October 16, 2015

Internal Threat Intelligence – What Hunters Do

Filed under: Security Information Management,Security Intelligence — Raffael Marty @ 3:31 pm


Hunting is about learning about, and understand your environment. It is used to build a ‘model’ of your network and applications that you then leverage to configure and tune your detection mechanisms.

I have been preaching about the need to explore our security data for the past 9 or 10 years. I just went back in my slides and I even posted a process diagram about how to integrate exploratory analysis into the threat detection life cycle (sorry for the horrible graph, but back then I had to use PowerPoint :) ):


Back then, people liked the visualizations they saw in my presentations, but nobody took the process seriously. They felt that the visualizations were pretty, but not that useful. Fast forward 7 or 8 years: Everyone is talking about hunting and how they need better tools an methods to explore their data. Suddenly those visualizations from back then are not just pretty, but people start seeing how they are actually really useful.

The core problem with threat detection is a broken process. Back in the glory days of SIEM, experts (or shall we say engineers) sat in a lab cooking up correlation rules and event prioritization formulas to help implement an event funnel:


This is so incredibly broken. [What do I know about this? I ran the team that did this for a big SIEM.] Not every environment is the same. There is no one formula that will help prioritize events. The correlation rules only scratch the surface, etc. etc. The fallout from this is that dozens of companies are frustrated with their SIEMs. They are looking for alternatives; throw them out and build their own. [Please don’t be one of them!]

Then threat intelligence came about. Instead of relying on signatures that identify common threats, let’s look for adversaries as well. Has that worked? Nope. There is a bunch of research indicating that the ‘external’ threat intelligence we have is not good.

What should we do? Well, we have to get away from thinking that a product will solve our problems. We have to roll-up our own sleeves and start creating our own ‘internal’ threat intelligence – through hunting.

The Hunting Process

Another word for hunting is exploring or learning. We need to understand our infrastructure, our applications to then find when there are things happening that are out of the norm.


Let’s look at the diagram above. What you see is a very simple data pipeline that we find everywhere. We ingest any kind of data. We then apply some kind of intelligence to the data to flag relevant events. In the SIEM case, the intelligence are mostly the correlation rules and the prioritization formula. [We have discussed this: pure voodoo.] Let’s have a look at the other pieces in the diagram:

  • Context: This is any additional information we can gather about our objects (machines, users, and applications). This information is crucial for good intelligence. The more surprising it is that the SIEMs haven’t put much attention to features around this.
  • IOCs: This is any kind of external threat intelligence. (see discussion above) We can use the IOCs to flag potentially bad activity.
  • Interactive Visualization: This is really the heart of the hunting process. This is the interface that a hunter uses to explore and learn about the data. Flexibility, speed, and an amazing user experience are key.
  • Internal TI: This is the internal threat intelligence that I mentioned above. This is basically anything we learn about our environment from the hunting process. The information is fed back into the overall system in the form of context and rules or patterns.
  • Models: The other kind of intelligence or knowledge we gather from our hunting activities we can use to optimize and define new models for behavioral analysis, scoring, and finding anomalies. I know, this is kind of vague, but we could spend an entire blog post on just this. Ask if you wanna know more.

To summarize, the hunting process really helps us learn about our environment. It teaches us what is “normal” and how to find “anomalies”. More practically, it informs the rules we write, the patterns we try to find, the behavioral models we build. Without going through this process, we won’t be able to configure / define a system that has a fighting chance of finding advanced adversaries or attackers in our network. Non. Zero. Zilch.

Some more context and elaboration on some of the hunting concepts you can find in my recent darkreading blog post about Threat Intelligence.

October 12, 2015

Who Will Build the Common Backend for Security?

Filed under: Log Analysis,Security Information Management,Security Market — Raffael Marty @ 5:00 pm


VCs pay attention: There is an opportunity here, but it is going to be risky 😉 If you want to fund this, let me know.

In short: We need a company that builds and supports the data processing backend for all security products. Make it open source / free. And I don’t think this will be Cloudera. It’s too security specific. But they might have money to fund it? Tom?

