Does Big Data Advance Security Analytics?

If you follow the security press, you know many predict that big data will transform information security. RSA recently released a security brief on security analytics with big data that mirrors the press. Depending on your perspective, security analytics with big data may be the concept that we’ll leverage big data clusters for actionable intel in coming years. Or if you talk to SIEM vendors who run on top of NoSQL repositories, the future has been here for 5 years. You may go with “none of the above”. To me it is simply a good idea that has yet to be fully implemented, which is currently just something we talk about in the security echo chamber. But that did not stop me from enjoying the paper. And I don’t say that about most vendor-led research. Most of it makes me angry, to the point where I avoid writing about it to avoid saying really nasty things in public, which should not be printed. But I want to make a couple comments on the assumptions here – specifically, “Big data’s new role in security comes at a time time when organizations confront un-precedented risk arising from two conditions:”, which implies a connection to both security concerns and the need for big data analytics. I think that link is tenuous, and serves their premise poorly. The dissolving perimeter has little or nothing to do with security analytics with big data. The “dissolving perimeter” became a topic for discussion because third-party cloud services, combined with mobile devices, have destroyed the security value of the corporate IT ‘perimeter’. The ‘edge’ of the network now has so many holes that it no longer forms a discernible boundary between inside and outside. We do, however – given the number of servers, services, and mobile computing platforms (all programmed to deliver event data) get a wealth of constantly generated information. Cheap computing resources, coupled with nearly free analytics tools, make storage and processing of this data newly feasible. And do you think we have more sophisticated adversaries? APT is one argument for this idea, but I tend to think we have more determined adversaries. Given the increasing complexity of IT systems, there seems to be plentiful “low-hanging fruit” – accessible security vulnerabilities for attackers to take advantage of. We have evidence that some security measures are really working – Jeremiah Grossman discussed how this is shifting attacker tactics. Many attacks are not so sophisticated, but still hard to detect. I think the link to big data and attackers appears when you couple the complexity of IT environments with the staggering volume of data, and it becomes very difficult to find the proverbial needle in the haystack. The good news is that this is exactly the type of outlier big data can detect – provided it’s programmed to do so. But ultimately I agree with their assertions, albeit for slightly different reasons. I have every confidence that big data holds promise for security intelligence, both because I have witnessed attacker behavior captured in event data just waiting to be pulled out, and because I have also seen miraculous ideas sprout from people just playing around with database queries. In the same way hackers stumble on vulnerabilities while playing with protocols, engineers stumble on interesting data just by asking the same question (query) different ways. The data holds promise. The mining of most data, and all of the work that will be required in writing M-R scripts to locate actionable intelligence, is not yet here. It will take years of dedicated work – and it’s will take script development on different data types for different NoSQL varieties. Finally, I like the helpful graphic differentiating passive vs. active inputs. I also really like Amit Yoran’s commentary; he is dead on target. The need to aggregate, normalize, and correlate in advance can go away when you move to big data repositories. It’s ironic, but you can get better intelligence faster when you do not pre-process the data. It may smell a bit like forecasts and new year’s predictions, but the paper is worth a read. Share:

