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Taxonomy driven indicator scoring in MISP threat intelligence platforms

by   Sami Mokaddem, et al.

IT security community is recently facing a change of trend from closed to open working groups and from restrictive information to full information disclosure and sharing. One major feature for this trend change is the number of incidents and various Indicators of compromise (IoC) that appear on a daily base, which can only be faced and solved in a collaborative way. Sharing information is key to stay on top of the threats. To cover the needs of having a medium for information sharing, different initiatives were taken such as the Open Source Threat Intelligence and Sharing Platform called MISP. At current state, this sharing and collection platform has become far more than a malware information sharing platform. It includes all kind of IoCs, malware and vulnerabilities, but also financial threat or fraud information. Hence, the volume of information is increasing and evolving. In this paper we present implemented distributed data interaction methods for MISP followed by a generic scoring model for decaying information that is shared within MISP communities. As the MISP community members do not have the same objectives, use cases and implementations of the scoring model are discussed. A commonly encountered use case in practice is the detection of indicators of compromise in operational networks.


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Practical Experience Report

I Introduction

On a daily basis new threats appear and disappear on the scenes of cybercrime with no indication that this phenomenon ceases shortly. Fighting threats as a singular has become impossible nowadays and communities have formed to share information about threats and work collaboratively to handle the problems.

Collaboration and information sharing have become a key element in the world of threat processing in incident response. Surely, on one side, sharing information is a critical point due to sensitive data it may include respectively the authenticity of information itself, but on the other, joint-efforts to handle a problem have direct impact on reaction time and resources. The sudden appearance of different kind of information sharing platforms over recent past confirmed this trend.

In this paper, a scoring model for the open source threat intelligence platform called MISP [26] is presented. The aim of MISP permits various actors, be it from private or public IT-communities to share their information, IoCs, malware and other existing threats. MISP is a peer to peer sharing platform. It is not unusual that a piece of information transits through multiple nodes from the producer to the consumer, raising trust and data quality issues as it is not always known how the shared information was acquired and trusted. MISP provides various features to share additional information about its context. Currently, 47 MISP taxonomies are available for providing some context to a piece of information which are regularly used in MISP communities.

A lot of research activities have been done in the domain of introduction systems ranging from the automated derivation of signatures to the exploration of anomaly detection techniques to the application of machine learning. However, only little effort was done to efficiently share signatures for intrusion detection system or even care about their validity or freshness. Since its early beginning, MISP was capable of sharing and exporting IDS signatures, which are ingested by intrusion detection systems. It also provides features where intrusion detection systems or humans can offer feedback, whether they have seen a given piece of information, or if it is a false positive or whether it will expire soon. This feedback is then distributed in the communities following the peer to peer data distribution model of MISP.

This paper presents implemented data interaction models in MISP, proposes the scoring model that uses these operational parameters to help to consume attributes and take decision about them. The paper is organized as follows, section II discusses relevant approaches focussing on threat intelligence collection, processing and sharing. Section III is a general introduction to the MISP plateform. In section IV, the data interaction methods are presented. In section V attribute scoring methods are introduced to the reader. Since research is still ongoing, some future work and conclusions are presented in section VII.

Ii Related work

Recent studies in cybersecurity [10][11] showed that one major key to successful cyber incident response is information sharing in its different forms, either by trusted third parties, email lists of CERTs (Computer Emergency Response Teams) or threat intelligence and information sharing platforms.

There are many information sharing platforms available in the IT world, whereas a lot of them are commercial enterprises selling threat intelligence as a service in their portfolios.

Besides these commercial tools, a lot of effort has already been made in the open domain too. Different initiatives such as STIX/TAXII [25][23] have been developed to set up specifications for cyber threat information exchange and standardized communication languages for information sharing.

The platform we used for implementing the scoring method is MISP. In [26], the MISP platform is described from a technical perspective and its main modules introduced. A major advantage is that MISP is a collaborative open-source project that continuously evolves by community-driven effort. Each member can consume or produce threat intelligence data.

A case study on information sharing is presented in [11], where a survey was performed on different aspects as hurdles, problems and legal aspects in information sharing. The major outcome was that information sharing remains a group or community activity. Another interesting outcome of this survey was the need for accurate information sharing practices and low false positive rates.

