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React Faster and Better: Introduction

By Mike Rothman

One of the cool things about Securosis is its transparency. We develop all our research positions in the open through our blog, and that means at times we’re wrong. Wrong is such a harsh word, and one you won’t hear most analysts say. Of course, we aren’t like most analysts, and sometimes we need to recalibrate on a research project and recast the effort. Near the end of our Incident Response Fundamentals series, we realized we weren’t tracking with our project goals, so we split that off and get to start over.

Nothing like putting your first draft on the Internet. But now it’s time for the reboot.

Incident response is near and dear to our philosophy of security, between my insistence (for years) of Reacting Faster and Rich’s experience as a first responder. The fact remains that you will be breached. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but it will happen. We’ve made this point many times before (and it even happened to us, indirectly). So we’ll once again make the point that response is more important than any specific control. But it’s horrifying how unsophisticated most organizations are about response.

This is compounded by the reality of an evolving attack space, which means even if you do incident response well today, it won’t be good enough for tomorrow. We spent a few weeks covering many of the basics in the Incident Response Fundamentals series, so let’s review those (very) quickly because they are still an essential foundation.

Organization and Process

First and foremost, you need to have an organization that provides the right structure for response. That means you have a clear reporting structure, focus on objectives, and can be flexible (since you never know where any investigation will lead). You need to make a fairly significant investment in specialists (either in-house or external) to make sure you have the right skill sets on call when you need them. Finally you need to make sure all these teams have the tools to be successful, which means providing the communications systems and investigation tools they’ll need to find root causes quickly and contain damage.

Data Collection

Even with the right organization in place, without an organizational commitment to systematic data collection, much of your effort will be for naught. You want to build a data collection environment to keep as much as you can, from both the infrastructure and the applications/data. Yes, this is a discipline itself, and we have done a lot of research into these topics (check out our Understanding/Selecting SIEM and Log Management and Monitoring up the Stack papers). But the fact remains, even with a lot of data out there, there isn’t as much information as we need to pinpoint what happened and figure out why.

Before, During, and after the Attack

We also spent some time in the Fundamentals series focused on what to do before the attack, which involves analyzing the data you are collecting to figure out if/when you have a situation. We then moved to the next steps, which involve triggering your response process and figuring out what kind of situation you face. Once you have sized up the problem, you must move to contain the damage, and perform a broad investigation to understand the extent of the issue. Then it is critical to revisit the response in order to optimize your process – this aspect of response is often forgotten, sadly.

It’s Not Enough

Yes, there is a lot to do. Yes, we wrote 10 discrete posts that barely cover the fundamentals. And that’s great, but for high-risk organizations.. it’s still not enough. And within the planning horizon (3-5 years), we expect even the fundamentals will be insufficient to deal with the attacks we will see. The standard way we practice incident response just isn’t effective or efficient enough for emerging attack methods. If you don’t understand what is possible, spend a few minutes reading about how Stuxnet seems to really work, and you’ll see what we mean. While the process of incident response still works, how we implement that process needs to change.

So in our recast React Faster and Better series, we’ll focus on pushing the concepts of incident response forward. Dealing with advanced threats requires leveraging advanced tools. Thank you, Captain Obvious. We’ve had to deal with new tools for every new attack since the beginning of time. But it’s more than that. RFAB is about taking a much broader and more effective perspective on dealing with attacks – from what data you collect, to how you trigger higher-quality alerts, to the mechanics of response/escalation, and ultimately remediation and cleaning activities. This is not your grandpappy’s incident response.

All these functions need to evolve dramatically to keep up. And those ideas are what we’ll present in this series.

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