I have had my frustrations with the security industry lately. Companies are not building products anymore, but features. Look at the security industry: You have a tool that does behavioral modeling for network traffic. You have a tool that does scoring of users based on information they extract from active directory. Yet another tool does the same for Linux systems and the next company does the same thing for the financial industry. Are you kidding me?

If you are a CISO right now, I don’t envy you. You have to a) figure out what type of products to even put in your environment and b) determine how to operate those products. We are back at where we were about 15 years ago. You need a dozen consoles to gain an understanding of your overall security environment. No cross-correlation, just an oportunity to justify the investment into a dozen screens on each analysts’ desk. Can we really not do better?

One of the fundamental problems that we have is that every single product re-builds the exact same data stack. Data ingestion with parsing, data storage, analytics, etc. It’s exactly the same stack in every single product. And guess what; using the different products, you have to feed all of them the exact same data. You end up collecting the same data multiple times.

We need someone – a company – to build the backend stack once and for all. It’s really clear at this point how to do that: Kafka -> Spark Streaming – Parquet and Cassandra – Spark SQL (maybe Impala). Throw some Esper in the mix, if you want to. Make the platform open so that everyone can plug in their own capabilities and we are done. Not rocket science. Addition: And it should be free / open source!

The hard part comes after. We need every (end-user) company out there to deploy this stack as their data pipeline and storage system (see Security Data Lake). Then, every product company needs to build their technology on top of this stack. That way, they don’t have to re-invent the wheel, companies don’t have to deploy dozens of products, and we can finally build decent product companies again that can focus on their core capabilities.

Now, who is going to fund the product company to build this? We don’t have time to go slow like Elastic in the case of ElasticSearch or RedHat for Linux. We need need this company now; a company that pulls together the right open source components, puts some glue between them, and offers services and maintenance.

Afterthought: Anyone feel like we are back in the year 2000? Isn’t this the exact same situation that the SIEMs were born out of? They promised to help with threat detection. Never delivered. Partly because of the technologies used (RDBMS). Partly due to the closeness of the architecture. Partly due to the fact that we thought we could come up with some formula that computes a priority for each event. Then look at priority 10 events and you are secure. Naive; or just inexperienced. (I am simplifying, but the correlation part is just an add-on to help find important events). If it weren’t for regulations and compliance use-cases, we wouldn’t even speak of SIEMs anymore. It’s time to rebuild this thing the right way. Let’s learn from our mistakes (and don’t get me started what all we have and are still doing wrong in our SIEMs [and those new “feature” products out there]).

June 21, 2015

What You Should Know About MonetDB

Filed under: Programming — Raffael Marty @ 2:04 pm

I have been using MonetDB for a month now and have to say, I really like it. MonetDB is a columnar data store and it’s freaking fast.

However, when I started using it, I wasn’t on very good terms with my database. Here are the three things you have to know when you use MonetDB:

  • Strings are quoted with single quotes. NOT double quotes! For example:
    SELECT * FROM table where field like '%foo';
  • Field names that are special terms need to be double quoted! There are many special terms, such as: “range”, “external”, “end”, … For example:
    SELECT "end", other FROM table;
  • The WHERE clause in a GROUP by statement is called HAVING (that’s just basic SQL knowledge, but good to remember): For example:
    SELECT * FROM table GROUP BY field HAVING field>500;
  • Querying an INET datatype needs to convert a STRING to an INET in the query as well:
    SELECT * FROM table WHERE ip=inet ''; 
    or even cooler: 
    SELECT * FROM table WHERE ip<<inet '';
  • MonetDB has schemas. They are almost like different databases if you want. You can switch schema by using:
    set schema foo;
  • Inserting millions of records is fastest with the COPY INTO command:
    cat file | mclient -d databse -s  "COPY INTO table FROM STDIN using delimiters '\t' " -
  • And here is how you create your own database and user:
    sudo monetdb create _database_ -p _password_
    sudo monetdb release _database_
    mclient -u monetdb -d _database_
      alter user set password '_password_' using old password 'monetdb';
      create user "_username_" with password '_password_' name '_name_' schema "sys";
      create schema "_your_schema_" authorization "_username_";
      alter user _username_ set schema "_your_schema_";

I hope these things will help you deal with MonetDB a bit easier. The database is worth a try!!