Read Post

Incite 1/16/2013: Emotional Whiplash

It started out great. Fantastic even. The Dome was fired up. The team started fast. Field goal. Forced punt. Matty Ice throws a pick. Then the Falcons force a fumble and get the ball back. Touchdown. Forced punt. Field goal. 13-0. Red zone stop on a huge 4th and 1. Touchdown on a bomb. Huge sack to end the half. The Falcons were up 20-0. This was it. The year they finally exorcise the playoff demons. We all cheered for the kids showing off their football prowess during halftime as national Punt, Pass & Kick finalists. Then the second half started. Seattle drives down and scores. Then the Falcons respond with a 7+ minute drive to go up 27-7 when the 3rd quarter ends. The crowd goes bonkers. Only one team has blown a 20+ point lead in the playoffs at this point in the game. Elation sets in. It’s over. Until it’s not. Bad tackling. Mental lapses. A tight end playing on a ripped-up foot keeps making huge catches over the middle. Seattle scores. 27-14. Matt Ryan throws a pick. Seahawks drive down the field again. Touchdown Seattle. Cover that guy! 27-21. Oh crap. Now is the time. Make a play, offense. Get some first downs, burn up some clock and get this done. Come on, man! 3 and out. Falcons punt. This is not good. You can feel the tension in the Dome. All the negative thoughts creep in. All the playoff failures. How could they choke? How could they?!?!? Falcons force a punt. OK. It’s under control now. Just a few first downs and it’s over. 3 and out. Again. Seahawks have the ball back. 5:32 left. Seahawks driving again. They are on the Falcons 3. They score. Falcons are down 28-27. WTF? This would be the choke to end all chokes. We were stunned. The Dome was in shock. 31 seconds left. How could it end like this? Again? So disappointed. So so disappointed. Sure it was a good season, but another one and done in the playoffs and it’s going to set this franchise back years. Unbelievable. It’s only a football game, but it sure doesn’t feel that way. The Falcons get the ball back with 31 seconds on the clock. They need 40 yards to get into field goal range. First pass goes for 22 to a receiver named Harry D. Could they? Dare we have hope? The odds are long and they’ve done it before, but not with a berth in the NFC Championship at stake. 19 seconds. Another pass goes for 19 more yards to 36 year old Tony Gonzalez, a sure fire first ballot Hall of Famer who has never won a playoff game. Ever. They’re in field goal range. They set up the kick. I can’t breathe. Literally. No one can. This is it. The Boss squeezes my hand. The kick is up. The kick is good. HOLY CRAP. We scream. We hug. We embrace people we don’t even know. We scream some more. We jump up and down. You can’t hear anything because everyone is screaming. I give the Boss a huge hug. I mean huge. Instant elation emerges out of the depths of despair. It doesn’t get better than this. But it’s not over. There are still 8 seconds left. Seattle gets the ball back in good field position due to a muffed squib kick. A short pass. 2 seconds. Seattle is on the 50. Hail Mary time. The pass is in the air. The Dome holds its breath some more. The Falcons’ Julio Jones comes down with the ball. It’s finally over. Playoff demons vanquished. We just rode a 3.5 hour emotional roller coaster. A pretty high high. Then a very low low. Then the best moment in any football game I’ve ever experienced. I had emotional whiplash. I was nauseous. I was exhausted. My whole body hurt. My voice was gone. And I can’t wait until next Sunday to do it again. Rise up Falcons. It’s time. –Mike Photo credits: Buddha in Neck Brace originally uploaded by bixentro Heavy Research We are back at work on a variety of blog series, so here is a list of the research currently underway. Remember you can get our Heavy Feed via RSS, where you can get all our content in its unabridged glory. And you can get all our research papers too. Understanding Identity Management for Cloud Services The Solution Space Introduction Newly Published Papers Implementing and Managing Patch and Configuration Management Defending Against Denial of Service Attacks Securing Big Data: Security Recommendations for Hadoop and NoSQL Environments Pragmatic WAF Management: Giving Web Apps a Fighting Chance Incite 4 U Control via cloud: A lot of people focus on cloud computing as a security risk, but few look upon it as a security control. I suspect this is due to its newness – anything that disrupts our current models is nearly always seen as a risk to defenders at first. But as this article at points out, the cloud can play an awesome role in improving security. Specifically, if you adopt Platform as a Service for your application environment, you expand your security control scope, gaining the ability to enforce development standards be eliminating the variability of platform configurations. All the apps now run on a pre-configured platform, and there just isn’t much opportunity to screw it up. Plus you can enforce other code standards and practices based on the interfaces exposed via centralized platform management. Since it is faster and easier to use the PaaS, you aren’t fighting the developers. Sweet, eh? – RM Guessing for dollars: Does anyone really believe that the market for financial critical infrastructure security will reach $17 BILLION by 2017? Even if you could pin down what “financial critical infrastructure” even meant, and thought that you could estimate the portion of those dollars going to security products or services, do you really think you could extrapolate the amount 5 years out?

Read Post

Totally Transparent Research is the embodiment of how we work at Securosis. It’s our core operating philosophy, our research policy, and a specific process. We initially developed it to help maintain objectivity while producing licensed research, but its benefits extend to all aspects of our business.

Going beyond Open Source Research, and a far cry from the traditional syndicated research model, we think it’s the best way to produce independent, objective, quality research.

