Strengthening Cybersecurity’s Weakest Links With Deep Network Insights

Like a chain forged of steel, cybersecurity is only as strong as its weakest link. But how can we gain visibility into where these weaknesses exist and how they are being exploited? How can we determine where gaps occur that impact our ability to protect against, detect and respond to the latest threats?

Studies have shown the vast majority of cyberattacks take place using our networks — which isn’t surprising in our hyperconnected world. Comprehensive visibility into the activity on our networks can provide deep network insights into not only what is occurring across our organizations, but also where we are potentially exposed.

Identifying Weak Links in the Cybersecurity Chain

People are the weakest link in the proverbial cybersecurity chain. Social engineering can provide easy access to even our most sensitive assets. Let’s say, for example, a person with valuable information, access or authority is targeted by a spear-phishing attack. It could be someone in the IT department, one of your executives — or any employee who could be used as a stepping stone to gain further access or information.

Jose Bravo, North America security architect at IBM, recently published a video to demonstrate how a human resources manager might fall victim to such a scheme by merely opening the wrong attachment, clicking the wrong link, or (as the video shows) unblocking content and allowing a document to update links. Even with proper security training, it is often relatively easy for fraudsters to trick employees into taking these actions, especially when they resemble tasks they repeatedly perform throughout their day.

There are also less direct ways in which humans represent the weakest link in security. I have yet to find a cybersecurity team that is not short-staffed and overworked. All it takes is a simple mistake, such as misconfiguring a network device, leaving the wrong port open or failing to enable logging everywhere visibility is needed. Even if everything is set up correctly, a mundane change could have unintended consequences and leave networks exposed.

So, how can we gain visibility into areas where we may be exposed and times during which we are most susceptible to being exploited? Can we gain enough insight into these weak links to take proper corrective action?

Unlocking the Power of Deep Network Insights

This is where the power of deep network insights can help. Basic network flow analysis can detect a new device connecting to the network, even if it doesn’t log any activity. In addition to detecting these devices, the right security information and event management (SIEM) solution can automatically add them to the list of known assets so that they can benefit from the same security analytics as properly configured devices.

But deep network insights enable security teams to go well beyond simply detecting devices and their communications. When malicious actors try to disguise their activity by misusing standard ports and protocols, deep analysis of the real applications allows security professionals to shed light on the true nature of what is occurring. If sensitive data is subsequently accessed, application-specific content analysis can provide the proper visibility to quickly identify and protect the valuable data our organizations rely on every day.

In this way, the very networks that expose our weaknesses to adversaries also provide us with the visibility we need to properly defend our sensitive data. The key is simply to look deep enough.

View the interactive infographic: Transforming Noise to Knowledge

Contributor'photo

Tom Obremski

QRadar Product Manager, IBM

Tom Obremski is a product manager for IBM QRadar Security Intelligence. Tom has over 20 years of experience developing...