June 7, 2015

Hunting – The Visual Analytics Addition To Your SIEM To Find Real Attacks

Filed under: Log Analysis,Security Intelligence,Visualization — Raffael Marty @ 2:20 pm

Hunting in your security data is the process of using exploratory methods to discover insights and hopefully finding attacks that have previously been concealed. Visualization greatly simplifies and makes the exploratory process more efficient.

In my previous post, I talked about SIEM use-cases. I outlined how I go about defining detection use-cases. It’s not a linear process and it’s not something that is the same for every company. That’s also a reason why I didn’t give you a list of use-cases to implement in your SIEM. There are guidelines, but in the end, you need to build a use-case repository unique to your organization. In this post we are going to explore a bit more what that means and how a ‘hunting‘ capability can help you with that.

There are three main approaches to implementing a use-case in a SIEM:

  • Rules: Some kind of deterministic set of conditions. For example: Find three consecutive failed logins between the same machines and using the same username.
  • Simple statistics: Leveraging simple statistical properties, such as standard deviations, means, medians, or correlation measures to characterize attacks or otherwise interesting behavior. A simple example would be to look at the volume of traffic between machines and finding instances where the volume deviates from the norm by more than two standard deviations.
  • Behavioral models: Often behavioral models are just slightly more complicated statistics. Scoring is often the bases of the models. The models often rely on classifications or regressions. On top of that you then define anomaly detectors that flag outliers. An example would be to look at the behavior of each user in your system. If their behavior changes, the model should flag that. Easier said than done.

I am not going into discussing how effective these above approaches are and what the issues are with them. Let’s just assume they are effective and easy to implement. [I can’t resist: On anomaly detection: Just answer me this: “What’s normal?” Oh, and don’t get lost in complicated data science. Experience shows that simple statistics mostly yield the best output.]

Let’s bring things back to visualization and see how that related to all of this. I like to split visualization into two areas:

  • Communication: This is where you leverage visualization to communicate some property of your data. You already know what you want the viewer to focus on. This is often closely tied to metrics that help abstract the underlying data into something that can be put into a dashboard. Dashboards are meant to help the viewer gain an overview of what is happening; the overall state. Only in some very limited cases will you be able to use dashboards to actually discover some novel insight into your data. That’s not their main purpose.
  • Exploration: What is my data about? This is literal exploration where one leverages visualization to dig into the data to quickly understand it. Generally we don’t know what we are going to find. We don’t know our data and want to understand it as quickly as possible. We want insights.

From a visualization standpoint the two are very different as well. Visually exploring data is done using more sophisticated visualizations, such as parallel coordinates, heatmaps, link graphs, etc. Sometimes a bar or a line chart might come in handy, but those are generally not “data-dense” enough. Following are a couple more points about exploratory visualizations:

  • It important to understand that these approaches need very powerful backends or data stores to drive the visualizations. This is not Excel!
  • Visualization is not enough. You also need a powerful way of translating your data into visualizations. Often this is simple aggregation, but in some cases, more sophisticated data mining comes in handy. Think clustering.
  • The exploratory process is all about finding unknowns. If you already knew what you are looking for, visualization might help you identify those instances quicker and easier, but generally you would leverage visualization to find the unknown unknowns. Once you identified them, you can then go ahead and implement those with one of the traditional approaches: rules, statistics, or behaviors in order to automate finding them in the future.
  • Some of the insights you will discover can’t be described in any of the above ways. The parameters are not clear or change ever so slightly. However, visually those outliers are quite apparent. In these cases, you should extend your analysis process to regularly have someone visualize the data to look for these instances.
  • You can absolutely try to explore your data without visualization. In some instances that might work out well. But careful; statistical summaries of your data will never tell you the full story (see Anscombe’s Quartet – the four data series all have the same statistical summaries, but looking at the visuals, each of them tells a different story).

