Scalable Log Collection as Foundation of SOC

Logs provide a wealth of information and that is one of the reasons that almost all security standards and frameworks (NIST, ISO, PCI, and others) emphasize on collection, storage, and analysis of log data as one of the key aspects of any security program. Collecting and managing logs is a fundamental requirement of any SOC implementation and is needed to meet many compliance needs.

However, as we know, some log sources provide much more value to security programs compared to others. So while you can collect, store and process all data you want, thinking about the true value can help you create a more cost-effective and focused strategy.

A phased approach for log management is always prudent where you start with important, more valuable log sources first and then add additional log data as your program matures.

While traditional log collection using Syslog protocols and log files has worked for quite some time, newer technologies are bringing challenges to log collection using older methods. With fast transition to Cloud based technologies, newer log data may come from SaaS applications, Cloud application platform, server-less applications, IoT devices, operational technologies, connected vehicles, drones, smart city technologies, and many others. These new log sources don’t always send logs with Syslog and may utilize APIs, web services, or Cloud services specially built for logging. While planning for collecting log data and building a log collection platform, all of these new options must be considered.

Distributed Log Collection

A distributed log collection architecture where local log collectors receive logs from different log sources and then forward to one or more central locations is commonly used today. This architecture helps in providing resiliency and reduction of loss of data in case communication link to central log collection becomes unavailable. The following diagram shows one such arrangement.

Welcome to brave new world of log collection using many methods to collect logs from Cloud, IoT, Vehicles, Drones, Operations Technologies, and others. Standing up a Syslog server is no longer sufficient.

A more distributed architecture can both collect as well as indexlog data locally and then make the indexes available to search requests from SOC analysts. This may be necessary to meet certain privacy needs like GDPR. However, one need to consider of the flexibility and scalability of distributed log collection infrastructure with the cost of managing it. As an example, indexing logs close to edge is attractive but it can create additional overhead in terms of correlation, reporting, alerting as well as cost of managing indexes at multiple locations. Needless to say that like everything else in life, there are some compromises to be made here as well!

Logging and NTP Protocols

A timestamp is an essential part of each log event. An important factor in building logging infrastructure is to ensure time synchronizing among all log sources to keep proper order of logs. Network Time Protocol (NTP) is commonly used for purpose. While NTP is a topic in itself, it is sufficient to at this point to understand that no logging infrastructure is complete until NTP is implemented to support it. Without it, log correlation and analytics will not work properly.

Logging Standards

Lastly, building logging standards to identify type, amount, and level of logging also goes a long way to build a consistent approach throughout an organization. A logging standard must address requirements for logging at different levels including system, middleware, and applications. The logging standards should also specify accepted logging protocols, storages and lifecycle of log data. Logging standards must be updated at least on annual basis to ensure new sources and types of important logs are taken into consideration based upon their value.

Summary

While building a scalable and distributed logging infrastructure, one should consider the following:

  1. Use of local log collectors that could help in reliability, buffering, compression and bandwidth saving
  2. Understanding that modern log collection needs support of diverse log collection mechanisms that include Syslog, APIs, IoT protocols like MQTT, plain text files, XML, binary logs and others
  3. Prioritize logs sources based upon their contributed value towards better risk management and threat detection or response
  4. Use NTP in conjunction with the overall logging infrastructure to ensure proper order and correlation of logs
  5. Build logging standards to bring consistency and clarity of logging requirements

By taking into account the above factors, there is a much better probability that you will be able to build a better logging infrastructure that grows with your needs, reduces cost, is more efficient and resilient, and brings more value towards managing risk.

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References

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Announcing Cybersecurity Learning Saturday

Continuous learning and skills development is an essential part of any Cybersecurity professional but they don’t get enough time during normal work week. So why not turn Saturdays into a collaborative learning events where people come to share knowledge, teach, and learn on select topics related to Cybersecurity? My new initiative is launching “Cybersecurity Learning Saturday” which is summarized using the following few points:

  • Make Saturday a learning and skills development event as well as help you earn CPE credits to meet requirements for various certifications
  • Pick specific topics for day-long training sessions that will run in parallel
  • Bring expert volunteer trainers with expertise in these areas, who has a passion for sharing their knowledge.
  • Follow a specific standard training template for each session for consistency
  • Open the event for general community to attend where each learner picks up one of the topics, registers for the session, and gets a certificate of attendance at the end for CPE credits

With these objectives in mind, Cybersecurity Learning Saturday will become a learning event where professionals can pick a topic of their interest and join a day-long training session to upgrade their knowledge and skills. The proposed topics include but not limited to security certifications, Cloud security, security of DevOps, SOC, different types of security assessments including network and application security, and secure coding for web application developers.

