Guest column: Explaining continuous monitoring

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Written by

2013_10_george-romas George Romas, technical director, Cybersecurity Practice, HP Enterprise Services, U.S. public sector, Hewlett-Packard Company.

Continuous monitoring has become a major focus area in cybersecurity. From customers to experts to standards bodies, they claim continuous monitoring will vastly improve the security of our networks and critical infrastructure.

So what is it?

We can provide a simple explanation by using a physical security example. Let’s suppose you want to protect the perimeter of your building or compound, but you only have single-shot cameras to monitor who’s going in and out. You set them up to take photographs every 15 minutes, and you analyze them at the end of the day to look for breaches or irregularities. Of course, you miss a lot of activity!

2013_10_ITdeskTo start implementing continuous monitoring in our example, you swap out the single-shot cameras for video cameras. Now, you have a continuous view, in real time, of what’s occurring in and around your physical enterprise. You have all the information you need to secure your compound, but do you have the resources to monitor and analyze the information in real time?

That’s the same issue with monitoring the security of cyberspace, except the amount of information you collected can be significantly greater. A typical enterprise can collect logs and events from firewalls, routers, servers, PCs and more. You can also include physical security data — video, badge machines, motion detectors, etc. In addition, you have to know, and continually update, your asset inventory —  both hardware and software.

Based on that inventory, the next step is to evaluate the configuration of each asset to ensure it complies to secure configuration standards and guidelines. That inventory also needs to be continually scanned against known vulnerabilities and threats. Vulnerabilities can be based on the asset configuration or the network upon which it resides.

As you can see, continuous monitoring is a complex process with a lot of moving parts — and that’s just deploying a basic capability! The eventual goals of developing this capability are to:

  • Put in place a better (defined, repeatable) process for detecting and remediating security issues
  • Create a way to score an organization’s security risk
  • Leverage the insight gained to institute a process of continual improvement towards a more secure enterprise

Regardless of the size of an enterprise, collecting and analyzing this information is daunting. You must first determine what sensors (products) you have and what data are you collecting. There are a wide variety of products in the market that perform the functions described above. HP has a set of products that can provide the core functionality: Enterprise Service Management suite (uCMDB and related products), ArcSight, EnterpriseView, TippingPoint, and Fortify/WebInspect.

Other functions and capabilities are provided by third-party products. The heavy lifting for continuous monitoring is in the integration of the products and information into a stable infrastructure that ensures the continuous flow of data and analysis that represents the overall security posture of an organization. The Cybersecurity Solutions Group Engineering & Architecture team is currently performing the integration of the proposed DHS continuous monitoring solution in the CSG eLab.

In following blog posts (www.hp.com/enterprise/gov), I’ll delve into the other functional areas that define a full continuous monitoring solution and how that aligns with a comprehensive enterprise security reference architecture.

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continuous monitoring, Cybersecurity, HP Enterprise Services, Tech
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