Why Is Security Monitoring Important?

When it comes to the security of your business, knowing what’s going on under the hood, in your network and computer systems, is incredibly important.

Not only does it give you critical insight into the threats you face, it provides the information needed to resolve security problems quickly and efficiently as they arise.

A data breach can cause irreparable harm to your operations, finances and reputation. Security monitoring can help you stay ahead of the attackers.

Key takeaways

  • Detect and respond to threats: Security monitoring helps businesses identify incidents early, limiting potential damage.
  • AI-driven tools: Advanced AI-based monitoring tools detect anomalies and protect organisations more effectively.
  • Support compliance and risk management: Continuous monitoring aids in meeting legal requirements and developing robust risk management strategies.
  • Managed services as an alternative: Trusted third-party providers can efficiently handle security monitoring activities, saving time and resource

What is security monitoring?

Security monitoring involves collecting and analysing information in order to spot unusual behaviour or unauthorised activity on your network. Doing this on a continual basis gives you the opportunity to spot incidents at an early stage and respond more effectively.

The visibility and understanding gained from gathering information from within your network, security controls, servers/endpoints and user applications, means you can build a set of triggers that alert the business if something is amiss.

Not only does it allow you to set alerts for any malicious behaviour from outside your network, it highlights unusual activity by your own employees, making it more difficult for an attacker.

Given the increase in cyber threats and the rise in tech-savvy, sophisticated criminal gangs, the ability to be able to detect incidents before they cause serious damage, and take effective action quickly, is vital.

It’s important because of the rise in cyber threats. There are many types of security incidents – ransomware, social engineering, such as phishing, and hacking – but it is who is behind the threats that have taken cyber security to another level. While localised threats and minor crime continues, there is a growing threat from organised crime, state actors and terrorist organisations. These attackers are looking for financial and critical national information and they are determined to create widespread disruption if necessary.

The problem is businesses tend to lack the awareness or resources to realise that they are under attack until they receive the ransom notice or their data is posted on the dark web. By constantly monitoring your systems, you have a much better chance of limiting the damage in the first phase of an attack.

How does security monitoring work?

The objective of security monitoring is to enable your organisation to detect attacks, malicious activity, inbound threats to data security, or even lurking problems within your systems. This is achieved by looking for patterns in the data, either coming from a single source, like a user system, or by correlating across multiple systems and sources to build up a picture of an incident for the security team to investigate. The fact all the relevant data has been collated and forms part of the alert is vital to understanding it, meaning the situation can be diagnosed and resolved quickly.

Attackers can sit in your network for weeks and months, waiting for the opportunity to strike. It takes an average of 280 days to identify and contain a breach, so managing your defences and having the ability to react quickly is critical. As Piers Wilson, head of product at Huntsman Security, says, “Speed is important. The length of time it takes to detect and respond to an attack makes a big difference to how damaging it is – in terms of the amount of damage done, the amount of data stolen and the reputational impact to the organisation. Time really is of the essence!”

Yet all this presents a large workload for the team that has to deal with all these alerts. Without centralised oversight and an agreement with the business as to what constitutes a significant threat, this work can be overwhelming, particularly if you have a small IT team.

Threats evolve daily and many escape detection. New technologies that use AI can spot patterns in behaviour rather than just relying on information about past intrusions to detect incidents. The tools learn as they go and can handle huge amounts of data. The ability to detect what’s not normal in your systems gives you a greater chance of defending your organisation.

What is the difference between security monitoring and SIEM?

The fact your organisation has not suffered a breach does not mean it does not have vulnerabilities. A SIEM tool can form part of your security monitoring. SIEM is short for Security Information and Event Management. It works by combining two types of technologies, security information management, which is the data analysed from your log files on threats and events, with security event management, which is the real-time security monitoring that alerts you to important issues.

SIEM collects the data from all types of devices, servers, domain controllers etc across your IT infrastructure, sorts it into categories such as successful logins and failed logins or malware activity. It correlates and analyses this threat information from across your IT estate, building a picture of past and current threats and enabling effective detection and response. When it identifies a threat, it generates an alert and defines the threat level of that alert so an organisation’s security team can respond appropriately.

However, SIEM can often lack context and distinguish between business approved and suspicious file activity. SIEM is only as good as the data it receives which is why it’s important to capture data from on-premises and the cloud to give you gain a complete picture.

What is the difference between security monitoring and network monitoring?

Do you want to monitor the health of your network, or the security of your network, such as file and integrity monitoring?

Network monitoring looks at the components of the network infrastructure, whereas security monitoring covers things like file and integrity monitoring.

Network monitoring shows you how well your platform is running – if there are any bottlenecks, any errors or if devices are offline. Some of these could be due to malware, which is where your security monitoring adds the extra layer of alerts and protection.

Why is continuous monitoring important?

By monitoring behaviour in your systems 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year, you reduce the time delay between a threat being detected and any action being taken. The constant snapshots of real-time activity provide you with one of the best ways to spot a malicious user.

Round-the-clock monitoring also helps you understand the weaknesses and the strengths within your IT infrastructure, which in turns provides valuable business insight to help you build a sustainable and effective risk management strategy.

How does security monitoring help with compliance?

The National Cyber Security Centre warns failure to monitor systems could lead to attacks going unnoticed which can have the knock-on result of making you non-compliant with legal or regulatory requirements. It recommends organisations have a complete understanding of how users access systems, services and information.

Where security monitoring helps, is in the way compliance is measured or audited. If you don’t have records of activity relating to the security controls in place, you won’t have the evidence to prove you’re doing it – a common compliance failing.

Protecting your data and systems

Security monitoring helps identify sophisticated threats that can evade more traditional security tools. It can detect a broader range of threats and shortens the time it takes to deal with attacks.

Compliance is important, but it is the “floor” rather than the “ceiling”. The goal of protecting data and systems – keeping private data private – is the ultimate point of security monitoring. It provides information on which the organisation can act.

Setting up your own security operations centre is costly and it can be very time consuming for your security team to sift through all the automated alerts that are generated, leading to the risk a major security event might be missed. The alternative is to use a managed service from a trusted third party.

Indeed, the security standards organisation CREST says, “organisations of all types struggle to identify and address potential indicators of cyber security incidents effectively.” They actively recommend organisations consider employing the services of one or more specialist third party providers for all or some of their security activities.

Whatever you choose to do, if the worst does happen, round-the-clock security monitoring gives you the information you need to make quick decisions and analyse what has taken place. After all, how can you learn lessons if you don’t know the facts?

Be better informed and put security wellness into your IT environment.

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