I hate to admit that of all the various technology areas, I’m probably best known for my work covering DLP. What few people know is that I ‘fell’ into DLP, as one of my first analyst assignments at Gartner was network forensics. Yep – the good old fashioned “network VCRs” as we liked to call them in those pre-TiVo days.

My assessment at the time was that network forensics tools like Niksun, Infinistream, and Silent Runner were interesting, but really only viable in certain niche organizations. These vendors usually had a couple of really big clients, but were never able to grow adoption to the broader market. The early DLP tools were sort of lumped into this monitoring category, which is how I first started covering them (long before the term DLP was in use).

Full packet capture devices haven’t really done that well since my early analysis. SilentRunner and Infinistream both bounced around various acquisitions and re-spin-offs, and some even tried to rebrand themselves as something like DLP. Many organizations decided to rely on IDS as their primary network forensics tool, mostly because they already had the devices. We also saw Network Behavior Analysis, SIEM, and deep packet inspection firewalls offer some of the value of full capture, but focused more on analysis to provide actionable information to operations teams. This offered a clearer value proposition than capturing all your network data just to hold onto it.

Now the timing might be right to see full capture make a comeback, for a few reasons. Mike mentioned full packet capture in Low Hanging Fruit: Network Security, and underscored the need to figure out how to deal with these new more subtle and targeted attacks. Full packet capture is one of the only ways we can prove some of these intrusions even happened, given the patience and skills of the attackers and their ability to prey on the gaps in existing SIEM and IPS tools. Second, the barriers between inside and outside aren’t nearly as clean as they were 5+ years ago; especially once the bad guys get their initial foothold inside our ‘walls’. Where we once were able to focus on gateway and perimeter monitoring, we now need ever greater ability to track internal traffic.

Additionally, given the increase in processing power (thank you, Moore!), improvement in algorithms, and decreasing price of storage, we can actually leverage the value of the full captured stream. Finally, the packet capture tools are also playing better with existing enterprise capabilities. For instance, SIEM tools can analyze content from the capture tool, using the packet captures as a secondary source if a behavioral analysis tool, DLP, or even a ping off a server’s firewall from another internal system kicks off an investigation. This dramatically improves the value proposition.

I’m not claiming that every organization needs, or has sufficient resources to take advantage of, full packet capture network forensics – especially those on the smaller side. Realistically, even large organizations only have a select few segments (with critical/sensitive data) where full packet capture would make sense. But driven by APT hype, I highly suspect we’ll see adoption start to rise again, and a ton of parallel technologies vendors starting to market tools such as NBA and network monitoring in the space.