administering a DIMS deployment, but the goal is to provide as much documentation as possible to keep the support costs down.

For more information, see the DIMS Commercialization and Open Source Licensing Plan v 1.6.5 document.