In cyber security (or information security), we have started calling the exploratory process “Hunting“. This closes the loop to our SIEM use-cases. Hunting is used to discover and define new detection use-cases. I see security teams leverage hunting capabilities to do exactly that. Extending their threat intelligence capabilities to find the more sophisticated attackers that other tools wouldn’t be able to identify. Or maybe only partly, but then in concert with other data sources, they are able to create a better, more insightful picture.

In the context of hunting, a client lately asked the following questions: How do you measure the efficiency of your hunting team? How do you justify a hunting team opposite an ROI? And how do you assess the efficiency of analyst A versus analyst B? I gave them the following three answers:

  • When running any red-teaming approach, how quickly is your hunting team able to find the attacks? Are they quicker than your SOC team?
  • Are your hunters better than your IDS? Or are they finding issues that your IDS already flagged? (substitute IDS with any of your other detection mechanisms)
  • How many incidents are reported to you from outside the security group? Does your hunting team bring those numbers down? If your hunting team wasn’t in place, would that number be even higher?
  • For each incident that is reported external to your security team, assess whether the hunt team should have found them. If not, figure out how to enable them to do that in the future.

Unfortunately, there are no great hunting tools out there. Especially when it comes to leveraging visualization to do so. You will find people using some of the BI tools to visualize traffic, build Hadoop-based backends to support the data needs, etc. But in the end; these approaches don’t scale and won’t give you satisfying visualization and in turn insights. But that’s what pixlcloud‘s mission is. Get in touch!

Put your hunting experience, stories, challenges, and insights into the comments! I wanna hear from you!

May 7, 2015

Security Monitoring / SIEM Use-Cases

Filed under: Log Analysis,Security Information Management,Visualization — Raffael Marty @ 3:40 pm

As it happens, I do a lot of consulting for companies that have some kind of log management or SIEM solution deployed. Unfortunately, or maybe not really for me, most companies have a hard time figuring out what to do with their expensive toys. [It is a completely different topic what I think about the security monitoring / SIEM space in general – it’s quite broken.] But here are some tips that I share with companies that are trying to get more out of their SIEMs:

  • First and foremost, start with use-cases. Time and time again, I am on calls with companies and they are telling me that they have been onboarding data sources for the last 4 months. When I ask them what they are trying to do with them, it gets really quiet. Turns out that’s what they expected me to tell them. Well, that’s not how it works. You have to come up with the use-cases you want/need to implement yourself. I don’t know your specific environment, your security policy, or your threat profile. These are the factors that should drive your use-cases.
  • Second, focus on your assets / machines. Identify your most valuable assets – the high business impact (HBI) machines and network segments. Even just identifying them can be quite challenging. I can guarantee you though; the time is well spent. After all, you need to know what you are protecting.
  • Model a set of use-cases around your HBIs. Learn as much as you can about them: What software is running on them? What processes are running? What ports are open? And from a network point of view, what other machines are they communicating with? What internal machines have access to talk to them? Do they talk to the outside world? What machines? How may different ones? When? Use your imagination to come up with more use-cases. Monitor the machines for a week and start defining some policies / metrics that you can monitor. Keep adopting them over time.
  • Based on your use-cases, determine what data you need. You will be surprised what you learn. Your IDS logs might suddenly loose a lot of importance. But your authentication logs and network flows might come in pretty handy. Note how we turned things around; instead of having the data dictate our use-cases, we have the use-cases dictate what data we collect.
  • Next up, figure out how to actually implement your use-cases. Your SIEM is probably going to be the central point for most of the use-case implementations. However, it won’t be able to solve all of your use-cases. You might need some pretty specific tools to model user behavior, machine communications, etc. But also don’t give up too quickly. Your SIEM can do a lot; even initial machine profiling. Try to work with what you have.