The first Cybersecurity Learning Saturday will be held on March 2nd, 2019 in Columbus OH. I hope to see you in this event! Registration will start soon.

P.S. If you have passion for sharing your expertise and be a trainer for one of these sessions, don’t hesitate to contact me!

Related Links

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The Sorry State of Measuring SOC Success

While doing research on my upcoming book about running a successful Security Operations Center (SOC), I have interviewed people who have built and run SOC as well as survey reports from organizations like SANS and others. Overall it is a sorrow state of affairs where almost half of the organizations have no metrics for measuring the success of SOC implementations. The ones who have a metric, are mostly using non-business focused measurements to gauge performance of the SOC. Some are using metrics just to justify a particular technology investment.

Most of the people are not focusing on automation (doing manual work).

There is a lot of work that needs to be done to make a SOC efficient and real metrics to demonstrate business value!

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Defining SOC Scope

While defining SOC mission and goals are key starting points, defining SOC scope is crucial to manage the overall SOC project and break a large multi-year project into smaller phases and milestones. This also helps in managing cost and simplify implementation. My suggestion is to divide a SOC project over multiple phases, each of which should be about six months long. Following are some key areas to consider when defining the scope of each phase.

Log Sources

Log sources vary widely starting from security device logs, network components, applications, devices and many others. Collecting logs also needs significant investment in log storage and processing infrastructure. You want to prioritize log sources that bring the most value from security monitoring perspective. For these reasons, you should start with a small subset of logs and expand the scope of log collection over time (in future phases of the project). While making the initial log collection, you can consider the following:

  • Value of logs for identifying security events (proactive)
  • How a particular log source can help in incident investigations (reactive)
  • Amount of log data that you can handle
  • Compliance needs and requirements

Typically, you should start with logs coming from security devices (firewalls, IDS, content filtering and proxy servers, identity management systems, etc. The second preference may be operating systems and public facing web server logs. Then you can move to applications, and so on. There is no prescribed order and you should define your own scope based upon your particular situation and which systems play a key role inside your organization.

You can also use threat modeling techniques to identify critical log sources and prioritize these accordingly.

Time of Day

Although we want 24×7 SOC but that is not always possible due to different constraints. An 8×5 (8 AM to 5PM) or single-shift SOC may be a great starting point for many organizations, at least in the initial phases of SOC implementation. Once the initial phase is complete, you may want to add a second shift before going to full 24×7 implementation. Global organizations may also start with a single SOC and then use follow-the-sun model to achieve 24×7 coverage.

Business Units

Large organizations have multiple business units and all of these units don’t need to be under SOC scope, or at least not in the first phase. While each organization may have a different criteria to identify which business unites to cover, some considerations may include:

  • Criticality of a business unit for the organization
  • Type of data
  • Compliance needs and local rules/regulations

Selection of business units may also be phased approach.

Geographical Locations

Multinational organizations may decide SOC scope based upon preference of specific geographic locations, among other criteria.

Emerging Technologies

Fast emergence of new technologies including Internet of Things (IoT), blockchains, autonomous vehicles, drones (and others) is also impacting security business. While this may not be the case for some, others may deem these technologies as business critical based upon their impact. Following are some technologies that you may want to cover in different phases of a SOC project.

  • Machine Learning (ML), deep learning and other artificial intelligence related technologies
  • Internet of Things or IoT, collecting data from IoT devices and managing threats from IoT botnets, identities and other aspects of IoT
  • Operational Technologies or OT that cover factories, industrial controls, SCADA systems
  • Block Chain
  • Drones
  • Autonomous vehicles

Your business is potentially already provider or consumer of at least some of these technologies. You may also be interested in bringing these under SOC scope because you may be a service provider. In any case, threats to these and other emerging technologies are only going to grow as their deployment and use grows.

