Category Archives: Security Operations Center (SOC)

Bring Order to Chaos By Building SIEM Use Cases, Standards, Baselining and Naming Conventions

Security operations centers (SOCs) are struggling to create automated detection and response capabilities. While custom security information and event management (SIEM) use cases can allow businesses to improve automation, creating use cases requires clear business logic. Many security organizations lack efficient, accurate methods to distinguish between authorized and unauthorized activity patterns across components of the enterprise network.

Even the most intelligent SIEM can fail to deliver value when it’s not optimized for use cases, or if rules are created according to incorrect parameters. Creating a framework that can accurately detect suspicious activity requires baselines, naming conventions and effective policies.

Defining Parameters for SIEM Use Cases Is a Barrier to SOC Success

Over the past few years, I’ve consulted with many enterprise SOCs to improve threat detection and incident response capabilities. Regardless of SOC maturity, most organizations struggle to accurately define the difference between authorized and suspicious patterns of activity, including users, admins, access patterns and scripts. Countless SOC leaders are stumped when they’re asked to define authorized patterns of activity for mission-critical systems.

SIEM rules can be used to automate detection and response capabilities for common threats such as distributed denial-of-service (DDoS), authentication failures and malware. However, these rules must be built on clear business logic for accurate detection and response capabilities. Baseline business logic is necessary to accurately define risky behavior in SIEM use cases.

Building a Baseline for Cyber Hygiene

Cyber hygiene is defined as the consistent execution of activities necessary to protect the integrity and security of enterprise networks, including users, data assets and endpoints. A hygiene framework should offer clear parameters for threat response and acceptable use based on policies for user governance, network access and admin activities. Without an understanding of what defines typical, secure operations, it’s impossible to create an effective strategy for security maintenance.

A comprehensive framework for cybersecurity hygiene can simplify security operations and create guidelines for SIEM use cases. However, capturing an effective baseline for systems can strengthen security frameworks and create order in chaos. To empower better hygiene and threat detection capabilities based on business logic, established standards such as a naming convention can create clear parameters.

VLAN Network Categories

For the purpose of simplified illustration, imagine that your virtual local area networks (VLANs) are categorized among five criticality groups — named A, B, C, D and E — with the mission-critical VLAN falling into the A category (<vlan_name>_A).

A policy may be created to dictate that A-category VLAN systems can communicate directly with any other category without compromising data security. However, communication with the A-category VLAN from B, C, D or E networks is not allowed. Authentication to a jump host can accommodate authorized exceptions to this standard, such as when E-category users need access to an A-category server.

Creating a naming convention and policy for VLAN network categories can help you develop simple SIEM use cases to prevent unauthorized access to A resources and automatically detect suspicious access attempts.

Directory Services and Shared Resources

You can also use naming convention frameworks to create a policy for managing groups of user accounts according to access level in directory services, such as Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) or Active Directory (AD). A standardized naming convention for directory services provides a clear framework for acceptable user access to shared folders and resources. AD users categorized within the D category may not have access to A-category folders or <shared_folder_name>_A.

Creating effective SIEM rules based on these use cases is a bit more complex than VLAN business logic since it involves two distinct technologies and potentially complex policies for resource access. However, creating standards that connect user access to resources establishes clear parameters for strict, contextual monitoring. Directory users with A-category access may require stricter change monitoring due to the potential for abuse of admin capabilities. You can create SIEM use cases to detect other configuration mistakes, such as a C-category user who is suddenly escalated to A-category.

Username Creation

Many businesses are already applying some logic to standardize username creation for employees. A policy may dictate that users create a seven-character alias that involves three last-name characters, two first-name characters and two digits. Someone named Janet Doe could have the username DoeJa01, for example. Even relatively simple username conventions can support SIEM use cases for detecting suspicious behavior. When eight or more characters are entered into a username field, an event could be triggered to lock the account until a new password is created.

The potential SIEM use cases increase with more complex approaches to username creation, such as 12-character usernames that combine last- and first-name characters with the employee’s unique HR-issued identification. A user named Jonathan Doerty, for instance, could receive an automatically generated username of doertjo_4682. Complex usernames can create friction for legitimate end users, but some minor friction can be justified if it provides greater safeguards for privileged users and critical systems.

An external threat actor may be able to extrapolate simple usernames from social engineering activities, but they’re unlikely to guess an employee’s internal identification number. SIEM rules can quickly detect suspicious access attempts based on username field entries that lack the required username components. Requiring unique identification numbers from HR systems can also significantly lower the risk of admins creating fake user credentials to conceal malicious activity.

