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Why understanding your data is the key to a successful cybersecurity strategy

(Image credit: Image Credit: Wright Studio / Shutterstock)

Organizational networks can generate terabytes of data per day from normal activities, network-connected mobile devices, sensors and cloud-based services. There are thousands of data elements from multiple sources, such as web and systems logs of user activity, metadata, IP addresses, router logs, third-party antiviruses, and they all evolve and multiply. As they do this, the attack surface grows. Therefore, IT teams face the pressures of acting fast on gathered insights to secure their networks and minimize the risks of cyberattacks.

The problem is that with such large volumes of data, security professionals can become overwhelmed and struggle to collate it for analysis. Most commonly, however, they find it difficult to understand what each data point means, what its implications are and how to turn alerts into action. While it’s good practice to monitor and collect logs to monitor network activity,  does it actually make sense to do so if no one understands them? So, how does data help to improve cybersecurity strategies?

Protecting the network

Today, very few cyberattacks are done on a single endpoint. Almost all have to cross the network, and if that network is not properly secured, hackers can get in and cause serious damage before getting out. However, regardless of whether they manage to manipulate systems logs or not, well-equipped analysts will still be able to see into the network data and ascertain what exactly has happened. Networks are the residence of the most important evidence, but also the best route to the company’s heart and brain. If compromised, they can disrupt operations, leading to serious financial implications and lost reputation. Therefore, it is vital IT teams know what a healthy network looks like to then be able to spot the anomalies and close the gaps through regular monitoring and proactive threat hunting. Switching to more proactive cybersecurity tactics with data at the heart is the best practice to protect the businesses from ever evolving, and increasingly sophisticated, cyber threats. 

Enhancing endpoint security

Whilst most hackers target the network itself to gain access to organizational assets, some do exploit endpoint vulnerabilities first to then infiltrate networks. Both home and business devices are highly susceptible to cybercrime. From traditional malware to phishing attacks, it only takes one suspicious link to spread the virus and compromise systems. With the growing number of IoT devices, a continuously popular BYOD trend and changing working models, IT teams need a deep understanding of each endpoint to protect it against threats traversing the corporate network. Whether teams decide on a different antivirus, URL filtering or extra application controls, these decisions have to be made based on evidence to ensure the security practices implemented are indeed going to minimize the risk of cyberattacks.

Speeding up incident response

As the majority of people now operate online in some capacity of their lives, it is certain that incidents will happen. As they occur, none of them should be ignored. Data is key here as incident responders can’t start investigating unless they have data to analyze. However, even if they have data, what are they going to do with it if they cannot understand it? The sad truth is: nothing. As investigations become delayed, companies are opening themselves up  to a multitude of dangers. Given more time, hackers can compromise the systems, steal or destroy more sensitive data, or hide within the network. Slow responses can also cause a dangerously large backlog, especially if high-priority and severe alerts make their way into the pile. Hence, the speed of incident response is absolutely vital in keeping organizational data safe from an intruder. 

Effective forensic investigations

Whether in the real world or a virtual one, investigating a crime scene is not an easy task. It is, however, an incredibly important part of every cybersecurity strategy to build a complete story of what happened and why. Filtering through thousands of data logs and distilling the metadata, security teams need to gather as much network, endpoint and system evidence as possible to close the case. The best cybersecurity tools will help access granular historical data and understand it to tell the story of the incident, using the narrative to improve network security and prevent future breaches from happening. After all, every compromise and every data breach is a learning experience that should be used to tweak the techniques, tools and processes to increase visibility, improve threat hunting and speed up detection.

Making sense of the noise

Security teams can receive a large number of alerts informing them about a potential threat. Some of them will indeed be relevant, others low priority. The more noise teams get, the higher the chances of missing something important. The infamous Target data breach could have been avoided if the security team didn’t get overwhelmed with the volume of notifications from multiple security systems pointing towards a serious problem. In Target’s case, the speed element was key to stopping the breach, or at least minimizing its impact, but the team simply could not handle or triage the alerts. This problem is more widespread and still very much present across big corporations and smaller companies.

However, today’s security tools provide IT departments with not only better alert accuracy but also with data context and additional supporting information to speed up incident response and conduct more effective investigations. Limiting the level of noise and improving its quality significantly helps execute better, faster decisions. Security metrics are complex, therefore the tools used by IT teams should offer a certain level of simplification. That way, the confidence in the cybersecurity strategy can grow as data turns into easy-to-understand, actionable insights. With confidence, simplicity and better alert prioritization, cybersecurity teams can be empowered to shift their approach from reactive to proactive, never missing a lurking intruder. Being equipped with the right tools can help teams better understand security data, successfully preventing breaches and guarding businesses, employees and customers for years to come.

Vincent Stoffer, Senior Director of Product Management, Corelight

Vincent Stoffer, Senior Director of Product Management, Corelight