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Security Analytics Team of Rivals: Introduction [New Series]

By Mike Rothman

Security monitoring has been a foundational element of most every security program for over a decade. The initial driver for separate security monitoring infrastructure was the overwhelming amount of alerts flooding out of intrusion detection devices, which required some level of correlation to determine which mattered. Soon after, compliance mandates (primarily PCI-DSS) emerged as a forcing function, providing a clear requirement for log aggregation – which SIEM already did. As the primary security monitoring technology, SIEM became entrenched for alert reduction and compliance reporting.

But everything changes, and the requirements for security monitoring have evolved. Attacks have become much more sophisticated, and detection now require a level of advanced analysis that is difficult to accomplish using older technologies. So a new category of technologies dubbed Security Analytics emerged to fill the need to address very specific use cases requiring advanced analysis – including user behavior analysis, tackling insider threats, and network-based malware detection. These products and services are all based on sophisticated analysis of aggregated security data, using “big data” technologies which did not exist when SIEMs initially appeared in the early 2000s.

This age-old cycle should be familiar: existing technologies no longer fit the bill as requirements evolve, so new companies launch to fill the gap. But enterprises have seen this movie before, including new entrants’ inflated claims to address all the failings of last-generation technology, with little proof but high prices. To avoid the disappointment that always follows throwing the whole budget at an unproven technology, we recommend organizations ask a few questions:

  1. Can you meet this need with existing technology?
  2. Do these new offerings definitively solve the problem in a sustainable way?
  3. At what point does the new supplant the old?

Of course the future of security monitoring (and everything else) is cloudy, so we do not have all the answers today. But you can understand how security analytics works, why it’s different (and possibly better), whether it can help you, where in your security program the technology can provide value, and how long. Then you will be able to answer questions.

But you should be clear that security analytics is not a replacement for your SIEM – at least today. For some period of time you will need to support both technologies. The role of a security architect is basically to assemble a Team of Security Analytics Rivals to generate actionable alerts on specific threat vectors relevant to the business, investigate attacks in process and after the fact, and also to generate compliance reports to streamline audits.

It gets better: many current security analytics offerings were built and optimized for a single use case. The Team of Rivals is doubly appropriate for organizations facing multiple threats from multiple actors, who understand the importance of detecting attacks sooner and responding better. As was said in Contact, “Why buy one, when you can buy two for twice the cost?” Three or four have to be even better than two, right?

We are pleased that Intel Security has agreed to be the initial licensee of our Security Analytics Team of Rivals paper, the end result of this series. We strongly appreciate forward-looking companies in the security industry who invest in objective research to educate their constituents about where security is going, instead of just focusing on where it’s been.

On Security Analytics

As we start this series, we need to clarify our position on security analytics. It’s not a thing you can buy. Not for a long while, anyway. Security analytics is a way you can accomplish something important: detect attacks in your environment. But it’s not an independent product category.

That doesn’t mean Analytics will necessarily become subsumed into an existing SIEM technology or other security monitoring product/service stack, although that’s one possibility. We can easily show why these emerging analytics platforms should become the next-generation SIEM. Our point is that the Team of Rivals is not a long-term solution. At some point organizations need to simplify the environment, and consolidate vendors and technologies. They will pick a security monitoring platform, but we are not taking bets which will win. Thus the need for a Team of Rivals.

But having a combined and integrated solution someday won’t help you detect attackers in your environment right now. So let’s define what we mean by security analytics first, and then focus on how these technologies work together to meet today’s requirements, with an eye on the future.

In order to call itself a security analytics offering, a product or service must provide:

  • Data Aggregation: It’s impossible to produce analysis without data. Of course there is some question of whether the security analytics tool needs to gather its own data, or can just integrate with an existing security data repository, like your SIEM.
  • Math: We joke a lot that math is the hottest thing in security lately, especially given how early SIEM correlation and IDS analysis were based on math, too. But the new math is different, based on advanced algorithms and data management to find patterns within data volumes which were unimaginable 15 years ago. The key difference is that you no longer need to know what you are looking for to find useful patterns. Modern algorithms can help you spot unknown unknowns. Looking for known profiled attacks is now clearly a failed strategy.
  • Alerts: These are the main output of security analytics, and you will want them prioritized by importance to your business.
  • Drill down: Once an alert fires, analysts will need to dig into the details, both for validation and to determine the most appropriate response. So the tools must be able to drill down and provide additional detail to assist in response.
  • Learn: This is the tuning process, and any offering needs a strong feedback loop between responders and the folks running the tool. You must refine analytics to minimize false positives and wasted time.
  • Evolve: Finally the tool must evolve, because adversaries are not static. This requires a threat intelligence research team at your security analytics provider constantly looking for new categories of attacks and adding new ways to identify those attacks to the tool.

We could write a book about the nuances which distinguish the different approaches to security analytics, and arguing whether the criteria above are sufficient. Or perhaps that is still too broad a topic. The point is that, as security analytics products evolve to track market requirements, the market will identify the most important criteria and determine which analytics approach survives. We will stick to the tactical level in this series, concerning ourselves only with how you can align your security monitoring technologies and emerging analytics capabilities to better identify attacks in your environment.

Our next post will dig into use cases and integration points which require the Team of Rivals.

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