Creatures of Habit Give Security Operations Teams the Upper Hand in Fighting Cybercrime

January 24, 2017
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3 min read

According to IBM X-Force researchers, 60 percent of data breaches are linked to insider threats. At first glance, that stat might suggest a workforce full of disgruntled or dishonest employees, but the situation is not as dire as it may seem. Most of these threats are related not to employees with malicious intent, but to user credentials that have been inadvertently compromised through phishing or other social engineering schemes.

 

The Face of Cybercrime Today

Malware attacks are becoming more frequent, more sophisticated and more difficult for security operations teams to detect. Today’s cybercriminals don’t fit the common stereotype of a shadowy figure dressed in black, coding to create a nuisance virus from a dingy basement. Modern fraudsters work in normal offices and look like you and me. But rather than focusing on securing the enterprise, they spend their days plotting to gain access to critical data. These malicious actors have advanced tools and complex networks of collaborators. They are typically well-funded and often motivated politically or financially. Some are even sponsored by nation-states.

Cybercriminals have upped their game, and IT managers must do the same with their security operations. In this era of big data, security professionals are drowning in information, and organizations are short on budget, staff and expertise to identify threats and suspicious activity. Without efficient tools to help identify threats early, fraudsters are able to gain access, hide their tracks and lurk for extended periods of time.

End Users Are Only Human

To combat these threats, most companies train end users to identify suspicious emails and avoid opening malware-laden files. Despite these efforts, however, we all know that end users remain the weakest link in cybersecurity defenses. Human nature influences many users to assume that fraudulent emails are safe to open. Cybercriminals prey on this trust and customize their malicious emails, files and links to look legitimate and trustworthy. These emails might contain retail offers that are too good to be true or opportunities for financial rewards. In reality, these are ploys to trick users into downloading malware. If one approach doesn’t work, most malicious actors have more tricks up their sleeves.

While users certainly cause a lot of cybersecurity headaches, they can also provide valuable information that IT professionals can use to identify attacks. End users are creatures of habit and their behavior offers an opportunity to study patterns and watch for variations that might indicate an attack. Without even thinking about it, users wake up and follow the same routines day after day. Changes in user behavior tend to evolve over time rather than shifting dramatically. When behavior does change suddenly, there may be something driving it. Security operations centers should deploy user behavior analytics (UBA) solutions to identify threats before they are established in the environment.

Watch the on-demand webinar: Orchestrate Your Security Defenses Against Insider Threats

UBA: A Security Operations Staff’s Best Friend

Let’s assume that a cybercriminal has successfully executed an attack against an individual in your organization and obtained sufficient credentials to gain access to your enterprise. If you have a UBA solution, what the attacker does next is key to helping you detect a breach early. The fraudster’s next step is to latch on and expand throughout your organization to identify resources to exploit. Chances are, these actions will register as abnormal user behavior. The fraudster may be connecting at odd hours, for example, trying to access servers the legitimate user would have no reason to access or downloading large amounts of data. All these actions indicate that something isn’t right.

With a user behavior analytics solution in place, your analysts will be notified of this suspicious activity so they can quickly determine whether a set of anomalies represents a threat. UBA prioritizes anomalous behavior among the massive amounts of data so that analysts can investigate them with greater urgency.

Statistically, we know that the longer a breach goes undetected, the more expensive it is to remediate. Imagine having a UBA tool that would enable you to identify anomalous behavior within hours or days of it starting, and stop a threat before it has a chance to expand, cover its tracks and exfiltrate data. By detecting threats early, IT professionals can drastically reduce the financial and reputational impact of a breach.

User behavior analytics can provide you with security intelligence solutions designed to help you protect, detect and respond to threats in your enterprise. To learn more, watch the on-demand IBM webinar, “Orchestrate Your Security Defenses: Protect Against Insider Threats.”

Jason Hardy
Market Segment Manager, Mobile Security, IBM
Jason Hardy is a contributor for SecurityIntelligence.