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Discovering the Traffic Light Protocol (TLP). How to exchange sensitive information

Antonio Piovesan : 25 March 2024 18:49

Author: Massimiliano BrolliMarch, 5th 2024 07:23
English translation: Antonio Piovesan – March, 11th 2024

How can we ensure that sensitive data is exchanged securely and efficiently? As answer to this critical question, Traffic Light Protocol (TLP) emerges, an information classification system designed to facilitate sharing sensitive information between authorised entities.

In this article, we will explore in detail the fundamental role of the Traffic Light Protocol (TLP) in sensitive information management, with particular emphasis on its application in Cyber Threat Intelligence.

Through an in-depth analysis of its mechanisms, its benefits and implementation of the TLP, we will seek to fully understand how this protocol contributes to the promotion of secure and collaborative information sharing in the context of cyber security.

What the Traffic Light Protocol (TLP) is

The Traffic Light Protocol (TLP) is a classification system designed to facilitate the exchange of sensitive information between organisations, government agencies and other authorised parties. This protocol provides a standardised structure for marking and sharing sensitive data, allowing involved entities to quickly assess the level of sensitivity of the information and establish relevant dissemination criteria.

The TLP is based on a simple colours system – red, amber, green and white – each of which represents a different level of sensitivity of the information and the corresponding disclosure restrictions. These colours provide a clear and intuitive way to communicate the degree of confidentiality of a given data set and actions allowed for its disclosure.

The TLP was invented in 1999 by the National Infrastructure Security Co-ordination Centre (NISCC), a British government agency that was responsible for the protection of critical national infrastructure. The NISCC needed to share sensitive information with various partners, both public and private, securely and quickly.

The TLP spread rapidly internationally, especially in the field of IT security and emergency management. However, there was no single, shared standard for its use, and different organisations and communities applied the TLP differently. For this reason, in 2015, the Forum of Incident Response and Security Teams (FIRST), an international organisation that brings together information security teams from various industries, took the initiative to unify and standardise TLP protocol.

How the Traffic Light Protocol (TLP) Works

The Traffic Light Protocol (TLP) works through a classification system based on four colours: red, amber, green and white. Each colour represents a different level of sensitivity of the information and specifies the corresponding diffusion restrictions.

Red: Information marked red is considered highly sensitive and requires the highest level of protection. This information may only be shared with authorised individuals or entities and must be treated with extreme caution to prevent unauthorised disclosure.
Amber: Information marked Amber is sensitive and requires appropriate protection. It may be shared with authorised individuals or entities, but care must be taken not to disclose it to an unauthorised public. Additional precautions should be used when transmitting and storing it.
Green: Information marked green is considered to be of a non-sensitive nature and may be shared more freely within the relevant community. However, it is still important to exercise discretion and ensure that it is not disclosed to unauthorised individuals or entities.
White: Information marked as white is considered non-sensitive and may be shared publicly without restriction. This information is generally public in nature and requires no special precautions for its dissemination.

TLP also provides guidelines for the management and disclosure of information within each sensitivity category. These guidelines help organisations quickly assess the level of confidentiality of information and make informed decisions about its disclosure.

Traffic Light Protocol (TLP) Advantages

Traffic Light Protocol (TLP) offers a number of significant advantages for organisations and entities involved in sharing sensitive information. Let us examine them in more detail:

Standardisation: The TLP provides a standardised structure for the classification and dissemination of sensitive information. This standard facilitates communication and understanding between the parties involved, minimising ambiguities and misinterpretations.

Rapid Sensitivity Assessment: With its four distinct colours, TLP allows for a quick and intuitive assessment of the sensitivity level of information. This allows organisations to make informed decisions on data management and dissemination without having to devote excessive resources to assessing each case.

Flexibility: Despite its standardised structure, TLP offers flexibility in the interpretation and application of its guidelines. This allows organisations to adapt the protocol to their specific needs and circumstances.

Promotion of Information Sharing: By facilitating the secure and controlled exchange of sensitive information, the TLP promotes a culture of sharing within the security and intelligence communities. This fosters collaboration and cooperation between organisations, improving their ability to detect and respond to cyber threats.