Information sharing is related to a lot of challenges as presented in [3], where requirements and needs for successful threat intelligence platforms, such as the added value of shared data and privacy, are discussed. Other requirements are for example a new quality control approaches.

In [6], the facility to share information, automate information sharing and the ability to generate, refine and control data is discussed by redefining these problems into a concept of knowledge management for the area of cyber security by adding user needs. This leads to the fact of the veracity of information and also to false positives. In [14], an assessment approach for malware threat levels is introduced, based on scores and weighting factors. Article [28] refers to a data mining approach using similarity metrics to identify statistical relations in shared information. In [1] is described a data-driven approach to evaluate and visualize mixed content from news and social media content based on emotive facets to give value to content.

A common approach in intrusion detection for example, to refer to threshold-based methods for triggering alarms. A lot work has already been done in this direction and a lot of surveys were published, which highlight the most common works [16][12]. Threshold-based event detection has shown to be a reliable approach in statistical, game-theoretical and data mining evaluation techniques [2][18] [9] [13].

Beside the information that can already be analyzed for further purpose, is the data itself, as for example the used IP-addresses, protocols, timestamps, etc. The analysis and interpretation of these vectors also represents a significant part of the sightings approach. One major source of information can be netflow

[19] information for example, which can be combined to hash functions and bloom filters, aggregation methods and other reduction techniques for evaluation purpose [13][8][17][27][22] [24].

Iii Background information on MISP

In the following paragraphs, we will shortly introduce the MISP tool and highlight its main functionalities in order to make the sightings approach more understandable and to illustrate, how this approach can be used in this context. For the detailed description of the design and implementation of MISP, we refer the reader to [26].

General description of MISP

Fig. 1: The landing page in the MISP Interface

MISP is an open-source threat information sharing platform, where users from the communities can share all kind of threats, especially all kinds of indicators of compromise, but also others such as financial indicators as for example bank accounts of money mules, which were abused for money laundering activities. The data model implemented in MISP for sharing information is rather simple. The user can decide on the granularity of information he wants to disclose in MISP and on the same time can also set the sharing level (for example in his organisation only, for a specific community only, for all sharing groups) for his information. In order to familiarize the reader with the terminology of MISP, we present some terms to ease the understanding of the paper.

MISP is designed to be peer to peer, where multiple instances can exchange information with each other. The synchronization protocol in MISP resulted from a trial-and-error approach, where the main criteria were efficiency, accuracy and scalability. The resulting algorithm is a pull, push and cherry-pick technique.

A shared information in MISP is called an event. An event is composed of a list of attributes, also called attributes (destination IP addresses, file hashes). Currently 140 types are available in MISP software. An attribute is identified with the tuple (category, type, value). An event is also linked with contextual information such as date, threat level, description, organisation, galaxies about threat actors and others.

To simplify the handling of adding information to MISP and to avoid the filling of a time-consuming and tedious form, a free text importer was integrated, that allows users to copy and paste raw data into a single field. This text is then analyzed by an heuristics-based algorithm to extract attributes which can be validated by the user. For the filtering of events, it is referred to taxonomies, which will be illustrated a bit more in detail.


The MISP taxonomies are described in [7], and were introduced for facilitating the description of IoCs and other relevant information. It can be described as a classification scheme having its own vocabulary.

A taxonomy in MISP is based on the machine-tag approach with triple-tags for representing semantic information, as for example used on Flickr for the geolocation of pictures [20]. The triple-tag syntax is a simple expression that has a namespace, a predicate and a value, as shown in the following example: {flora : flower = ’lily’}, this means that flora is the namespace, flower is the predicate and ’lily’ the value.

The public repository111 with MISP taxonomies includes 47 different taxonomies for the domains of law enforcement, computer security incident response team (CSIRT) classifications, intelligence and many more. In this paper, we applied these taxonomies to the scoring model in section V.

For the sake of clarity we presented MISP in this paper to introduce to attribute scoring. For more information about MISP and its functionalities, refer to the work of the authors of MISP in [26].

