When we consider network threat detection, most of us immediately think of signature and rule-based intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPSs). However, it is a little discussed fact that the very first intrusion detection systems, built back in the ‘80s, were actually based on anomaly detection!

Those pioneers understood that with the presence of zero-days and the lack of exhaustive black-lists, we needed to use the full range of analytical techniques at our disposal to be effective.

Those anomaly detection roots may not be so evident in today’s IDPSs however they were not totally lost. In fact, a whole new branch of network threat detection systems were developed that used those very same anomaly detection techniques. That heritage manifests itself, today in so-called Network Traffic Analysis (NTA) tools.

While IDPSs have made detecting the initial intrusion in the packet stream their relentless focus, NTA systems take a very different approach. They generally work on metadata generated from the network, often called network flows, so they can expand our scope of analysis in both time and space to become essential in post-breach analysis, incident response, and even threat hunting situations.

Well Cisco has arranged a family reunion!

We are proud to announce the combination of our best-in-class IDPS and NTA products, Cisco Firepower and Cisco Stealthwatch. The Security Analytics and Logging (SAL) solution brings the best of perimeter-based protection and detection with the power of visibility and security analytics over the entire network. We believe we have created the most comprehensive network-centric threat protection, detection, and response solution – something that only Cisco is in the position to achieve.

Raising the bar on Network Security

It is very well understood how IDPSs are effective in security protection: blocking activity that can be identified as a threat or violates some policy. However, we accept that threats still get through and that is why IDPS have robust rules-based detection engines based on content-inspection.

But what do we do with all these detections? What if the traffic cannot be inspected? What if decryption is not an option? What if the threat is spreading internally?

Security Analytics and Logging service is specifically designed to augment your Cisco Firepower deployment with security analytics, from the Stealthwatch Cloud platform, to drive improved threat detections and provide the insight needed for more effective protection.

It All Starts with Visibility

The foundation of the solution is the aggregation of the connection and detection logs from Cisco Firepower with the network flows that the Stealthwatch platform collects. Just think about that. A dataset that gives us unprecedented visibility into the entire breadth of your network from perimeter to access, from campus to branch. But that’s not all! That “general ledger” not only contains all the header-based metadata, but now also includes all the metadata and inferences derived from all the deep content-inspection the Cisco Firepower engine provides.

Now you might be thinking to yourself, “there are plenty of tools I can use to gain this type of visibility.” However, in practice the sheer volume, velocity, and variety of the data can lead to staggering costs. The Stealthwatch team has made working at these scales our speciality and because our back ends are optimally engineered for the security outcomes we desire, we can offer this visibility in a much more cost-effective manner.

Security Analytics Driving Rapid Response

With all that visibility comes the opportunity to apply security analytics that can detect breaches that have bypassed the content-inspection based rules at the perimeter.

The security analytics powered by Stealthwatch can achieve this by baselining normal behavior of endpoints on the network in a process we call entity modelling. These models are then used to detect malicious activity based on any changes in behavior and indicators of compromise. The Stealthwatch engine can then combine these observations with others that may come from other parts of the network or even the detection engine in Cisco Firepower to create reliable and useful alerts.

Through this, you get detection of internal and external threats based on the analysis of network telemetry and IDPS logs, all from within Cisco Defense Orchestrator (CDO) and from that same interface, you can modify your network-wide policy to immediately deploy a remediation strategy. In addition, CDO is fully integrated with Cisco Threat Response which allows you to build incident casebooks and drive response actions across the whole of the Cisco security portfolio.

Closing the Loop: Improving Protection through Policy Tuning

Up until now, I have discussed the during and after phases of an attack but with SAL we can close the loop and reason more effectively about the before phase. In this phase we, as security practitioners, try to understand what is actually on our networks and what activity is to be allowed or blocked.

We express this intent through policies that enshrine both threat defense and compliance considerations. But designing and managing these policies across an increasingly complex digital business has historically been a major challenge and can leave many organizations vulnerable to attack.

The insight that it brings to the game drastically improves the way you can make policy decisions from within CDO. Through this capability you can query the logs collected from Cisco Firepower devices to play out what-if scenarios and validate the correct behavior of the policy at the enforcement point. In addition, the extended visibility of the rest of the network that the Stealthwatch platform provides can even allow you to determine if traffic is bypassing your enforcement points.

You can then turn around and deploy these highly tuned policies across the entire portfolio of security products right from within CDO! This is an entirely new paradigm that is required to not only scale with your growing network but also help you seamlessly manage policies across your environment powered by intelligence and insight.

Through this, you get detection of internal and external threats based on the analysis of network telemetry and IDPS logs all from within Cisco Defense Orchestrator (CDO) and from that same interface you can modify your network-wide policy to immediately deploy a remediation strategy.


I have been in-and-around security analytics and threat detection for almost 16 years and have seen many cool improvements and integrations but this one excites me in a way that I have not been before.

This is truly a case where one-plus-one is more that two. We have taken two pillars of network security and turned them into one comprehensive, network-centric, threat detection, protection, and response system. In addition, this solution will grow with you as we look to extend the visibility to every corner of the digital business including the public cloud and software defined network as well allowing you to benefit from the on-going R&D that delivers new threat detection at the speed-of-SaaS.

This may be just the start of this particular journey, but we are starting with all of the accumulated wisdom of those pioneers from back in the ‘80s, and all those that have followed in their footsteps.

To learn more about Cisco’s Security Analytics and Logging, a cloud-delivered security platform that leverages Cisco Defense Orchestrator, Cisco Firepower Next-Generation Firewalls and Stealthwatch Cloud to help you simplify security policy management please visit cisco.com/go/cdo or contact cdosales@cisco.com to get started.


Sunil Amin

Principal Engineer

Cisco Stealthwatch