In today’s rapidly evolving technological landscape, the way we work has undergone a profound transformation. The implications for cybersecurity are undeniable, particularly in the realm of network monitoring. Gone are the days when employees sat securely side-by-side within the confines of a corporate network.
In this digital age, development teams frequently create and dismantle systems, often exposing services to the vast expanse of the internet. Tracking these dynamic changes in users, configurations, and services has become an arduous task. Internet-facing attack surfaces seldom remain static for long. This article explores why, in the face of such challenges, continuous network monitoring has become an imperative for safeguarding the backbone of modern businesses.
The Evolving Network Landscape
The contemporary corporate landscape is characterized by sprawling networks that extend far beyond the confines of traditional offices and data centers. Remote working, cloud computing, and third-party integrations have blurred the lines of network security. It’s no longer just about safeguarding the devices and systems housed within corporate walls.
Today, network security must extend its protective mantle over an array of elements. From the very hardware and software that compose the network infrastructure to the plethora of devices that interact with it – ranging from IoT endpoints to laptops and smartphones. Network security now necessitates vigilant oversight of cloud resources, edge devices, third-party hosted content, and integrations with other hardware or software. Even assets hosted in dispersed offices demand attention.
Adding a layer of complexity, some services, especially those hosted in the cloud, may have short lifespans, limited to specific projects, events, or deployments. In this world of dispersed networks, the traditional “castle-and-moat” model of network security no longer suffices. Security must adapt to protect the ever-expanding perimeter.
What Can Go Wrong with Your Network?
Vulnerabilities can infiltrate your network through various avenues. These may include misconfigurations, expiring certificates, the addition of new assets to cloud environments, missed patches, or the inadvertent exposure of services to the unforgiving internet. Additionally, the specter of attacks through phishing, supply chain compromises, and exposed credentials looms ominously.
Consider the WannaCry ransomware attack, which wreaked havoc worldwide, stemming from the exposure of a Windows SMB service to the internet. Similarly, the 2022 data breach at Australian telco Optus occurred through an unprotected and publicly-exposed API, lacking any form of user authentication. Such incidents underscore the critical importance of vigilant monitoring.
How Can You Protect Your Network?
The linchpin of effective network security lies in continuous monitoring, bolstered by regular scanning. This approach utilizes automation to detect and pinpoint weaknesses in devices, application software, and operating systems. It does so by deploying probes to discover open ports and services, subsequently scrutinizing each for configuration vulnerabilities or known vulnerabilities.
Recognizing the diversity of systems within your network, which may encompass laptops, workstations, and cloud platforms like AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud, choosing what to include in your network scan can be challenging. Various approaches, such as exposure-based, sensitivity-based, and coverage-based strategies, can be employed to tailor the scanning process to your specific needs.
Why Do You Need to Monitor Continuously?
Your network is in a perpetual state of flux. New services emerge, web applications undergo updates, permissions shift, devices are added and removed. Each of these changes potentially introduces vulnerabilities. Continuous monitoring’s raison d’être is to provide near-instantaneous feedback on these changes, evaluate and prioritize vulnerabilities, and furnish a comprehensive overview of the risk across your entire infrastructure.
Advanced network monitoring tools like Intruder execute daily network scans, ensuring that your network view remains accurate and up to date. These scans reveal active and unresponsive targets, recent changes, expiring certificates, and the expected (and unexpected) ports and services exposed to the internet.
For those who oversee extensive network ranges, the challenge lies in ensuring comprehensive coverage without incurring exorbitant licensing costs for inactive IPs. Intruder alleviates this concern by monitoring external network ranges for active IPs, allowing you to pay only for the ones in use.
Reducing Vulnerabilities and Misconfigurations
More than 68,000 operating system and application vulnerabilities have been assigned CVE identifiers within NIST’s National Vulnerability Database, including nearly 8,000 from 2014. Of course, the severity of vulnerabilities varies, as depicted by their respective CVSS scores assigned by NIST. Any vulnerability with a CVSS score of 7.0 or higher (on a 0.0 to 10.0 scale) is considered “High” and should be patched as quickly as possible.
Even if your organization is diligent about patching system vulnerabilities, it’s still important to verify those patches on an ongoing basis. Sometimes systems are “rolled back” to prior configuration states for a variety of reasons, or new virtualized systems are deployed without recent patches.
Exploiting vulnerabilities is just one method of breaching a network. Taking advantage of system security misconfigurations is another way the “bad guys” can compromise servers, desktops, laptops, and mobile devices — even network infrastructure devices.
Continuous Network Monitoring Use Cases
- Eliminating Network Blind Spots: Implementation of BYOD policies is causing enormous headaches for IT security professionals. Discovering unmanaged assets seems like an impossible task.
- Virtualization Challenges: A key benefit of virtualization is the ability to roll out new systems with a few clicks of the mouse. Sometimes new virtual machines (VMs) are rolled out without having gone through a proper change management process — a problem commonly called “virtual sprawl.”
- Ensuring Compliance: The final use case for implementing a continuous network monitoring solution is ensuring compliance with internal policies and/or external industry or government regulations.
Key Components of a Continuous Network Monitoring Solution
- Active Vulnerability Scanners: These software applications identify hosts connected to the network and assess their weaknesses by uncovering operating system and application vulnerabilities and security misconfigurations.
- Passive Network Sensors: These continuously inspect network traffic to identify and classify hosts, detect vulnerabilities, and monitor for suspicious traffic.
- Log Correlation Engine: Extracts log data from key infrastructure components to provide context for pinpointing anomalous traffic.
- Management Console: The central nervous system of every continuous network monitoring deployment, responsible for key functions such as user permissions, scanning policies, and real-time dashboards.
In an era defined by constant change and expanding attack surfaces, continuous network monitoring has emerged as an indispensable ally in the quest for robust cybersecurity. By embracing automation, customization, and vigilance, businesses can stay one step ahead of potential threats. Intruder and similar tools offer the means to achieve comprehensive, real-time visibility and safeguard the modern business network against the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats. In the pursuit of network security, continuous monitoring is no longer a choice; it is a necessity.