Iv Data interaction methods

The typical single producer - multiple consumer paradigm frequently used in threat intelligence platform was overthrown in MISP. Each participating community can produce or consume information. Typical shared information are signatures for intrusion detection systems, which can be either exported via python API (Application Programming Interface) or with a crafted HTTP request. An intrusion detection system can ask MISP software for the latest signatures and integrate them in its detection system. Some intrusion detection systems can be instrumented to sent a REST (REpresentational State Transfer) request towards MISP with feedback about its detections. This feedback is called sighting. Hence, knowledge can be gathered about the validity, freshness of an information or its impact. A typical example is an IP address of a compromised website distributing malware or acting as command and control server.

However, in MISP the concept of detection and sighting is not limited to network intrusion detection system, but also to host intrusion detection systems capable of detecting malicious files or more particular use cases. A common one is the detection or blocking of phone numbers in PABX systems that are used for malicious activities such as social engineering attacks or silent or ping calls. Other examples are interaction with accounting systems that are regularly automatically fed by MISP with recent Money mule bank accounts used in fraud cases. Hence, accountants get a warning in case they try to do a wire transfer to these numbers. A typical use case are CEO fraud attacks or intercepted and manipulated invoices. As MISP is not used for sharing classical network intrusion signatures, the term attribute is used in the following for designating pieces of information that are shared or detected.

Each time a consumer receives such an attribute, the consumer can open a discussion by entering free text with questions or comments regarding a piece of consumed information. These comments or questions are then propagated back trough the MISP instances.

Although, non classified threat information, for instance IP addresses about botnets, hashes about malware, are publicly available

222 For several years little research interest was there for the application of this data as ground truth for anomaly detection or machine learning algorithms. New attacks learned from these training sets could be suggested to the producer.


MISP provides a feature called sightings where users, scripts or intrusion detection systems can share information about a given consumed attribute. For instance, whether they saw it or whether it is a false positive or has expiration dates for some attributes. Sightings gives more credibility to an attribute and can be used for prioritizing or decaying attributes. Sightings are visually represented in MISP such as shown in figure 2.

Fig. 2: Visual representation of sighting in MISP

Also, aggregating sightings of all attributes/objects can be useful to detect particular security events or threats. For example, figure 3

is a visual representation of the occurrences of sightings and false-positive for one week. We can observe that on November 20 (2017), a lot of false positives were detected, probably indicating a spam campaign. Also, on November 17 (2017), a larger proportion of sightings than the normal average is represented. This can raise suspicion of security experts or the SOC (Security Operation Center) that a more concerning threat is present. This should indicate that a deeper investigation should be performed. Sightings are valuable inputs for decaying attributes.

Fig. 3: Visual representation of the aggregation of sightings

V Scoring Indicators of Compromise

To illustrate that the handling of these attributes and the correctness of information is challenging, we will present some numbers provided from our MISP community, we operate for the private sector [4]. It includes 1 531 users from 761 different organisations. These users have already shared 8 101 events and 1 003 908 attributes until early December 2017.

A fact that makes the handling of these attributes even more challenging is that the objectives from each user is different and by this, having a non-homogeneous crowd. On one hand, users want to use the data for implementing operational security, such as, performing blocking actions based on shared attributes like file hashes or IP addresses. Hence, false positives are unwanted, since data needs to be correct and reliable. On the other hand, organisations want to correlate attributes and link them with additional threat actors. Hence, these organisations need a correct and reliable source of historical data.

In this section, a scoring technique for decaying attributes in MISP including various factors such as its sightings in operational networks, its taxonomies and the reliability of the source is presented.

The lifetime of the various available attributes are not homogeneous. For instance, hosts of machines related to IP addresses are changed or cleaned up, IP addresses or domain names are traded and hence get used in different fashions over time. Hence, each attribute has its own decay function. File hashes usually tend not to vary over time. Nevertheless, a shared file hash can be declared as false positive over time by organizations with distinct trust levels.

To fully evaluate the overall score of an attribute, some conditions can be taken into consideration:

  • The base score of an attribute, called base_score, is a weighting of the confidence of its source and the taxonomies attached to it. It is the initial value of an indicator’s life cycle. It is also the score the indicator will be reset to upon a new sighting.

  • The period of time expressed between the time an attribute was seen first and the time it was seen last.

  • The end-time of an attribute represents the time at which the overall score should be 0.

