Saturday, April 1, 2017

KEY NSM TERMS - network security monitoring

Applied network security monitoring  - collection, detection, and analysis

Before jumping in, there are several terms that must be defined due to their extensive use throughout. With NSM and network security being a relatively new science, it’s hard to find common, discrete definitions for a lot of these terms. The sources I’ve chosen most closely align with US DoD documentation, CISSP certification literature, and other NSM text. They have been mostly paraphrased, and directly quoted and cited as appropriate.

An asset is anything within your organization that has value. At an easily quantifiable level, this may include computers, servers, and networking equipment. Beyond this, assets will also include data, people, processes, intellectual property, and reputation. When I refer to an “asset” I will generally be referring to something within the scope of your trusted network. This may also include networks that are separate from yours, but still considered trusted (think of government allies, subsidiary organizations, or supply chain partners). I will use the terms asset, good guy, target, the victim, and friendly interchangeably.

A threat is a party with the capabilities and intentions to exploit a vulnerability in an asset. A threat is relative, as a threat to a civilian might be different than a threat to a large corporation. Furthermore, a threat to an emerging nation might be different than that of a global superpower. Threats can primarily be classified into two categories: structured and unstructured. A structured threat utilizes formal tactics and procedures and has clearly defined objectives. This often includes organized criminals, hacktivist groups, government intelligence agencies, and militaries. These are typically groups of individuals; although, it’s not unheard of for a single individual to represent a structured threat. A structured threat almost always pursues targets of choice, chosen for a specific reason or goal. An unstructured threat lacks the motivation, skill, strategy, or experience of a structured threat. Individuals or small loosely organized groups most often represent this type of threat. Unstructured threats typically pursue targets of opportunity, which are selected because they appear easily vulnerable. Regardless of the scope or nature of the threat, they all have something in common: they want to steal something from you. This can be stolen money, intellectual property, reputation, or simply time. I will use the terms threat, bad guy, adversary, attacker, and hostile interchangeably.
A vulnerability is a software, hardware, or procedural weakness that may provide an attacker the ability to gain unauthorized access to a network asset. This might take the form of improperly written code that allows for exploitation via a buffer overflow attack, an active network port in a public area that resents the opportunity for physical network access, or even an improperly devised authentication system that allows an attacker to guess a victim’s username. Keep in mind that a human can also be considered a vulnerability.

An exploit is a method by which a vulnerability is attacked. In the case of software exploitation, this may take the form of a piece of exploit code that contains a payload that allows the attacker to perform some type of action on the system remotely, such as breeding a command shell. In a web application, a vulnerability in the way the application processes input and output may allow an attacker to exploit the application with SQL injection. In another scenario, an attacker breaking into an office building by tailgating off of another user’s access card swipe would be considered an exploit.

The study of risk management is extensive, and as such there are several different definitions for risk. In relation to NSM, I think the most appropriate definition of risk is the measurement of the possibility that a threat will exploit a vulnerability.Although most managers desire some quantifiable metric, often times quantifying risk is a fruitless endeavor because of the intrinsic difficulty in placing a value on network and data assets.
I will frequently discuss things that may add or decrease the level of a risk to an asset, but I won’t be speaking in depth on calculations for quantifying risk beyond what is necessary for defining a collection strategy.
An anomaly is an observable occurrence in a system or network that is considered out of the ordinary. Anomalies generate alerts by detection tools such as an intrusion detection systems or log review applications. An anomaly may include a system crash, malformed packets, unusual contact with an unknown host, or a large amount of data being transferred over a short period of time.

When an event is investigated, it may be reclassified as part of an incident. An incident is a violation or imminent threat of violation of computer security policies, acceptable use policies, or standard security practices2. More simply stated, an incident means that something bad has happened, or is currently happening on your network. This might include the root-level compromise of a computer, a simple malware installation, a denial of service attack, or the successful execution of malicious code from a phishing e-mail. Keep in mind that all incidents include one or more events, but most events will not directly represent an incident.

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