Conclusions

A solid definition of SOC scope is key to build not only for the business case but also a successful SOC. While the above list includes key considerations for defining SOC scope and build implementation phases, there may be other aspects that you may want to consider depending upon your particular business situations.

Note

This article is part of my “Business Case Development” of my upcoming book about planning and building a successful SOC.

Other References

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CISO MindMap 2018 – What Do InfoSec Professionals Really Do?

Like last year, ransomware continues to be a major issue for many organizations. One of the best things any organization can do to itself is to prepare for dealing with ransomware incidents. While ransomware is morphing into crypto currency mining in some cases, this is not the only major concern on security professionals’ mind as new technologies are emerging fast. From autonomous vehicles, blockchain, to drones to connected medical devices, security professionals are called to provide guidance/advice, frameworks, monitoring and incident handling to enable the business with these and many other technologies. All of this is making skills development a continuous and major challenge.

While other professions in technology has to focus primarily in their particular domain, the security professionals are expected to know it all.

Given these changes and challenges in the overall technology field, I have updated the CISO MindMap for 2018 which is the 10thversion since its initial publication. Major changes are highlighted in red color so that users of version 9 (2017) can easily see the updates and adapt.

 

CISO Mind Map 2018 by Rafeeq Rehman

Download PDF file by clicking here

Skill Development & Emerging Technologies

Like last year, I would recommend focusing on learning the emerging technologies (augmented reality, blockchain, machine/deep learning, computer vision, autonomous vehicles and others). I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to enable your business with emerging technologies instead of standing in the way of progress. InfoSec professionals should not only be learning these technologies but should also be creating guidelines for using these technologies (proactively).  You should be thinking about how to get logs and other data to identify threats, integrate with SOC, and deal with incidents. Many freeoptions for learning new skills are available form MOOC providers like Coursera and Edx.

Automation and Productivity

As the workload for security operations professionals is ever increasing, I would also emphasize to focus on automation and increasing productivity. New options are available to perform automatic threat hunting, anomaly detection, prioritization and others. Use of open source technologies and scripting should be an essential part of security operations. I would suggest having at least one person on your teams with excellent Python or other scripting language skills.

GDPR, Data and Privacy

Compliance with GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and data privacy is just a start and we can expect that more regulations like that will follow. Knowing what data is being collected, where it is stored, how it is utilized and secured are some of the key issues to understand for compliance with privacy regulations. The security professionals should be proactively training and guiding IT teams about data privacy, integrate with DevOps processes, and be an agent of change about how data is handled. At the same time, we need to be mindful that data is the new currency for our businesses and must be capitalized on and used as competitive edge.

Last, I want to thank all who have provided feedback and suggestions about how to improve the MindMap. The names are so many that I can’t include all of you but you know who you are. I wanted to let you know that your suggestions are very welcomed and much appreciated. Enjoy the new MindMap and don’t forget to send me a note about how it is helping you in advance your goals and objectives!

May 21, 2018.

Your feedback is very important to me. Please share your thoughts on my Twitter handle at @rafeeq_rehman. Also please subscribe to my blog using your email address at the top-right corner “subscribe” option.

References

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Building a Successful Security Operations Center (SOC): Part 4

Credits Pixabay

SOC Planning – Defining SOC Scope

Defining scope for the SOC is crucial for its success and to determine stakeholders for the SOC. The scope will help determine cost, associates needed to run the SOC, SOC processes and many other areas as listed below:

  • Coverage – Decide which areas fall under scope of the SOC (IT, OT, IoT, Physical Security, Cloud Service Providers. Others).
  • Incident Handling – Demarcation of where incident response will be handed over to other IT/OT/Physical security teams and which parts will be covered by the SOC staff. This will also help in determination of who needs access to incident management application.
  • Incident Handling Support – Which part of incidents will be outsourced to third parties, if any. For example, if the SOC does not include building in-depth forensic capability, it can be outsourced to a third party for major incidents.
  • Managing SOC IT Infrastructure – SOC team manages security applications including SIEM and security tools. However, IT infrastructure is needed to run these applications and tools. Decide who will manage network, storage, server Operating System for SOC IT infrastructure.
  • Governance – What is the governance structure and what other teams are involved. Especially who approves processes for incident handling when people outside SOC are involved.
  • Connection with Outside Parties – When outside parties like press, communication, law enforcement are engaged, who will establish relationships with these outside parties.
  • Data Collection Scope – What is the scope of data collections including logs, netflows, threat intelligence, physical security and others. What is in scope and what it not included in the data collection. If Cloud environment is in the scope, what data can be collected from the Cloud Service Providers (CSP)?
  • Vulnerability Management – Who manages critical vulnerabilities, from scanning to prioritization to patching.
  • Threat Intelligence Gathering and Use – How threat intelligence will be gathered and utilized (internal or outsources/purchased).
  • Processes – Define which processes will be part of SOC and which will be excluded. For example, is SOC responsible of education and awareness, pen testing, or patching? Depending upon organizational structure, these and other security operational processes may be part of SOC or outside of its scope.
  • Single or Multi Site – Large organizations may have more than one SOC. In case of multiple SOC situation, define geographical or organizational scope for each SOC. Also define collaboration mechanism and resource sharing among multiple SOC environments.
  • Compliance – What role SOC has in achieving and maintaining compliance with government and/or industry regulations.

This seems quite a lot of work but defining the scope is crucial part of a successful SOC foundation. Writing down the scope document and getting buy in from stakeholders will go a long way to avoid problems during SOC implementation and operations phases.

For a broader overview of SOC, plate take a look at What it Really Takes to Build a SOC and other references below.

Your feedback is very important to me. Please share your thoughts on my Twitter handle at @rafeeq_rehman

References




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Is it Time for Data Driven Business Innovation Strategy?

Credit – Pexels

Data-driven business innovation is not something of distant future anymore. It is a reality of today. Many businesses are already reaping benefits of monetizing internal data that they already possess. Some are taking data-driven business innovation to the next levels by mashing up internal data with public data sources like social media feeds, weather data, and real time traffic information. Whereas others are working on generating new data from sources which were not possible in the past. For example, sensors and affordable wireless data communications is enabling gathering data from vehicles, agriculture, manufacturing, equipment utilization, and other. So what is fueling this revolution and why now? Following are few main reasons why this is happening and why you should give it a serious consideration.

  • Cost of Storing Data – Cost of storing enormous amounts of data has decreased to a level where it is almost insignificant. Quite contrary to the old days when capital investment was needed to build storage infrastructure, now almost unlimited and on-demand data storage is available from many Cloud services providers.
  • Availability of Analytics Tools – Data analytics tools, both commercial and in the open source, are available to process very large amounts of data at extremely low cost. Hadoop based technologies, Cloud services, and Machine Learning are fueling development of new tools.
  • Use of Unstructured Data – Older technologies for data storage and analytics were mostly based upon structured data. However, machine learning and AI advancements have made it possible to use unstructured data for business purposes. Now it is possible to monetize notes from customer service representatives, IVR, and unstructured public data sources.
  • Visualization – Data visualization is key to effective data-driven decision making. Now these tools are available as a service, enabling creating powerful visualizations and dashboards very quickly and without purchasing expensive tools.
  • Wireless Communications – Very affordable wireless data communication is enabling collecting data from mobile sources and remote locations that was not possible just few years back.

How businesses can monetize vast amounts to data and create data-driven strategy for business innovation? The answer is a little different depending upon type of business and the industry segment. Following are some of the ideas that you can think about as a starting point.

  • Customer Insights – A better understanding of customers and getting insights into customer behavior is every business’ dream. Data is enabling businesses gain customer insights for better customer services and building innovative brands. This is especially interesting for B2C interactions in financial, insurance, retail and other industries.
  • Product Improvement – Many manufacturers are using data to improve products, identify product defects, understand how products are being used, and in many other ways.
  • New Business Models – Many companies are using data to create new revenue streams at different levels. Some companies are simply getting into the business of selling data while others are offering data analytics as a service. Equipment manufacturers are working on providing proactive maintenance in addition to machinery, all with the help of data gathered through different sensors.
  • New Levels of Efficiency and Process Improvement – Data is fueling gaining new levels of efficiency in business processes, manufacturing processes, and even in service industries.