  • The decay rate represents the speed at which the overall score is decreasing over time. It would be preferable that the decay speed is variable over time. To illustrate this, an example of an IP address is taken. The decay rate of the IP should be low for the first hours, but should go faster the more time passes. The first time activities from this IP are sighted, the better chances are that the threat actors are still active or are executing follow up operations. When this IP address is shared among a community targeted by the threat actor, more and more members can take measures, such as blocking the IP address. Hence, the attack becomes ineffective forcing threat actors to use other IP addresses. In case, the IP is given up, it could be reassigned to a legitimate customer of the Internet service provider leading to collateral damage due to the blocking actions of this IP.

MISP is a peer to peer system where people can produce and consume information about threats in a collaborative manner. Hence, it is common that information transits through multiple MISP instances until it gets to its consumer. Producers can add tags defined in taxonomies, introduced in section III, about their confidence or reliability of their source about a given piece of information they are encoding. Consumers get this information and have different levels of trust in the producers.

The of an attribute is defined in equation 1, . It represents the score of an attribute before taking into account its decay. It is composed of its weighted applied tags and its source confidence.

The weights of the applied taxonomies are defined at predicate level of each taxonomy and represent its acceptance within a community. For instance, if tags from the taxonomy with the namespace admiralty-scale and with the predicate source-reliability are hardly used, it gets a low weight. However, if within the same taxonomy tags with the predicate information-credibility are regularly used, it gets a higher weight.

The source confidence can also be influenced by an additional parameter called . This parameter takes into account more subtle trust evaluations. For example, it could be that an organization has a good image and a good reputation but due to some circumstances within a given time frame, the trust in this organization is decreased. A practical example is an organization that was compromised or taken over by the attacking party.


The is defined in equation 1 with,

  • , or , a mean to adjust the focus either on the or on the . As little research on the trust rebalancing and trust evolution of organizations in distributed threat sharing is done, the parameter is set to and is considered as future work implying further research.

  • , the score derived from the taxonomies is defined in equation 2.

  • , is the confidence given to the source that published the attribute. The parameter in equation 1 gives a possibility to influence the , which should be a number between 0 and 100. Each source between and has its level. In case a source is fully trusted the

    is set to 1. If there is no trust, the source level is set to 0. The user could also set intermediate values, which could give an estimate on how reliable the source is. The learning of the confidence of a source based on its produced information over time is subject to future research.

The tags parameter in equation 1 is derived from the taxonomies a producer can attach to its piece of information. A few used taxonomies allow to add confidence or reliability on a produced information. The tags in the taxonomies can be attached to each individual encoded attribute. The taxonomies available in MISP platforms permit to derive confidence and reliability are defined in table I.

These taxonomies are: MISP machine tag333, admirality scale444, OSINT555 and estimative language666 As these taxonomies are already used by large MISP communities, a scoring model should be derived from these ones instead of suggesting new ones, as it is unknown if the new ones will be used by the communities.

The MISP taxonomy includes a confidence level that is ’Confidence cannot be evaluated’. This special confidence level is not mapped to a numerical value. One possibility is to introduce the concept of ’undefined’.

Once a value is undefined, the cannot be computed and becomes undefined. At the end, the overall score would be undefined and by this, cancel other scoring factors defined in tags. Hence, when the confidence level is ’Confidence cannot be evaluated’, it will be ignored.

Description Value(s) Description Value(s)
Completely confident 100 Certain 100
Usually confident 75 Almost certain 93
Fairly confident 50 Probable 75
Rarely confident 25 Chances about even 50
Unconfident 0 Probably not 30
Impossibility 0
TABLE I: MISP and OSINT taxonomies

The score derived from the taxonomies is defined in equation 2, where is the number of defined taxonomy groups and the number of used taxonomy per group. The weights are defined at predicate level in the taxonomies and should be integer numbers between 0 and 100.


The idea is to decrease the base_score over time. When it reaches zero, the related indicator can be discarded. A first idea to express the overall score could be to use equation 3.



  • base_score is described in equation 1.

  • represents the decay rate, or expressed as the speed at which the score of an attribute decreases over time.

  • and are timestamps. represents the current time and represents the last time this attribute received a sighting. Note that .