Ideally you go through this process before you buy any products. To come up with a set of use-cases, involve your risk management people too. They can help you prioritize your efforts and probably have a number of use-cases they would like to see addressed as well. What I often do is organize a brainstorming session with many different stakeholders across different departments.

Here are some additional resources that might come in handy in your use-case development efforts:

  • Popular SIEM Starter Use Cases – This is a short list of use-cases you can work with. You will need to determine how exactly to collect the data that Anton is talking about in this blog post and how to actually implement the use-case, but the list is a great starting point.
  • AlienVault SIEM Use-Cases – Scroll down just a bit and you will see a list of SIEM use-cases. If you click on them, they will open up and show you some more details around how to implement them. Great list to get started.
  • SANS Critical Security Controls – While this is not specifically a list of SIEM use-cases, I like to use this list as a guide to explore SIEM use-cases. Go through the controls and identify which ones you care about and how you could map them to your SIEM.
  • NIST 800-53 – This is NIST’s control framework. Again, not directly a list of SIEM use-cases, but similar to the SANS list, a great place for inspiration, but also a nice framework to follow in order to make sure you cover the important use-cases. [When I was running the solution team at ArcSight, we implemented an entire solution (app) around the NIST framework.]

Interestingly enough, on most of my recent consulting calls and engagements around SIEM use-cases, I got asked about how to visualize the data in the SIEM to make it more tangible and actionable. Unfortunately, there is no tool out there that would let you do that out of the box. Not yet. Here are a couple of resources you can have a look at to get going though:

  • secviz.org is the community portal for security visualization
  • I sometimes use Gephi for network graph visualizations. The problem is that it is limited to only network graphs. Very quickly you will realize that it would be nice to have other, linked visualizations too. You are off in ‘do it yourself’ land.
  • There is also DAVIX which is a Linux distro for security visualization with a ton of visualization tools readily installed.
  • And – shameless plug – I teach log analysis and visualization workshops where we discuss more of these topics and tools.

Do you have SIEM use-cases that you find super useful? Add them in the comments!

April 14, 2015

Rockstars Use a Good Text Editor – I Use VIM

Filed under: Uncategorized — Raffael Marty @ 9:13 am

Those of you who know me most likely know that I am quite the VIM fan. At any time, there is at least one VIM window open on my computer. I just like the speed of editing and the flexibility it offers. I even use VI bindings in my UNIX shells (set -o vi). And yes, I did write my book in VIM.

Anyways, here is a command from my .vimrc file that I use a lot:

command F set guifont=Monaco:h13

Basically, if I type “:F”, it makes my font larger. I know, not earth shattering, but really useful.

Here are a couple esthetic things I like to make my VIM look nice:

set background=dark
colorscheme solarized
set guioptions=-m

This is my complete .vimrc file.

March 29, 2015

Security Dashboards – Where to Start

Filed under: Visualization — Raffael Marty @ 4:58 pm

I just got off a call with a client and they asked me what they should put on their security dashboards. It’s a nice continuation of the discussion of the SOC Overhead Dashboard.

Here are some thoughts. The list stems from a slide that I use during the Visual Analytics Workshop:

  • Audience, audience, audience!
  • Comprehensive Information (enough context) – use percentages, a single number of 100 unpatched machines doesn’t mean anything. Out of how many? How has it changed over time? etc.
  • Highlight important data – guide the user in absorbing data quickly
  • Use graphics when appropriate – tables or numbers are sometimes more effective
  • Good choice of graphics and design – treemaps might be useful, bullet graphs are great, apply Tufte’s data to ink ratio paradigm, etc.
  • Aesthetically pleasing – nobody likes to look at a boring dashboard
  • Enough information to decide if action is necessary
  • No scrolling
  • Real-time vs. batch? (Refresh-rates)
  • Clear organization

Should you be tempted to put a world map on your dashboard, I challenge you to think really hard about what is actionable about that display. What does the viewer gain from looking at the map? Is there a takeaway for them? If so, go ahead, but most likely, either a bar chart or a simple table about the top attacking or the most attacked, or most seen sources or destinations is going to be more useful! Does physical proximity really matter?

