In Incident Response Fundamentals: Introduction we talked about the philosophical underpinnings of our approach and how you need to look at stuff before, during, and after an attack. Regardless of where in the attack lifecycle you end up, there is a common requirement: for data. As we mentioned, you only get one opportunity to capture the data, and then it’s gone. So in order to react faster and better in your environment, you will need lots of data.

So how and where do you collect it? In theory, we say get everything you can and worry about how useful it is later. Obviously that’s not exactly practical in most environments. So you need to prioritize the data requirements based upon the most likely attack vectors. Yes, we’re talking risk management here, but it’s okay. A little prioritization based on risk won’t kill you.

Collect What?

The good news is there is no lack of data to capture – let’s list some of the biggest buckets you have to parse:

  • Events/Logs: It’s obvious but we still have to mention it. Event logs tell you what happened and when; they provide the context for many other data types, as well as validation for attacks.
  • Database activity: Database audit logs provide one aspect of application activity, but understanding the queries and how that relates to specific attacks is very helpful to profiling normal behavior and thus understanding what isn’t normal.
  • Application data: Likewise, application data beyond the logs – including transactions, geo-location, etc. – provides better visibility into the context of application usage and pinpoint potential fraudulent activity. We discussed both Database activity monitoring and application monitoring in detail in the Monitoring up the Stack series.
  • Network flow: Understanding which devices are communicating with which others enables pattern analysis to pinpoint strange network activity – which might represent an attack exfiltrating data or reconnaissance activity.
  • Email: One of the most significant data leakage vectors is email (even if it is not always malicious), so it needs to be monitored and collected.
  • Web traffic: Like email, web traffic data drive alerts and provide useful information for forensics.
  • Configuration data: Most malware makes some kind of changes to the devices, so by collecting and monitoring device configurations those changes can be isolated and checked against policy to quickly detect an outbreak.
  • Identity: Finally, an IP address is usable, but being able to map that back to a specific user and then track that user’s activity within your environment is much more powerful.

We have dug pretty deeply into all these topics in our Understanding and Selecting a SIEM/Log Management research report, as well as the Monitoring Up the Stack series. Check out those resources for a deeper dive.

Collect How?

Now that you know what you want to do, how are you going to collect it? That depends a lot on the data. Most organizations have some mix of the following classes of devices:

  • SIEM/Log Management
  • Database Activity Monitoring
  • Fraud detection
  • CMDB (configuration management database)
  • Network Behavioral Analysis
  • Full Network Packet Capture

So there are plenty of tools you can use, depending on what you want to collect. Again, we generally tend to want to capture as much data as possible, which is why we like the idea of full network packet capture for as many segments as possible. Mike wrote a thought piece this week about Vaults within Vaults, and part of that approach is a heavy dose of network segmentation along with capturing network traffic on the most sensitive segments.

But capturing the data is only the first step in a journey of many miles. Then you have to aggregate, normalize, analyze, and alert on that data across data types to get real value.

As mentioned above, we have already published a lot of information about SIEM/Log Management and Database Activity Monitoring, so check out those resources for more detail.

As we dig into what has to happen at each period within the attack lifecycle, we’ll delve into how best to use the data you are collecting at that point in the process. But we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves – the first aspect of Incident Response is to make sure you are organized appropriately to respond to an incident. Our next post will focus on that.