Fig. 4: . The decay of the score is constant.

Figure 4 shows the decay of the score of an attribute with a base_score of and a decay rate of .

An evaliatoin of the parameters shows that neither the end-time nor the variable decay rate can be controlled. Indeed, by fixing the decay rate, the end-time cannot be specified for the score of an attribute. In the same mind, even if the decay rate is controlled by the constant , the decay is fixed over time.

To address the latter point, an exponential degression could be considered as shown in equation 4.

Fig. 5: . The decay of the score follows an exponential degression.

In this case a variable decay rate can be used. The slope in figure 5 is high at the beginning and lower as time passes. However, the decay rate cannot be significantly influenced. This expression cannot be used to have a slow decay at the beginning followed by a rapid degression. A behaviour that can, for example, be found in dynamic IP address allocation by threat actors as previously described in this section. Moreover, the time at which the overall score of the attribute should be 0 is entirely defined by the decay rate. So, manipulating the slope as well as the end-time at the same time is still not possible. Furthermore, it can be observed that the choice of the parameter will essentially range between 0 and 1 due to the tendency of the exponential degression to rapidly becomes assymptotic to 0.

The final score is defined in equation 5, capturing the conditions stated previously.



  • , the decay speed.

  • , the end-time or time needed such that score. The end-time can be told by an expiration sighting, where an organization knows when an indicator will be expired. An example is the grace time: an Internet service provider gives a grace time to customers to fix their machine until disconnecting them or law enforcement agencies seizing the equipments. It can also be derived from existing regular sightings, where organizations provided data about sightings from the past.

  • , is an integer

This polynomial function has two advantages over the exponential one. First, the end-time can be easily controlled. direction of the slope’s cavity. We can have fast degression at the beginning can be obtained followed by a slow degression along with the complete opposite. An example for a different decay rate can be seen in figure 6. It can be seen that the greater is, the faster the overall score decreases at the beginning. The closer is to zero, the slower the overall score will decrease at the start. The score is 0 for all decay rate for the specified .

Fig. 6: for a fixed of 7 days

The parameters can easily be fine tuned, which is an additional advantage. A value can be set for each type of attribute by performing a statistical analysis on an existing dataset; an example of such derivation is presented in section VI; or users could set their own values via a dedicated interface. An idea on how this could be done is given in figure 7.

Fig. 7: Web interface letting the user select the parameters. source:

Two examples are shown on how the score in equation 5 can be used. The first example is an attribute for a compromised IP address being part of a botnet. The attribute of a shared event in MISP belongs to the category Network activity with its type ip-dest, meaning the destination IP address of a compromised webserver hosting an exploitkit distributing malware. Some organizations spotted it and started to share information about it. Abuse teams are informed to cleanup the compromised systems. The IP address is encoded in publicly available blacklists. The threat actors might notice the detection too and start to move their exploitkit to another webserver. If we assume that the Internet service provider gives a customer 1 week time to fix the webserver. If it is not fixed within this time frame, the IP of the webserver will be null-routed, meaning that it will not be accessible any more. Hence, hours. Under the hypothesis that the typical blacklists take 48 hours to be applied in proxy servers or browsers, the overall score should be halved after 2 days. Hence, . Finally, if the base score of the attribute is calculated to be base_score (based on the taxonomies and source confidence), equation 5 becomes:

where is the time between now and the last sighting, expressed in hours. A plot of the decay is represented in figure 8.

Fig. 8: - It can be seen a rapid decrease of the score at the beginning. The score is halved after 48 hours.

The second example is the hash of a malware. In this scenario, a file-hash is not as volatile as an IP. It could be considered that the attribute will not have any value after 2 months, with a rather slow decay. We can now set days and . It is also supposed that the base score is the same as the previous example: base_score. We have:

and the resulting plot can be seen in figure 9.

Fig. 9: - A really slow decrease at the beginning and a rush towards zero at the end can be observed. The overall score is halved only after 48 hours.

Vi Experimental evaluation: tuning and using a phishing dataset

In this section, we show how to fine-tune the two parameters of the model using basic statistical analysis on a real dataset.

The original dataset consists in attributes of type URL related to phishing campaigns, available at SOME URL777SOMEURLSOME URL. Statistics about the dataset are shown in table 10.