There is a fantastic book by Stephen Few also called: “Information Dashboard Design”. I cannot recommend it enough if you are going to build a dashboard.

Would love to hear your thoughts on the topic of security dashboards! And for an in depth and more elaborate treatment of the topic, attend the Visual Analytics workshop at BlackHat US.

February 20, 2015

The Security Big Data Lake – Paper Published

Filed under: Log Analysis,Security Information Management,Security Intelligence — Raffael Marty @ 8:12 pm

As announced in the previous blog post, I have been writing a paper about the security big data lake. A topic that starts coming up with more and more organizations lately. Unfortunately, there is a lot uncertainty around the term so I decided to put some structure to the discussion.

Download the paper here.

A little teaser from the paper: The following table from the paper summarizes the four main building blocks that can be used to put together a SIEM – data lake integration:


Thanks @antonchuvakin for brainstorming and coming up with the diagram.

February 16, 2015

Big Data Lake – Leveraging Big Data Technologies To Build a Common Data Repository For Security

Filed under: Uncategorized — Raffael Marty @ 11:50 am

Information security has been dealing with terabytes of data for over a decade; almost two. Companies of all sizes are realizing the benefit of having more data available to not only conduct forensic investigations, but also pro-actively find anomalies and stop adversaries before they cause any harm.

UPDATE: Download the paper here

I am finalizing a paper on the topic of the security big data lake. I should have the full paper available soon. As a teaser, here are the first two sections:

What Is a Data Lake?

The term data lake comes from the big data community and starts appearing in the security field more often. A data lake (or a data hub) is a central location where all security data is collected and stored. Sounds like log management or security information and event management (SIEM)? Sure. Very similar. In line with the Hadoop big data movement, one of the objectives is to run the data lake on commodity hardware and storage that is cheaper than special purpose storage arrays, SANs, etc. Furthermore, the lake should be accessible by third-party tools, processes, workflows, and teams across the organization that need the data. Log management tools do not make it easy to access the data through standard interfaces (APIs). They also do not provide a way to run arbitrary analytics code against the data.

Just because we mentioned SIEM and data lakes in the same sentence above does not mean that a data lake is a replacement for a SIEM. The concept of a data lake merely covers the storage and maybe some of the processing of data. SIEMs are so much more.

Why Implementing a Data Lake?

Security data is often found stored in multiple copies across a company. Every security product collects and stores its own copy of the data. For example, tools working with network traffic (e.g., IDS/IPS, DLP, forensic tools) monitor, process, and store their own copies of the traffic. Behavioral monitoring, network anomaly detection, user scoring, correlation engines, etc. all need a copy of the data to function. Every security solution is more or less collecting and storing the same data over and over again, resulting in multiple data copies.

The data lake tries to rid of this duplication by collecting the data once and making it available to all the tools and products that need it. This is much simpler said than done. The core of this document is to discuss the issues and approaches around the lake.

To summarize, the four goals of the data lake are:

  • One way (process) to collect all data
  • Process, clean, enrich the data in one location
  • Store data once
  • Have a standard interface to access the data

One of the main challenges with this approach is how to make all the security products leverage the data lake instead of collecting and processing their own data. Mostly this means that products have to be rebuilt by the vendors to do so.

Have you implemented something like this? Email me or put a comment on the blog. I’d love to hear your experience. And stay tuned for the full paper!

January 15, 2015

Dashboards in the Security Opartions Center (SOC)

Filed under: Security Information Management,Visualization — Raffael Marty @ 3:35 pm

SOCI am sure you have seen those huge screens in a security or network operations center (SOC or NOC). They are usually quite impressive and sometimes even quite beautiful. I have made a habit of looking a little closer at those screens and asking the analysts sitting in front of them whether and how they are using those dashboards. I would say about 80% of the time they don’t use them. I have even seen SOCs that have very expensive screens up on the wall and they are just dark. Nobody is using them. Some SOCs will turn them on when they have customers or executives walk through.

