Sensory Overload: Filtering Out Cybersecurity’s NoiseJune 15 2019
In security, what we don’t look at, don’t listen to, don’t evaluate, and don’t act upon may actually be more important than what we do. This may sound counterintuitive at first, but I assure you that it is not. The truth is that too often the cybersecurity noise level — all the data points constantly bombarding us — creates a sensory overload that impedes our ability to think clearly and act. Here are 10 places where you can start to filter out the noise.
1. Risk: Risk is everywhere you look in life, and security is no different. When looking to assess, prioritize, and mitigate risk, security leaders are bombarded by one potential risk after another. No organization can prioritize and mitigate hundreds of risks effectively. The secret lies in focusing on the risks you don’t consider, rather than the ones you do. Think about which risks will cause the greatest impact and damage to the business. Those are the ones you need to prioritize. The rest will have to wait for another time.
2. Threat landscape: Security vendors love to talk about the threat landscape. Scare tactics around the capabilities of nation-state and criminal attackers abound. Unfortunately, this chatter seldom comes with a mapping to what’s relevant to the organization hearing it. Are there real threats to information security out there? Absolutely. Are they all relevant to your business? No. Understanding which threats are the most pertinent to you is the first step toward filtering out all that noise.
3. Intelligence: Every security organization wants to stay on top of what’s coming next. In theory, tailored intelligence is a great way to accomplish this. In practice, however, intelligence is more broad-brush strokes than tailored. Is some of what you’re reading relevant to your business? Possibly. But don’t expect to take one-size-fits-all intelligence and use it to reduce risk.
4. Policy: I’ve seen many different policies over the course of my career, some better than others. There are many topics that need to be covered in any policy, but wherever possible, focus on the minimal set of points necessary. Otherwise, the policy runs the risk of becoming so cumbersome and complex that no one ends up following it. If you want your users to abide by your policies, help them do so by filtering out the noise ahead of time. Don’t make them struggle to piece together the relevant parts of a lengthy, verbose policy.
5. Process: A good security process is extremely valuable. Regardless of the task at hand, process brings order to the chaos and minimizes the redundancy, inefficiency, and human error resulting from lack of process. On the other hand, a bad security process can have exactly the opposite effect. Processes should help and improve the security function. In order to do so, they need to be precise, accurate, and efficient. If they aren’t, they should be improved by filtering out the noise and boiling them down to their essence.
6. Item du jour: It’s far too easy to get distracted by every new security fad that comes our way. Once in a while, an item du jour becomes something that needs to be on our radar. But most of the time, fads come and go and seldom improve our security posture. Worse, they can pull us away from the important activities that do.
7. Logging: Many of us don’t know exactly what logs and event data we will or will not need when crunch time comes. As a result, we collect everything we can get our hands on. We fill up our available storage, shortening retention and impeding performance, although we may never need 80% of what we’re collecting. When it comes to logs and event data, noise is the rule, rather than the exception. Filtering out the noise and reducing collection and retention to that which is necessary for security operations and incident response goes a long way toward helping a program grow and mature.
8. Alerting: If you aren’t familiar with the term “alert cannon,” you should be. Most security organizations contend with noisy, imprecise rule logic that produces an exorbitant number of false positives. The result is a cannon of alerts that can bury even the largest security teams in noise. Developing precise, high fidelity, low noise alerting designed to incisively root out activity indicative of the prioritized risks is the right way to filter out all of that unhelpful noise.
9. Incidents: With noisy alerting comes a huge volume of incidents immediately opened and closed as false positives. While this may seem innocuous enough, it has two main negative effects. First, the time security team members sink into dealing with these ghost incidents is far too precious to be spent on such a valueless activity. Second, when looking to compute and report metrics on the state of security operations, these ghost incidents dominate and skew the numbers. That makes it difficult to see past the noise and into any meaningful information.
10. Vendor fatigue: The information security market may just be one of the most crowded, confusing, and noisiest markets out there. I’m not expecting the situation to improve any time soon. As a result, security teams must filter the noise streaming at them continuously from their vendors. How? While there is no one way to eliminate or even reduce this noise, there are steps an organization can take to help make sense of it all. That journey begins by prioritizing the risks to the business and mapping out a plan to mitigate them. Only then can gaps in the security posture be identified. With a finite and concrete list of gaps, a security organization can seek out the right people, process, and technology to fill those gaps, rather than trying to sift through a barrage of incoming sales pitches.
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Josh (Twitter: @ananalytical) is an experienced information security leader who works with enterprises to mature and improve their enterprise security programs. Previously, Josh served as VP, CTO – Emerging Technologies at FireEye and as Chief Security Officer for … View Full Bio