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Endpoint Advanced Protection Buyer’s Guide: Detection and Response Use Cases

By Mike Rothman

As we continue documenting what you need to know to understand Endpoint Advanced Protection offerings, it’s time to delve into Detection and Response. Remember that before you are ready to pick anything, you need to understand the problem you are trying to solve. Detecting all endpoint attacks within microseconds and without false positives isn’t really achievable. You need to determine the key use cases most important to you, and make an honest assessment of your team and adversaries.

Why is this introspection necessary? Nobody ever says they don’t want to detect active attacks and hunt for adversaries. It’s cool and it’s necessary. Nobody wants to be perpetually reacting to attacks. That said, if you don’t have enough staff to work through half the high-priority alerts from your security monitoring systems, how can you find time to proactively hunt for stuff your monitoring systems don’t catch?

As another example, your team may consist of a bunch of entry-level security analysts struggling to figure out which events are actual device compromise, and which are false positives. Tasking these less sophisticated folks with advanced memory forensics to identify file-less malware may not be a good use of time.

To procure effective advanced Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) technology, you must match what you buy to your organization’s ability to use it. Of course you should be able to grow into a more advanced program and capability. But don’t pay for an Escalade when a Kia Sportage is what you need today.

Over the next 5 days we will explain what you need to know about Detection and Response (D/R) to be an educated buyer of these solutions. We’ll start by helping you understand the key use cases for D/R, and then delve into the important capabilities for each use case, the underlying technologies which make it all work, and finally some key questions to ask vendors to understand their approaches to your problems.

Planning for Compromise

Before we get into specific use cases, we need to level-set regarding your situation, which we highlighted in our introduction to the Endpoint Advanced Protection Buyer’s Guide. For years there was little innovation in endpoint protection. Even worse, far too many organizations didn’t upgrade to the latest versions of their vendor’s offerings – meaning they were trying to detect 2016 attacks with 2011 technology. Inevitably that didn’t work out well.

Now there are better alternatives for prevention, so where does that leave endpoint detection and response? In the same situation it has always been: a necessity. Regardless of how good your endpoint prevention strategy is, it’s not good enough. You will have devices which get compromised. So you must to be in position to detect compromise and respond to it effectively and efficiently.

The good news is that in the absence of perfect (and often even effective) prevention options, many organizations have gone down this path, investing in better detection and response. They have been growing network-based detection and centralized security monitoring infrastructure (which drove the wave of security analytics offerings hitting the market now), and these organizations also invested in technologies to gather telemetry from endpoints and make sense of it.

To be clear, we have always been able to analyze what happened on an endpoint after an attack, assuming some reasonable logging and a forensic image of the device. There are decent open source tools for advanced forensics, which have always been leveraged by forensicators who charge hundreds of dollars an hour.

What you don’t have is enough people to perform that kind of response and forensic analysis. You hardly have enough people to work through your alert queue, right? This is where advanced Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) tools can add real value to your security program. Facing a significant and critical skills gap, the technology needs to help your less experience folks by structuring their activities and making their next step somewhat intuitive. But if a tool can’t make your people better and faster, then why bother?

But all vendors say that, right? They claim their tools find unknown attacks, and don’t create a bunch of makework wasted identifying or confirming false positives. And help you prioritize activities. The magic tools even find attacks before you know they are attacks, bundled with a side of unicorn dust.

Our objective with these selection criteria is to make sure you understand how to dig deeper into the true capabilities of these products, and know what is real and what is marketing puffery. Understand whether a vendor understands the entire threat landscape, or is focused on a small subset of high-profile attack vectors, and whether they will be an effective partner as adversaries and their tactics inevitably change. But as we mentioned above, you need to focus your selection process on the problem you need to solve, which comes down to defining your main use cases for EDR.

Key Use Cases

Let’s be clear about use cases. There are three main functions you need these tools to perform, and quite a bit of overlap with technologies underlying endpoint prevention.

  • Detection: When you are attacked it’s a race against time. Attackers are burrowing deeper into your environment and working toward their goal. The sooner you detect that something is amiss on an endpoint, the better your chance to contain the damage. Today’s challenge is not just detecting an attack on a single endpoint, but instead figuring out the extent of a coordinated campaign against many endpoints and devices within your environment.

  • Response: Once you know you have been attacked you need to respond quickly and efficiently. This use case focuses on providing an analyst the ability to drill down, validate an attack, and determine the extent of the attacker’s actions across all affected device(s), while assessing potential damage. You also need to able to figure out effective workarounds and remediations to instruct the operations team how to prevent further outbreaks of the same attack. Don’t forget the need to make sure evidence is gathered in a way which preserves the option of later prosecution by maintaining chain of custody. Response is not a one-size-fits-all function, so assemble a toolkit for analysts to leverage, making the technology intuitive and easy to use. Yes, we know that’s a tall order.

  • Hunting: An adversary doesn’t always trigger an alert to trigger a validation and response process, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t active on your networks. So the third use case for EDR is to proactively hunt adversaries on your network before they do damage. This is more an art than a science because the hunter needs to be a detective, looking for signs of an attack while the attacker works to remain hidden.

You need to address all three use cases to build a comprehensive endpoint detection and response process, but your prioritization depends on the adversaries you face and the sophistication of your team. As we dig into key capabilities of EDR technology, don’t focus on the simplistic question of whether you need a capability, but the more relevant question: whether you can use it. There is a big difference, and over the years many of us bought a ton of security tools which we needed but couldn’t figure out how to use consistently and effectively.

Our next post will start to peel back what you need to know about detection.

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