That’s just wrong! Let’s start using these screens!

I recently visited a very very large NOC. They had 6 large screens up where every single screen showed graphs of 25 different measurements: database latencies for each database cluster, number of transactions going through each specific API endpoint, number of users currently active, number of failed logins, etc.

There are two things I learned that day for security applications:

1. Use The Screens For Context

When architecting SOC dashboards, the goal is often to allow analysts to spot attacks or anomalies. That’s where things go wrong! Do you really want your analysts to focus their attention on the dashboards to detect anomalies? Why not put those dashboards on the analysts screens then? Using the SOC screens to detect anomalies or attacks is the wrong use!

Use the dashboards as context. Say an analyst is investigating a number of suspicious looking network connections to a cluster of application servers. The analyst only knows that the cluster runs some sort of business applications. She could just discard the traffic pattern, following perfectly good procedure. However, a quick look up on the overhead screens shows a list of the most recently exploited applications and among them is SAP NetWeaver Dispatcher (arbitrary example). Having that context, the analyst makes the connection between the application cluster and SAP software running on that cluster. Instead of discarding the pattern, she decides to investigate further as it seems there are some fresh exploits being used in the wild.

Or say the analyst is investigating an increase in database write failures along with an increase in inbound traffic. The analyst first suspects some kind of DoS attack. The SOC screens provide more context: Looking at the database metrics, there seems to be an increase in database write latency. It also shows that one of the database machines is down. Furthermore, the transaction volume for one of the APIs is way off the charts, but only compared to earlier in the day. Compared to a week ago (see next section), this is absolutely expected behavior. A quick look in the configuration management database shows that there is a ticket that mentions the maintenance of one of the database servers. (Ideally this information would have been on the SOC screen as well!) Given all this information, this is not a DoS attack, but an IT ops problem. On to the next event.

2. Show Comparisons

If individual graphs are shown on the screens, they can be made more useful if they show comparisons. Look at the following example:

The blue line in the graph shows the metric’s value over the day. It’s 11am right now and we just observed quite a spike in this metric. Comparing the metric to itself, this is clearly an anomaly. However, having the green dotted line in the background, which shows the metric at the same time a week ago, we see that it is normal for this metric to spike at around noon. So no anomaly to be found here.
Why showing a comparison to the values a week ago? It helps absorbing seasonality. If you compared the metric to yesterday, on Monday you would compare to a Sunday, which often shows very different metrics. A month is too far away. A lot of things can change in a month. A week is a good time frame.

What should be on the screens?

The logical next question is what to put on those screens. Well, that depends a little, but here are some ideas:

  • Summary of some news feeds (FS ISAC feeds, maybe even threat feeds)
  • Monitoring twitter or IRC for certain activity
  • All kinds of volumes or metrics (e.g., #firewall blocks, #IDS alerts, #failed transactions)
  • Top 10 suspicious users
  • Top 10 servers connecting outbound (by traffic and by number of connections)

I know, I am being very vague. What is a ‘summary of a news feed’? You can extract the important words and maybe display a word cloud or a treemap. Or you might list certain objects that you find in the news feed, such as vulnerability IDs and vulnerability names. If you monitor IRC, do some natural language processing (NLP) to extract keywords. To find suspicious users you can use all kinds of behavioral models. Maybe you have a product lying around that does something like that.

Why would you want to see the top 10 servers connecting outbound? If you know which servers talk most to the outside world and the list suddenly changes, you might want to know. Maybe someone is exfiltrating information? Even if the list is not that static, your analysts will likely get really good at spotting trends over time. You might even want to filter the list so that the top entries don’t even show up, but maybe the ones at position 11-20. Or something like that. You get the idea.

Have you done anything like that? Write a comment and tell us what works for you. Have some pictures or screenshots? Even better. Send them over!