Time spanned May 24, 2017 May 3, 2018
Number of attribute 583783
Number of sighting 92713361
Mean () of sighting / attribute 333
Stdev () of sighting / attribute 1071
Fig. 10: Statistics on the dataset used to evaluate the parameters

This dataset has been processed in order to deduce the end-time of each attributes using sightings. For each of them, the end-time was calculated as follow:


  • is the time at which the attribute was seen for the first time

  • is the time at which the attribute was seen for the last time

  • is the longer time elapsed between 2 sightings

Fig. 11: Timeline showing the method to compute the end_time

From a CSIRT perspective, it is critical to take down (or request it) compromised servers as fast as possible. Even if long-living URLs are important, we only consider short-lived URLs in the evaluation. Longer URLs are a special case that is out of scope for this section and so, are treated as outliers and ignored.

This processed dataset can be used to deduce the two parameters888In this section, the base_score is assumed to be 100. The first one we are interested in is (the end-time). By looking at the histogram 12 showing the repartition of the calculated end-time over time999Note the log scale, we can see that the majority of attributes are located within the first week.

Fig. 12: Histogram of the end_time for the complete dataset (log scale)

By zooming in the first week we obtain the histogram 13 where more information can be obtained.

Fig. 13: Histogram of the calculated end_time for the first week

As stated previously, the majority of the end-time is sitting in the first week. Moreover, the CDF indicate that of the attributes shown on the graph falls within 5 days. Then, it is reasonable to consider that the end-time is:

The value of the second parameter can be estimated by looking at the general tendency of the histogram. It is clear that the slope cavity is directed towards the bottom, indicating an increasing speed of decay over the time. Even before computing , we can see that this parameter will be .

Again, by looking at the CDF, of the attributes for the first week are located around 3 days (). Then, it is also reasonable to say that after 3 days, half of the attribute have expired. Hence, the score at this point is 50. We can now compute :


Finally, attributes of type URL concerning phishing campaing can use these estimated parameters to be scored.

This evaluation can be used by IDS to select which rules to play on. Practically, IDS are limited on the number of entry they can charge at the same time, and so, only a portion of attributes can be loaded as a rule. By using such instantiation of the presented model and an appropriate threshold on the score, an IDS could support volatile URL partaining in phishing camapaign.

A simulation of this is shown in the chart 14 and 15. The simulation has been done for a period of 2 months using the data from the initial dataset. It can be seen that nearly 60% of the entries were correctly removed from the IDS table, while 40% of them were removed prematurily.

Fig. 14: Simulation of an IDS supporting the model
Fig. 15: Percentage of correctly vs prematurely removed entries

Vii Future Work and Conclusions

Information sharing has become an integrated part in the resolution of incidents nowadays. The MISP platform is a unique tool that not only allows the sharing of information, but also allows to contribute useful addons by the community in a trusted environment.

In this paper, we presented early works on scoring mechanisms for attributes that are shared within MISP. As MISP is a distributed peer to peer threat sharing system, where each participating organization can consume or produce information, a consumer can receive information multiple hops away. Hence, a consumer has to somehow trust the producing organisation. The producing organization has some taxonomies in MISP for attaching reliability or credibility to the attribute it is sharing. In this paper a base score is defined to combine these different trust aspects. Due to the different life times of attributes, a scoring method is presented, taking into account standard data interaction methods in MISP.

In distributed threat sharing models such as MISP, trust is an essential factor. In future research activities various models for the will be evaluated. A potential research track is the evaluation and application of machine learning techniques. However, for evaluating these, the simple model described in V must be operational such that a significant dataset about sharing behaviours can be collected. Another research track, which might need less operational data is the exploration of game theoretical models in context of distributed information sharing. MISP was growing organically, where only a few MISP instances were interconnected and where the members of the various communities knew and trusted each other. However, today, it is not uncommon that a piece of information transits through a couple of MISP instances and only little is known about the producer or even the source of information. Hence, it could be that some adversaries share fake information for harming organizations or disrupting sharing communities. Detailed adversary models in the context of peer to peer threat sharing might be useful to be studied.

Viii Acknowledgment

This work is co-financed by the European Union under the CEF grant 2016-LU-IA-0098.


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