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New Blog Series: Fact-Based Network Security: Metrics and the Pursuit of Prioritization

By Mike Rothman

As you can tell from our activity on the blog, we’ve been in the (relatively) slower summer season. Well, that’s over. Today we start one blog series, and another is hot on its heels (probably starting within 2 weeks). With our research pipeline, I suspect all three of us will be pretty busy through the fall.

I’m pretty excited about the new series, which has the working title: Fact-based Network Security: Metrics and the Pursuit of Prioritization because it’s the next step in fleshing out many of our thoughts on network security. Over the past 18 months we have talked about the evolution of the enterprise firewall, quantifying the network security operations process, and benchmarking your efforts. These are key aspects of an increasingly mature network security program.

Why is this important? Our current challenges of trying to protect our environments are no secret. The attackers only have to get it right once, and some of them are doing it more for Lulz than financial gain. We are also dealing with state-sponsored adversaries, which means they have virtually unlimited resources and you don’t. So you need to choose your activities wisely and optimize every bit of your resources, just to stay in the same place. Unfortunately we haven’t been choosing wisely.

You see, most folks treat network security as a game of Whack-a-Mole. Each time a mole pops above the surface, you try to it smack down. Usually that mole squeals loudest, regardless of its actual importance. But we all know we’re spending a chunk of our time trying to satisfy certain people, hoping we can get them to stop calling – and that unfortunately that’s much more about annoyance and persistence than the actual importance of their demands. Responding to the internal squeaky wheels clearly isn’t working. Neither is the crystal ball, hocus pocus, or any other unscientific method. Clearly there must be a beter way.

Let’s imagine a day when you could look at your list, and know which activities and tasks would cause the greatest risk reduction. How much would your blood pressure drop if you could tell the squeaky wheel that his top priority project was just not that much of a priority? And have the data to back it up? That’s what Fact-based Security is all about. Lots of folks have metrics, but are they chosen and collected with an eye toward specific outcomes that matter to your business? Gather metrics that guide and substantiate the decisions you need to make every day. Which change on which device is most important? Which attack path presents the biggest risk, and what’s required to fix it? The data for this analysis exists, but most organizations don’t use it.

In this series we will investigate these issues and propose a philosophy to guide data-driven decisions. Of course, we aren’t talking about using SkyNet to determine what your security droids do on a daily basis. But your activities need to be weighed in terms of outcomes relevant to the business, which requires first understanding the risks you face – and more importantly assessing the relative values of what you need to protect. Then we’ll talk about what these reasonable outcomes should be and the operational metrics to get there. Only once we have a handle on those issues can we talk about an operational process to underlie everything done with these metrics. With outcomes as a backdrop, using that data to make decisions can have a huge impact on both the effectiveness and efficiency of any security organization. We all know that having and using metrics are totally different.

Then we’ll dig into the compliance benefits of fact-based security, but suffice it to say that assessors love to see data – especially data relevant to good security outcomes. We’ll wrap the series by walking through a scenario where we actually apply these practices to a simple environment. That should give you the ammo you need to get started and to make a difference in your operational program(s).

So strap in and get ready to roll. Let me remind everyone that our research process depends on critical feedback from you, our readers. If we are off-base, let us know in the comments. Between the last blog post and packaging up the research as a paper, we evolve the paper based on your comments. We really do. I’ll also mention that the rest of this series will show up in our Heavy Feed and on the email list, so make sure you subscribe if you want to see how the research sausage is made.

Before we dive in, we should thank the sponsor of this research, RedSeal Systems. We are building the paper through our Totally Transparent Research process, so it’s all objective research, but don’t forget it’s through the generosity of our sponsors that you get to leverage our research for a pretty OK price.

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