Risk Management: The TLP helps organisations manage the risk associated with sharing sensitive information. By providing clear guidelines and defining appropriate restrictions for each level of sensitivity, the protocol reduces the likelihood of unauthorised disclosure and minimises the negative impacts of any security breaches.

Implementation of the Traffic Light Protocol (TLP)

Implementation of the Traffic Light Protocol (TLP) requires a number of key steps to ensure its effective and consistent use within an organisation or community. The following are some key points for TLP implementation:

Staff Training: It is essential to provide training and instruction to staff on the correct use of the TLP and understanding the different levels of sensitivity of information. This includes familiarisation with the four TLP colours and their dissemination restrictions.

Development of Guidelines: Organisations should develop internal guidelines and procedures for marking and managing information in accordance with the TLP. These guidelines should clearly state the criteria for classifying sensitive information and the actions permitted for each sensitivity level.

Integration into Operational Processes: The TLP should be integrated into the organisation’s existing operational processes, including those related to information sharing, information security and risk management. This will ensure that the protocol is applied consistently and effectively in all the organisation activities.

Collaboration with Stakeholders: Organisations should collaborate with information sharing stakeholders, including internal and external partners, to ensure a shared understanding and uniform adoption of the protocol. This collaboration may include establishing information sharing agreements and communicating TLP policies to stakeholders.

Monitoring and Review: It is important to continuously monitor the implementation of the TLP and periodically review procedures and guidelines to ensure compliance and effectiveness. This includes assessing staff performance in applying the TLP and identifying any areas for improvement.

Importance of Traffic Light Protocol (TLP) in Cyber Threat Intelligence

The Traffic Light Protocol (TLP) plays a key role in Cyber Threat Intelligence, as it provides a clear and structured system for classifying and sharing sensitive cyber threat information. This is why the TLP is crucial within this context:

Classification of Sensitive Information: In the context of Cyber Threat Intelligence, it is essential to quickly distinguish the level of sensitivity of cyber threat information. The TLP provides a clear and intuitive classification, enabling analysts to immediately identify the level of confidentiality of information and apply relevant disclosure restrictions.

Facilitating Information Sharing: The timely and secure sharing of information is essential for the effective management of cyber threats. The TLP simplifies this process, enabling analysts to share sensitive information with other organisations and trusted partners in a controlled manner that complies with disclosure restrictions.

Collaboration and Cooperation: Cyber Threat Intelligence is based on collaboration and cooperation between organisations and entities that share security information. The TLP facilitates this collaboration by providing a common framework for the classification and management of sensitive information, facilitating the mutual sharing of critical data for defence against cyber threats.

Risk Management: Proper risk management is crucial in Cyber Threat Intelligence to mitigate potential cyber threats. The TLP helps manage the risk associated with sharing sensitive information by providing clear guidelines and appropriate disclosure restrictions for each level of information sensitivity.

In summary, the Traffic Light Protocol (TLP) plays a critical role in Cyber Threat Intelligence by providing a standardised and intuitive framework for classifying and sharing sensitive cyber threat information. As we have seen, this protocol promotes collaboration, facilitates information sharing and contributes to effective risk management in the context of cyber security.


The Traffic Light Protocol (TLP) is an important tool for the secure management and sharing of sensitive information, not only in Cyber Threat Intelligence, but in a wide range of operational contexts. Its clear guidelines and standardised structure enable organisations to quickly assess the level of sensitivity of information and apply disclosure restrictions consistently

By implementing the TLP, organisations can improve their ability to collaborate and cooperate with internal and external partners, facilitating the exchange of security-critical information. This facilitates a more effective response to cyber threats and better protection of digital assets.

However, it is important to remember that the success of the TLP depends on the proper training of personnel, integration into operational processes and continuous review and monitoring of procedures. Only through constant efforts to ensure compliance and effectiveness of the protocol, organisations can maximise the benefits of its adoption.

Antonio Piovesan
He graduated in Computer Engineering in 2002 and CISSP certified since 2023, entered the ICT world as an analyst/full stack developer. He continued his education by attending an executive Master in cybersecurity and data protection at 24ORE Business School. He now deals with cybersecurity governance issues in the large-scale retail sector. He has a strong passion for technology, innovation and cybersecurity, promoting the spread of digital risk awareness. He loves reading books on the history of mathematics and is a fan of science fiction literature and film.