Unauthorized Code and Script Locations

Advanced persistent threats can evade detection by creating backdoor access to deploy a carefully disguised malicious code. Standard naming conventions provide a cost-effective way to create logic to detects malware risks. A simple model for script names could leverage several data components, such as department name, script name and script author, resulting in authorized names like HR_WellnessLogins_DoexxJo. Creating SIEM parameters for acceptable script names can automate the detection of malware.

Creating baseline standards for script locations such as /var/opt/scripts and C:\Program Files\<org_name>\ can improve investigation capabilities when code is detected that doesn’t comply with the naming convention or storage parameters. Even the most sophisticated threat actors are unlikely to perform reconnaissance on enterprise naming convention baselines before creating a backdoor and hiding a script. SIEM rules can trigger a response from the moment a suspiciously named script begins to run or a code file is moved into an unauthorized storage location.

Scaling Security Response With Standards

Meaningful threats to enterprise data security often fly under the radar of even the most sophisticated threat detection solutions when there’s no baseline to define acceptable activity. SOC analysts have more technological capabilities than ever, but many are struggling to optimize detection and response with effective SIEM use cases.

Clear, scalable systems to define policies for acceptable activity create order in chaos. The smartest approach to creating effective SIEM use cases relies on standards, a strong naming convention and sound policy. It’s impossible to accurately understand risks without a clear framework for authorized activities. Standards, baselines and naming conventions can remove barriers to effective threat detection and response.

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Need a Sounding Board for Your Incident Response Plan? Join a Security Community

Incident response teams face myriad uphill battles, such as the cybersecurity skills shortage, floods of security alerts and increasing IT complexity, to name just a few. These challenges often overwhelm security teams and leave security operations center (SOC) directors searching for strategies to maximize the productivity of their current team and technologies to build a capable incident response plan.

One emerging solution is a familiar one: an ecosystem of developer and expert communities. Collaborative online forums have always been a critical part of the cybersecurity industry, and communities dedicated to incident response are growing more robust than ever.

How to Get Involved in a Developer Community

Incident response communities can be a crucial resource to give security analysts access to hands-on, battle-tested experience. They can deliver highly valuable, lightweight, easy-to-use integrations that can be deployed quickly. Community-driven security can also provide playbooks, standard operating procedures (SOPs), best practices and troubleshooting tips. Most importantly, they can help foster innovation by serving as a sounding board for your team’s ideas and introduce you to new strategies and techniques.

That all sounds great, but how do you know what community can best address your incident response needs? Where do you begin? Below are a few steps to help you get started.

1. Find the Communities That Are Most Relevant to You

To combat new threats that are being coordinated in real time, more and more vendors and services are fostering their own communities. Identify which ones are most relevant to your industry and business goals.

To start, narrow down your search based on the security products you use every day. In all likelihood, you’ll find users in these product-based communities who have faced similar challenges or have run into the same issues as your team.

Once you’ve selected the most relevant communities, make sure you sign up for constant updates. Join discussion forums, opt in to regular updates, and check back frequently for new blogs and other content. By keeping close tabs on these conversations, you can continuously review whether the communities you’ve joined are still relevant and valuable to your business.

2. Identify Existing Gaps in Your Security Processes

Communities are disparate and wide-ranging. Establishing your needs first will save you time and make communities more valuable to you. By identifying what type of intelligence you need to enhance your security strategy and incident response plan ahead of time, you can be confident that you’re joining the right channels and interacting with like-minded users.

Discussion forums are full of valuable information from other users who have probably had to patch up many of the same security gaps that affect your business. These forums also provide a window into the wider purpose of the community; aligning your identified gaps with this mission will help you maximize the value of your interactions.

3. Contribute to the Conversation

By taking part in these conversations, you can uncover unexpected benefits and give your team a sounding board among other users. As a security practitioner, it should be a priority to contribute direct and honest information to the community and perpetuate an industrywide culture of information sharing. Real-time, responsive feedback is a great tool to help you build a better security strategy and align a response plan to the current threat landscape.

Contributing to a community can take various forms. Community-based forums and Slack channels give developers a voice across the organization. By leveraging this mode of communication, you can bring important intelligence to the surface that might otherwise go under the radar. Forum discussions can also expose you to new perspectives from a diverse range of sources.

A Successful Incident Response Plan Starts With Collaboration

For its part, IBM Security gathers insights from experienced users across all its products in the IBM Security Community portal. Through this initiative, IBM has expanded its global network to connect like-minded people in cybersecurity. This collaborative network allows us to adapt to new developments as rapidly as threats evolve.

Collaboration has always been cybercriminals’ greatest weapon. It creates massive challenges for the cybersecurity industry and requires us to fight back with a united front of our own. With the support of an entire security community behind you, incident response tasks won’t seem so overwhelming and your resource-strapped SOC will have all the threat data it needs to protect your business.

Discover Community Day at Think 2019

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