Conventional IT security is failing: Continuous monitoring and mitigation can help

Without a real-time, independent and comprehensive view of endpoint status, organizations have an incomplete understanding of their IT risk.

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

All you have to do is read the headlines to know conventional IT security is failing. The number of security incidents among enterprises jumped 25% between 2011 and 2013, according to the 2014 PricewaterhouseCoopers "Global State of Information Security Survey." And in the past 12 months, 96% of enterprises felt the sting of a cyberattack, according to the 2014 IDG Connect Cyber Defense Maturity Report.

The question is no longer if or when you will experience a significant security incident, but how well your processes and controls address detection, analysis and response. Without a real-time, independent and comprehensive view of endpoint status, organizations have an incomplete understanding of their IT risk, and it shows.

What's needed now is a continuous monitoring and mitigation approach to security to reverse the failure of traditional security plans. Let's examine the key elements that comprise this method:

- The continuous monitoring and mitigation approach provides real-time visibility of users and devices attempting to connect to or on an enterprise network, including wired or wireless, managed or unmanaged, virtual or embedded, or even desktop or mobile.

- Integrating with the network infrastructure and detecting devices the moment they attempt to connect to the network helps stave off cyberattacks.

- Classifying each device by type (computer, smartphone, printer, switch, etc .), ownership (corporate, personal, rogue) and operating system version also provides valuable insights and visibility to allow for effective preventive and reactive measures to network risks.

Gartner has predicted that, "through 2015, 80% of successful attacks will exploit well-known vulnerabilities." The visibility mentioned above helps IT security managers harden systems to prevent compromise, which is included in Gartner's Adaptive Security Architecture. This hardening function, by way of notification, endpoint remediation or triggering other controls such as patch management and vulnerability assessment, is critically important so sophisticated attacks cannot be carried out through misconfigured or vulnerable systems.

Preventing cyberattacks requires constant monitoring of endpoint state and behavior--long after the device has joined the network. A continuous monitoring and mitigation approach detects endpoint changes and anomalous activity. When a fault or suspicious activity is detected, an alert can be automatically provided, communicating the event to an external system or taking more proactive control such as quarantining the device.

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This important feature can accurately detect traditional malware as well as zero-day threats, leveraging never-before-seen vulnerabilities. This is an important technique that can even detect advanced malware that has been programmed to lay dormant, be intermittent or to bypass perimeter defenses before attacking.

As with network access control (NAC), continuous monitoring and mitigation often offers a wide range of endpoint remediation actions when threats find their way onto the network. Self-remediation informs a user of the security issue and presents them with instructions. Direct remediation is performed by the security platform by executing a script to install a patch, update an authenticity verification (AV) signature, re-start or re-install an agent, kill a process or disable a peripheral device. Third-party remediation can send requests to an external system to perform the fix. Organizations can decide which is best for them, but they all allow for quick and effective corrections of network issues, preventing major breaches from occurring.

When discussing their model for the Adaptive Security Architecture, Gartner says: "The end result should not be 12 silos of disparate information security solutions. The end goal should be that these different capabilities integrate and share information to build a security protection system that is more adaptive and intelligent overall."

Sharing contextual information between and among different security and IT management systems reduces the problem of information silos and facilitates automated remediation. This allows IT organizations to better leverage their existing infrastructure investments, efficiently preempt and contain exposures and enhance their overall security postures.

Traditional IT security tools and practices are too focused on agents, occasional assessments, disparate point solutions and manual response. Enterprises should adjust their security architectures to better align with today's evolving IT environments and threat landscape. IT should move in the direction of security architectures that emphasize: continuous monitoring, fast, automated response to violations, exposures and indications of compromise (IoC) and integration between multi-vendor security and management systems to share security intelligence and enhance control context.

Adopting a continuous monitoring and mitigation approach isn't a vision--it's already implemented worldwide by various organizations. Moving towards a similar architecture can help keep enterprises' and government agencies' names out of the papers as the next big breach victim. Leave those headlines to those who have fallen behind.

Marsal is the director of solution marketing at ForeScout Technologies. ForeScout enables organizations to continuously monitor and mitigate security exposures and cyber attacks.

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