Rewrite the Rules to Reduce Complexity in Your Security Architecture

April 10, 2019
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5 min read

Complexity as it relates to security architecture is attracting a lot of attention. At RSA Conference (RSAC) earlier this year, I saw complexity discussed at multiple vendor booths and in several presentations. But what does it really mean? And is it really that bad?

To get to the root of why complexity is such a challenge, I think you have to take a step back and look at what it is that makes security architecture so complex. One look at the RSAC 2019 exhibit hall provided a clue.

Walking the exhibit floor, I was struck over and over by the sheer number of vendors exhibiting this year. Every inch of space was used to show new products, services, approaches, integrations — you name it. It was noisy and overwhelming for me, and I can only imagine what it must have been like for security directors who were walking around trying to make sense of what was new.

I think the crowded RSAC expo floor is an accurate representation of one of the biggest conundrums in cybersecurity: It is an industry in constant flux. Every day, there are new attacks, updated methods and changing compromise patterns in addition to changing regulatory standards and new business initiatives that need to be evaluated for risk. And since every business has its unique needs and requirements, it’s really no surprise that there are multiple ways to approach a problem, and thus a plethora of products and services available.

Without a doubt, variety is essential for empowering customers to opt for solutions that work best for their unique situations. However, this singular approach to problem solving has created an incredibly complex environment for security organizations to manage, and that has consequences.

“At any given time, the analysts in our security operations center are looking at 10–20 windows open per product,” said Devin Somppi, lead of security operations at BriteSky. “While each of my analysts is an expert in their role, sharing information across these fields is a challenge.”

Somppi referred to his team as the “human glue” binding all of their different security applications. What he means is that many of the individual security solutions produce data that must be analyzed and acted upon. On an individual level, this works great. However, when investigating a multilayered security incident, the data must be shared among the analysts, and that takes time.

“Take, for example, a very common incident: a targeted phishing attack,” said Somppi. “First surfaced through a SIEM, an analyst reviews the situation and kicks off an investigation. This involves multiple parts: checking with your threat intelligence team to run the file against the latest information, getting information from your email security appliance for headers to see if it’s been spoofed, notifying the user of the compromise. This process does work — we make it work — but it can be slow and arduous when that information is spread across multiple teams.”

That kind of delay can be disastrous for end users.

It’s Time to Think Differently About Security

In their RSA Conference session, Somppi and IBM Security Chief Technology Officer Sridhar Muppidi discussed how the biggest hurdle for the security industry — vendors — will be rethinking its approach to security.

“We really have to start looking at security as a team sport,” said Muppidi. An avid cyclist, Muppidi used the example of a peloton from his college cycling days.

“I’m not much of a sprinter, but I’m great at hills,” he said. “There are others in our group where sprinting was their strength. And once we started communicating and leveraging our individual strengths, we not only improved in our race, but as a whole we became much more efficient. The same can be true for security.”

Thinking of security as a team sport shouldn’t be too hard; after all, our adversaries do this very well. Most attackers buy, sell and trade secrets. They share data, swap methodologies and collaborate on processes, all in the name of compromising their targets. So why shouldn’t we defenders adopt the same approach?

The easy answer is that we should. As security vendors, when we communicate better — when we share information and leverage each other’s strengths — we enable organizations to actively defend their networks. More importantly, we empower them to grow their businesses.

The harder question is, how do we do it? In their joint session at RSAC 2019, Muppidi and Somppi laid out three ways the cybersecurity industry can rethink its approach and be more collaborative in its defense.

1. Break Down Silos Among Vendors

In the current environment, each security vendor has its own way of capturing information and it is very hard to integrate that data. While this works to address security issues at an individual level, this siloed approach to using and viewing security data is limiting the potential of not only our clients, but also what we as security vendors can do.

“In order for organizations to really see what cybersecurity can do for their business, we have to break down the silos we’ve built as vendors,” Muppidi said. “This means unifying not only technical capabilities like our APIs or our use of microservices, but also the overall experience. That requires addressing things like different views on data privacy or getting over our ‘competitive’ mindset.”

This is not easy to do, but it ultimately provides a better cybersecurity experience for organizations that are already struggling.

2. Rethink the Role of Security Analysts by Embracing Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) will play a pivotal role in how we approach security in the coming years. AI will become the connective tissue between products, decreasing the need for the “human glue” Somppi described as the current approach to information sharing between technologies

“We will always need analysts,” said Somppi. “But they’ll be augmented by AI, and we’ll need to rethink the way they work. Analysts need to be the experts, but AI needs to be the glue.”

Ultimately, using AI to reduce the time it takes to connect data insights will make security stronger and our analysts less stressed.

3. Redefine Success as It Relates to Securing the Business

Every organization has a different measure of success when it comes to security. For some, success means speeding up the time it takes to detect a threat. Others are more concerned about how long it takes to remedy the situation, or maybe it’s all about applying lessons learned to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Without a doubt, these are all important, but we need to think differently.

“What if success means getting your SOC analysts home in time for dinner with their families?,” Muppidi asked. When considering the predicted security skills gap, reducing the stress among your security analysts is a critical measure of success.

“Finding resources tends to be a challenge for our industry,” said Somppi. “I can find technology for anything and everything, but to have someone who can utilize that technology is incredibly difficult. I don’t want to burn them out.”

In addition to keeping them engaged and interested in their area of defense, it’s also critical to reduce the rate of analyst burnout. By reducing workload and stress, you can empower your SOC analysts to focus on fewer, but higher-value projects that are more strategic to the organization and are focused on growth.

Less Is More When It Comes to Your Security Architecture

The main takeaway from Somppi and Muppidi’s RSAC session is that it’s time for cybersecurity professionals to collaborate more and compete less. By breaking down silos among security teams and vendors, augmenting human intelligence with AI and machine learning, and empowering analysts to do more impactful work under less pressure, chief information security officers (CISOs) and business leaders can improve security output while also reducing the number of security products needed to protect the enterprise. Put simply, it’s time to make less matter more.

Jennifer Glenn
Content Marketing – IBM
Jennifer Glenn is a contributor for SecurityIntelligence.