The bottom line is that it is imperative for every business to understand the data assets they possess, understand the data value chain, and initiate a data-driven business transformation strategy.

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Information Security Leaders Handbook

Few years ago, I wrote Information Security Leaders Handbook but it was not listed as a download on this blog. With this post, I would like to put it here and also check the level of interest from InfoSec community for an updated version (Second Edition). Please send your comments at my Twitter handle @rafeeq_rehman or through this blog.

Information Security Leaders Handbook

The objective of this book is to make you a successful information security professional by learning from experience of great leaders in this field. This book is a little dated now but provides core fundamental models in a concise manner. It is easy to read and use in managing information security programs. Most of the chapters accompany visual mind maps, action items, and other visual tools for easy understanding.

Click HERE to download the PDF version of the book.

How is this book organized?

The book covers a set of carefully selected topics. This is to ensure that focus remains on principles that are the most important to the success of a security professional. The topics are arranged in six parts as listed below.

  1. Know The Business – List of topics important for understanding and knowing the business.
  2. Information Security Strategy – Elements of information security strategy, how to create strategy and put it into practice.
  3. Security Operations – Major areas related to running an effective security operations program.
  4. Risk Management – How to assess and manage risk.
  5. Personal Branding – Creating personal brand and establishing credibility to be effective as information security leader.
  6. Appendices – Miscellaneous data points and sources of information.

How to Use This Book?

I suggest that you read one chapter daily, take actions, set goals, and write those actions and goals on the “Goals and Activity Log” page at the end of each chapter. Next day, read another chapter and write the actions and goals with target dates. As you go along, start reading random chapters and keep on reviewing and updating your actions and goals to measure your progress and success.

A Systematic Way of Achieving Excellence

The book provides a systematic and measurable way towards excellence in your job. I have gone to great length to limit each topic to two pages or less. Please use the “Goals and Activity Log” page to record your progress and make the best use of your time. While you go along, record your experiences and share them on the book web site.

Subscribe to Blog for Release Dates and Updates

Please subscribe to this blog to keep yourself updated about the release date of the book. You can use “Follow Blog via Email” link on top-right corner of this page.

Your feedback is very important to me. Please share your thoughts on my Twitter handle at @rafeeq_rehman

Other Useful Links for InfoSec Professionals

DISCLAIMER: All material presented is my own and not of my employer and does not constitute any recommendations, endorsements or professional consultation.

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CISO MindMap 2017 – What Do InfoSec Professional Really Do?

Note: An updated version of CISO MindMap (2018) is published here

While Ransomware may be the talk of the town these days, many other profound changes are happening in the industry that impact job of information security professionals. Keeping in view these change, I felt a need for updating CISO MindMap. The new and updated CISO MindMap 2017 is attached below. This time, I have highlighted all changes in red color to make it easy for those who have been following this CISO MindMap for some time.

One major change is about IoT, keeping in view that more and more companies see value and are adopting IoT technologies. Lines between IoT, Industrial IoT, and industrial control systems are blurring gradually. Security professionals are being called in to respond to IoT incidents, which are increasing over time. The IoT vendors are in infancy from security perspective in many cases, with lax security controls. I feel there is a need for all organizations to include IoT as an essential part of their overall security operations. With a little research inside their organization, they may be surprised how many IoT technologies are already being used by their businesses that they may not be aware of.

I also believe that InfoSec professionals should make subjects such as artificial intelligence, drones, sharing economy, and data analytics as part of their learning goals. InfoSec is an essential enabler for modern businesses and we, as a community, should be at the forefront of this progress instead of standing in the way.

Last but not the least, InfoSec professionals must keep a better “Customer Experience” as a guiding principle of everything they do. I would recommend taking a short course on “design thinking” methodology that would make people think and act differently and more productively. We must improve our brand!

Like always, feel free to provide your feedback and comments. Also, register on this blog to keep updated. You can also download PDF version of the CISO MindMap.

CISO MindMap

Your feedback is welcomed on my Twitter handle at @rafeeq_rehman

References




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What is Return on Security Investment (ROSI) Anyway?

Credit Pexels

ROSI or Return On Security Investment is simply a way to calculate if a security control is worth implementation or not. For a control to be financially viable, the reduction of risk has to be greater than the cost of implementing security control. Continue reading

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