Group Hierarchy and Association Directionality
  • 31 Aug 2022
  • 5 Minutes to read
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Group Hierarchy and Association Directionality

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Article Summary

Groups in ThreatConnect are related to each other according to the hierarchy in Figure 1, where the topmost Group (Report) is a superset that can contain all of the Groups “below” it, the next group down (Threat) is a superset that can contain all of the Groups “below” it (i.e., all of the Groups except itself and Report), and so on. Or, starting from the bottom of the list, a Document can contain only itself; a Course of Action can contain a Document; a Tool can contain a Course of Action and a Document; a Tactic can contain a Tool, a Course of Action, and a Document; and so on. The hierarchy is like a Russian nesting doll, where Document is the smallest doll and fits inside the Course of Action doll, which fits inside the Tool doll, which fits inside the Tactic doll, and so on.

Note
The Task Group is not listed in the hierarchy as it cannot be copied as an associated Group because this Group type may contain sensitive information and is specific to users in a given Organization.

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This hierarchy is based on the definition of each Group and the way each Group can contain or be contained by other Groups. For example, a Document can be included in a Course of Action, but a Course of Action cannot be included inside a Document. An Adversary can be a component of an Intrusion Set, but an Intrusion Set is a “greater” structure and thus cannot be part of an Adversary. A Campaign is a collection of Incidents, and therefore it can contain Incidents, but an Incident cannot contain a Campaign. An Email can contain a Signature and a Document inside of it, but neither a Signature or a Document could have an Email as a component. An Email can be one of the components that are grouped together into an Event, but it would not make sense to say that an Event is a part of an Email.

When contributing a Group to a Community or Source, Groups that are associated directly to that Group (i.e., one degree of association from the original Group) are also contributed if Yes is selected for the Copy Associated Groups? option and if the checkbox for the type of Group has been selected. However, Groups that are associated to the associated Groups (i.e., two or more degrees of association from the original Group) are contributed only if the association traverses up or down the hierarchy in the same direction as the association between the original Group and the associated Group. Also, a horizontal traversal (i.e., from one kind of Group to the same kind of Group, such as a Signature associated with another Signature) would be contributed regardless of the prior direction of traversal.

For example, say the Group being contributed is an Event that is associated to an Incident. The Incident, being directly associated to the Event (one degree), will be contributed along with the Incident. If the Incident is associated with an Adversary, the Adversary will also be contributed, because the chain of association began by traveling “up” the hierarchy (i.e., from Event to Incident) and continued “up” the hierarchy (i.e., from Incident to Adversary). However, if the Incident is also associated with a Signature, that Signature will not be contributed with the Email, because the initial association traveled “up” the hierarchy (i.e., from Event to Incident), but then traveled “down” the hierarchy (from Incident to Signature). This situation is illustrated in Figure 2, where the dashed gray line with the X over it indicates a contribution that will not happen.

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As another example, if the Group being contributed is a Campaign that is associated with an Adversary, a Threat that is associated with the Adversary will be contributed as well, because the chain of association from Campaign to Adversary to Threat is uniformly in the “up” direction. However, a different Campaign associated with the Adversary will not be contributed, because the chain of association from Campaign to Adversary to Campaign goes “up” and then “down.” Similarly, if a Signature is associated with the original Campaign, both the Signature and a Document associated to the Signature will be contributed with the Campaign, because the chain of association from Campaign to Signature to Document goes uniformly “down,” whereas an Email associated to the Signature will not be contributed, because the chain of association from Campaign to Signature to Email goes “down” and then “up.” This situation is illustrated in Figure 3.

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As a final example, consider a Signature that is associated with a Campaign. If the Campaign (“Campaign 1”) is associated with another Campaign (“Campaign 2”), which is associated with an Adversary and an Incident, then when the Signature is contributed to a Community or Source, Campaign 1, Campaign 2, and the Adversary will be contributed as well, because the directionality of association is universally “up” or, in the case of the two Campaigns, horizontal, but the Incident would not be contributed, because the directionality initially goes “up” (from the Signature to the first Campaign), horizontal (from Campaign 1 to Campaign 2), and then “down” (from Campaign 2 to the Incident). This situation is illustrated in Figure 4.

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Note
The reason for this methodology is that traversal along the hierarchy in one direction and then in the other direction means that you are likely to encounter a separate chain of association not related to the original Group. For example, consider the scenario in Figure 2. The Email is a part of the Incident, which in turn is a component of the Adversary. But the Signature associated with the Incident may have nothing to do with the Email. The Signature may be associated with an Email, but there is no evidence that it is associated with the Email being contributed, and so including it as part of the contribution would mean that extraneous, unrelated data are being passed with the contribution. In the Russian nesting doll analogy, it is as if the Incident doll has two separate dolls—Email and Signature—rattling around inside of it. The presence of both of them inside the Incident doll does not mean they are related to each other.

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