Here’s how it works:

  • Content is developed ‘live’ on the blog. Primary research is generally released in pieces, as a series of posts, so we can digest and integrate feedback, making the end results much stronger than traditional “ivory tower” research.
  • Comments are enabled for posts. All comments are kept except for spam, personal insults of a clearly inflammatory nature, and completely off-topic content that distracts from the discussion. We welcome comments critical of the work, even if somewhat insulting to the authors. Really.
  • Anyone can comment, and no registration is required. Vendors or consultants with a relevant product or offering must properly identify themselves. While their comments won’t be deleted, the writer/moderator will “call out”, identify, and possibly ridicule vendors who fail to do so.
  • Vendors considering licensing the content are welcome to provide feedback, but it must be posted in the comments - just like everyone else. There is no back channel influence on the research findings or posts.
    Analysts must reply to comments and defend the research position, or agree to modify the content.
  • At the end of the post series, the analyst compiles the posts into a paper, presentation, or other delivery vehicle. Public comments/input factors into the research, where appropriate.
  • If the research is distributed as a paper, significant commenters/contributors are acknowledged in the opening of the report. If they did not post their real names, handles used for comments are listed. Commenters do not retain any rights to the report, but their contributions will be recognized.
  • All primary research will be released under a Creative Commons license. The current license is Non-Commercial, Attribution. The analyst, at their discretion, may add a Derivative Works or Share Alike condition.
  • Securosis primary research does not discuss specific vendors or specific products/offerings, unless used to provide context, contrast or to make a point (which is very very rare).
    Although quotes from published primary research (and published primary research only) may be used in press releases, said quotes may never mention a specific vendor, even if the vendor is mentioned in the source report. Securosis must approve any quote to appear in any vendor marketing collateral.
  • Final primary research will be posted on the blog with open comments.
  • Research will be updated periodically to reflect market realities, based on the discretion of the primary analyst. Updated research will be dated and given a version number.
    For research that cannot be developed using this model, such as complex principles or models that are unsuited for a series of blog posts, the content will be chunked up and posted at or before release of the paper to solicit public feedback, and provide an open venue for comments and criticisms.
  • In rare cases Securosis may write papers outside of the primary research agenda, but only if the end result can be non-biased and valuable to the user community to supplement industry-wide efforts or advances. A “Radically Transparent Research” process will be followed in developing these papers, where absolutely all materials are public at all stages of development, including communications (email, call notes).
    Only the free primary research released on our site can be licensed. We will not accept licensing fees on research we charge users to access.
  • All licensed research will be clearly labeled with the licensees. No licensed research will be released without indicating the sources of licensing fees. Again, there will be no back channel influence. We’re open and transparent about our revenue sources.

In essence, we develop all of our research out in the open, and not only seek public comments, but keep those comments indefinitely as a record of the research creation process. If you believe we are biased or not doing our homework, you can call us out on it and it will be there in the record. Our philosophy involves cracking open the research process, and using our readers to eliminate bias and enhance the quality of the work.

On the back end, here’s how we handle this approach with licensees:

  • Licensees may propose paper topics. The topic may be accepted if it is consistent with the Securosis research agenda and goals, but only if it can be covered without bias and will be valuable to the end user community.
  • Analysts produce research according to their own research agendas, and may offer licensing under the same objectivity requirements.
  • The potential licensee will be provided an outline of our research positions and the potential research product so they can determine if it is likely to meet their objectives.
  • Once the licensee agrees, development of the primary research content begins, following the Totally Transparent Research process as outlined above. At this point, there is no money exchanged.
  • Upon completion of the paper, the licensee will receive a release candidate to determine whether the final result still meets their needs.
  • If the content does not meet their needs, the licensee is not required to pay, and the research will be released without licensing or with alternate licensees.
  • Licensees may host and reuse the content for the length of the license (typically one year). This includes placing the content behind a registration process, posting on white paper networks, or translation into other languages. The research will always be hosted at Securosis for free without registration.

Here is the language we currently place in our research project agreements:

Content will be created independently of LICENSEE with no obligations for payment. Once content is complete, LICENSEE will have a 3 day review period to determine if the content meets corporate objectives. If the content is unsuitable, LICENSEE will not be obligated for any payment and Securosis is free to distribute the whitepaper without branding or with alternate licensees, and will not complete any associated webcasts for the declining LICENSEE. Content licensing, webcasts and payment are contingent on the content being acceptable to LICENSEE. This maintains objectivity while limiting the risk to LICENSEE. Securosis maintains all rights to the content and to include Securosis branding in addition to any licensee branding.

Even this process itself is open to criticism. If you have questions or comments, you can email us or comment on the blog.