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What is it Like to be a Cisco Security Analyst?

Security events, such as vulnerabilities and threats, that are detected globally continue to grow and evolve in scale, impact, diversity, and complexity. Compounded with this is the other side of the coin, the unreported or undetected events waiting in the wings, hovering below the radar in a stealthy state. With all of the security technologies at our disposal, are they sufficient enough to provide effective protection? Well, it is certainly a good start when applied correctly. At a summary level, Cisco’s Security Intelligence Operations (SIO) approach to this challenge was covered in the Network World feature article, “Inside Cisco Security Intelligence Operations.” However, one of the core human elements, which I will introduce, that deserves closer attention is the role of security analyst. In addition, this article provides those of you with career interests some additional insight into working in the IT security field.

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A Word Of Thanks

I rarely blog, and when I do it’s almost always about an event, rather than a person. This entry is an exception in no small part to draw attention to a seminal moment, and an illustrious career of someone who is finishing one chapter and about to start another.

On March 9, 2012, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) announced its top cybersecurity leader would retire at month’s end. Shawn Henry, the FBI’s Executive Assistant Director (EAD), has been at the forefront of the FBI’s response to cybersecurity crimes and investigations for the past several years, albeit his career at the FBI spans multiple decades and his responsibilities are broader than just cyber.

EAD Henry helped establish the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force (NCIJTF) to mitigate and disrupt cyber attacks threatening national security in the US as well as other countries. He was instrumental in restructuring the Bureau’s cyber strategy and investigative programs, and recognized that his work in the United States alone would not be enough. He and his team reached out to national law enforcement agencies in Amsterdam, Romania and Estonia to make the necessary differences in those regions.

I was fortunate to work with EAD Henry during my time as a commissioner on the CSIS Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency, at the National Cybersecurity Forensics Training Alliance (NCFTA), as well as on strategies and discussions to determine how we can make the Internet safer for all users.

As a leader, EAD Henry was quick to credit his team and not ever seek credit for himself. He built a bench at the Bureau that will carry the hard work into tomorrow. His influence spanned the public-private and law enforcement communities in the US and abroad, even if the mission was challenging.

The sacrifices he and his family made during his tenure were non-trivial; we all owe him, his family, and the women and men at the Bureau a debt of gratitude for their hard work. His understanding of the threat landscape, his passion and accomplishments, and his commitment to making the world a safer place has made him a hero to me – and one that will be missed at the FBI. That’s ok, though. He leaves a great team in place to take their next step, and he will be in the private sector still fighting the good fight, just from a different angle. And that’s good, because we need him to.

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Evolving Continuous Monitoring to a Dynamic Risk Management Strategy

Organizations implementing Continuous Monitoring strategies are remiss if they are not taking into account the value of network telemetry in their approach. NIST Special Publication 800-137, Information Security Continuous Monitoring for Federal Information Systems and Organizations provides guidance on the implementation of a Continuous Monitoring strategy, but fails to address the importance of network telemetry into that strategy. In fact the 38 page document only mentions the word “network” 36 times. The SP 800-137 instead focuses on two primary areas: configuration management and patch management.  Both are fundamental aspects of managing an organizations overall risk, but to rely on those two aspects alone for managing risk falls short of achieving an effective Continuous Monitoring strategy for the following reasons

First, the concepts around configuration and patch management are very component specific. Individual components of a system are configured and patched. While these are important the focus is on vulnerabilities of improper configuration or known weaknesses in software. Second, this approach presumes that with proper configuration control and timely patch management that the overall risk of exploitation to the organization’s information system is dramatically reduced.

While an environment that has proper configuration and patch management is less likely to be exposed to known threats, they are no more prepared to prevent or detect sophisticated threats based on unknown or day-zero exploits. Unfortunately, the customization and increase in sophistication of malware is only growing. A recent threat report indicated that nearly 2/3 of Verizon’s data breach caseload were due to customized malware. It is also important to keep in mind that there is some amount of time that passes between a configuration error is determined and fixed or the time it takes to patch vulnerable software. This amount of time can potentially afford an attacker a successful vector.  For these reasons organizations looking to implement a Continuous Monitoring strategy should depend on the network to provide a near real-time view of the transactions that are occurring. Understanding the behavior of the network is important to create a more dynamic risk management focused Continuous Monitoring strategy.

Network telemetry can consist of different types of information describing network transactions in various locations on the network. Two valuable telemetry sources are NetFlow and Network Secure Event Logging (NSEL). NetFlow is a mechanism that organizations can use to offer a more holistic view of the enterprise risk picture. NetFlow is available in the majority of network platforms and builds transaction records of machine-to-machine communications both within the enterprise boundary as well as connections leaving the enterprise boundary. These communication records provide invaluable information and identify both policy violations and configuration errors. Additionally, NetFlow also provides insight into malicious software communications and large quantities of information leaving an enterprise. Network Secure Event Logging uses the NetFlow protocol to transmit important information regarding activities occurring on enterprise firewalls. This is valuable data that can be aggregated with other NetFlow sources to bring additional context to the network behavior occurring.

Coupling the configuration and patch management guidance in SP 800-137 with an active NetFlow monitoring capability will provide organizations with a Continuous Monitoring strategy that is more system focused and more apt to fostering a dynamic risk management environment. Cisco will be discussing NetFlow, NSEL and other security topics at the March 21st,  Government Solutions Forum in Washington, D.C. If you’re interested in learning more, click on the following URL:

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Network Security Surfaces as Mainstream Media issue

The New York Times’ Nicole Perlroth filed an alarming account of government and corporate network vulnerabilities that comes across like a briefing dossier read by James Bond aboard a Heathrow-Beijing flight. But it does the good work of putting a critical technology issue before a broad audience.

Traveling Light in a Time of Digital Thievery” (NYT, Feb. 10) details extraordinary counter-espionage precautions taken in China by prudent travelers and their organizations. Many now leave their usual notebooks, smartphones and tablets safe at home. Some say a device taken into China is never again permitted to touch their corporate network.

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Cisco Releases the 2011 Annual Security Report

Organizations are faced with providing security for employees that are rapidly adopting new technology in their personal and professional lives and expect their work environments and employers to do the same. As the data from the new Cisco 2011 Annual Security Report and the Cisco Connected World Technology Report Chapter 3 show, organizations that do not or cannot provide that type of environment are at risk of losing the ability to compete for those employees and business opportunities. If employers attempt to block, deny, or forbid mobile devices, social networks, instant communications, and new technologies in the work place employees will likely ignore the policies or, even worse, find ways around them that open your environment to unrealized risks.

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