New Age Network Detection: Collection and Analysis

As we return to our series on New Age Network Detection, let’s revisit our first post. We argued that we’re living through technology disruption on a scale, and at a velocity, we haven’t seen before. Unfortunately security has failed to keep pace with attackers. The industry’s response has been to move the goalposts, focusing on new shiny tech widgets every couple years. We summed it up in that first post: We have to raise the bar. What we’ve been doing isn’t good enough and hasn’t been for years. We don’t need to throw out our security data. We need to make better use of it. We’ve got to provide visibility into all of the networks (even cloud-based and encrypted ones), minimize false positives, and work through the attackers’ attempts to obfuscate their activity. We need to proactively find the attackers, not wait for them to mess up and trigger an alert. So that’s the goal – make better use of security data and proactively look for attackers. We even tipped our hat to the ATT&CK framework, which has given us a detailed map of common attacks. But now you have to do something, right? So let’s dig into what that work looks like, and we start first with the raw materials that drive security analytics – data. Collection In the olden days – you know, 2012 – life was simpler. If we wanted to capture network telemetry we’d aggregate NetFlow data from routers and switches, supplementing with full packet capture where necessary. All activity was on networks we controlled, so it wasn’t a problem to access that data. But alas, over the past decade several significant changes have shifted how that data can be collected: Faster Networks: As much as it seems enterprise data centers and networks are relics of yesteryear, many organizations still run big fast networks on-prem. So collection capabilities need to keep up. It’s not enough to capture traffic at 1gbit/sec when your data center network is running at 100gbit/sec. So you’ll need to make sure those hardware sensors have enough capacity and throughput to capture data, and in many modern architectures they’ll need to analyze it in realtime as well. Sensor Placement: You don’t only need to worry about north/south traffic – adversaries aren’t necessarily out there. At some point they’ll compromises a local device, at which point you’ll have an insider to deal with, which means you also need to pay attention to east/west (lateral) movement. You’ll need sensors, not just at key choke points for external application traffic, but also on network segments which serve internal constituencies. Public Cloud: Clearly traffic to and from internal applications is no longer entirely on networks you control. These applications now run in the public cloud, so collection needs to encompass cloud networks. You’ll need to rely on IaaS sensors, which may look like virtual devices running in your cloud networks, or you may be able to take advantage of leading cloud providers’ traffic mirroring facilities. Web/SaaS Traffic & Remote Users: Adoption of SaaS applications has exploded, along with the poppulation of remote employees, and people are now busily arguing over what an office will look like moving coming out of the pandemic. That means you might never see the traffic from a remote user to your SaaS application unless you backhaul all that traffic to a collection point you control, which is not the most efficient way to network. Collection in this context involves capturing telemetry from web security and SASE (Secure Access Service Edge) providers, who bring network security (including network detection) out to remote users. You’ll also want to rely on partnerships between your network detection vendor and application-specific telemetry sources, such as CASB and PaaS services. We should make some finer points on whether you need full packet capture or only metadata for sufficient granularity and context for detection. We don’t think there it’s an either/or proposition. Metadata provides enough depth and detail in most cases, but not all. For instance if you are looking to understand the payload of an egress session you need to full packet stream. So make sure you have the option to capture full packets, knowing you will do that sparingly. Embracing more intelligence and automation in network detection enables working off captured metadata routinely, triggering full packet collection on detection of potentially malicious activity or exfiltration. Be sure to factor in storage costs when determining the most effective collection approach. Metadata is pretty reasonable to store for long periods, but full packets are not. So you’ll want to keep a couple days or weeks of full captures around when investigating an attack, but might always save years of metadata. Another area that warrants a bit more discussion is cloud network architecture. Using a transit network to centralize inter-account and external (both ingress and egress) traffic facilitates network telemetry collection. All traffic moving between environments in your cloud (and back to the data center) runs through the transit network. But for sensitive applications you’ll want to perform targeted collection within the cloud network to pinpoint any potential compromise or application misuse. Again, though, a secure architecture which leverages isolation makes it harder for attackers to access sensitive data in the public cloud. Dealing with Encryption Another complication for broad and effective network telemetry collection is that a significant fraction of network traffic is encrypted. So you can’t access the payloads unless you crack the packets, which was much easier with early versions of SSL and TLS. You used to become a Man-in-the-Middle to users: terminating their encrypted sessions, inspecting their payloads, and then re-encrypting and sending the traffic on its way. Decryption and inspection were resource intensive but effective, especially using service chaining to leverage additional security controls (IPS, email security, DLP, etc.) depending on the result of packet inspection. But that goose has been cooked since the latest version of TLS (1.3) enlisted perfect forward secrecy to break retrospective inspection. This approach issues new keys for each encrypted

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