Making the Case for Process Documentation in Cyber Threat Intel

Standard language and processes, not to mention more efficient dissemination of findings and alerts all make documenting your security processes a must

As cyber threat intelligence grows as a field, assisting everyone from SOC analysts to C-suite executives, threat intel teams can benefit from process documentation and best practices. These concepts help build much-needed common tradecraft as well as language and procedures. In the field of intelligence, common tradecraft is essential.

During my time as a contractor at US Central Command in Tampa, Fla., I was part of a team that documented how intelligence was received, integrated, analyzed, and disseminated. I looked at information flows and processes from Tampa to the Defense Intelligence Agency, and to subordinate headquarters in Iraq and Afghanistan. After numerous interviews with analysts, team leaders, and division chiefs, my team was able to compose USCENTCOM Intelligence Directorate Best Practices. This document highlighted the most efficient and innovative processes used in one of the largest US military headquarters.

When posted on a shared network, these documents were often read, shared, and appropriated by many adjacent organizations in other US military headquarters. These organizations would post their own process documents on the shared network where teams could openly exchange ideas.

My success in documentation and process analysis was used in Afghanistan a few years later. I was specifically requested by leadership to document processes on intelligence sharing and dissemination between the US and partner nations. Instead of being shared with parallel organizations, these standard operating procedures (SOPs) were passed down to subordinate organizations, where they were often re-purposed for local use by military members in those units. These documents were used for both process guidance and inspiration.

By hiring people who are versed in documentation or instructional writing, greater understanding and efficient dissemination happened more regularly within the cyber threat intel community.

As a relatively new facet of information security, few organizations have achieved complete cyber threat intel programs. Most organizations are rightly focusing on acquiring feeds and growing analysts. This is a great start, but as cyber threat intel teams grow, they will have lessons learned and best practices they can share with others in the common fight against adversaries. Writing processes and lessons is vitally important. 

In a recent lecture, JD Work, chair for cyber conflict and security at the Marine Corps University, noted that the US intelligence community has decades of experience to offer the cyber threat intel community. Many best practices and intelligence processes have already been written and need only be reformatted, modified, and shared within different cyber threat intel communities. For example, the functions of collection management and how to develop priority intelligence requests (PIRs), essential elements of information (EEIs), or key performance indicators (KPIs) have been done for years and can assist nascent cyber threat intel programs. 

Intelligence process documentation similar to the documentation done at US Central Command and in support of intelligence in Afghanistan describes how processes are developed, codified, and trained. Documentation can also describe how intelligence is shared with other organizations. If centered around functions, intelligence documentation also allows for manpower analysis, as organizations can apply functions and effort to positions and hires.

Process documentation is rarely easy. It requires people to step away from their daily duties and write about how they are doing business. However, if an organization can create a separate position, it can tap into another trend in cyber threat intel: Hiring journalists.  

In a January 2019 article in Virus Bulletin, Martijn Grooten encouraged cyber threat intel teams to hire journalists for their skills in writing fast, distilling content, and being clear and concise. As a former college newspaper writer and frequent freelance writer, I can attest that journalists also bring skills to intelligence process documentation. The ability to interview personnel and ask questions about how jobs are done and tasks performed is essential in process documentation.

Intelligence is first and foremost a people business. While adversaries exchange ideas and learn offensive best practices, the cyber threat intel community can likewise share their own best practices and processes as the US military does in its intelligence organizations.

Employing cyber intelligence process analysts can ensure quality documentation, accelerate training, and facilitate a community exchange of ideas and better practices. A community of cyber threat intel process analysts can help discover best practices, inspire innovation, and integrate common tradecraft into organizational or industry needs. Understanding and documenting processes improves organizational effectiveness and efficiency, which not only leads to a better ROI, but can be a great force multiplier for cyber threat intel organizations.

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Michael Lortz is an instructor of Cyber Threat Intelligence and Strategy in Tampa, Fla. He has over 20 years of experience providing intelligence support to leaders in the government and private sectors. He has documented intelligence best practices in Bosnia, Afghanistan, … View Full Bio

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