In tandem with technological advancements and the expansion of enterprise networks, administrators who are responsible for the overall health and performance of infrastructure are assuming increasing amounts of responsibility. Every day, chief information officers (CIOs) think about how to better monitor and secure the activity taking place on their organization’s network.
While the distinctions between network operations and security operations may appear to be blurred, the two functions serve distinct and critical functions within an organization. Network operations and security operations They each focus on specific and distinct aspects of the infrastructure and the traffic that flows through their networks, even though their tools may be similar in some respects.
Network Monitoring – A High-Level Look at Infrastructure
A network monitoring system keeps track of and monitors network activity for issues or problems that may be caused by malfunctioning devices or overburdened resources (servers, network connections, or other devices). Standard network monitoring is frequently carried out through the use of diagnostic tools, dedicated applications or appliances connected to the network, and/or through the use of a command-line interface that accesses the available diagnostics or any number of other tools. It employs measurements and algorithms to establish a baseline for data at rest, and it measures three primary metrics, which are as follows:
Availability is a concern (uptime)
In terms of performance (data transfer speeds)
Configuration is important (system inventory, application, and hardware settings)
The system must be managed and overseen by a network administrator who is familiar with the system’s topology, configurations, performance, and security, as well as the various aspects of each of the three measurements. When a problem is identified, an alert is sent to the system administrator via email, SMS, or other means, allowing him or her to address the problem at hand.
Small businesses may be able to get away with simpler infrastructure designs in which many components are hosted in the cloud at certain times. The administrator would only be responsible for managing and monitoring the services that are hosted in data centers, rather than being responsible for fully understanding the underlying technologies. However, an enterprise consists of many complex parts (including cloud infrastructure), which are often spread across several geographical locations and run on a variety of different types of hardware and software.
The management of advanced subnetting and configurations that are spread across multiple switches, routers, servers, and load balancers that support thousands of users requires additional support in network monitoring within an enterprise.
Although basic network monitoring is essential, the acquisition of monitoring tools that provide administrators with real-time statistics and visibility into the underlying network is an arguably more important component of your infrastructure. Hardware fails, and the greater the number of systems, appliances, and components that are installed on your network, the greater the likelihood of a critical failure that causes significant downtime. Most network monitoring systems notify you after a failure or a problem occurs within the network; however, a more sophisticated continuous real-time network monitoring system notifies you before the failure or problem occurs, giving administrators the opportunity to correct the problem before it has an impact on the bottom line of the company.
Network Security Monitoring – Detection and Response to Intrusions
In contrast to network monitoring, which collects data for the purpose of analysing basic traffic flows and the overall structure and integrity of your systems, network security monitoring safeguards you against the numerous potential vulnerabilities and exploits that exist out in the wild.
The importance of security monitoring is even greater than that of general monitoring. Security monitoring analyses a wide range of complex factors (network payloads, network protocols, client-server communications, encrypted traffic sessions, traffic patterns, and traffic flow) in order to alert administrators to known malicious activities in an attempt to contain a threat before it becomes widespread. Using the right monitoring tool, you can receive round-the-clock service that keeps an eye out for potential threats and suspicious behaviour in your business environment. Afterwards, administrators and analysts can investigate and gauge abnormal user patterns, and they can take appropriate action as needed.
In contrast to network operational monitoring, network security monitoring and the analysts who use it must be able to detect intrusions and all forms of attacks – including new, zero-day, and cutting-edge threats – in order to enable evidence-based decision making in the enterprise. Despite the fact that no security expert can guarantee 100 percent protection from attacks, new continuous network monitoring and analysis technologies can provide levels of detection and mitigation support that can significantly reduce the likelihood of an attack or breach occurring in the first place. A reduction in the time it takes to detect an attack, as well as the ability to significantly reduce or avoid the damage it causes, will be realised by those who can take advantage of continuous real-time network security monitoring, analysis, and remediation.
It’s important to note that an attacker can compromise a system and exfiltrate data in a matter of minutes. This means that network security monitoring system quality is determined by the speed with which suspicious traffic is reported to administrators, as well as whether the system continuously analyses data in motion or data at rest.
Although Distinct, Both Tools Overlap
Network monitoring tools typically include a set of configurable dashboards or controls that can be used to orchestrate specific tests across the infrastructure that is under administration. While automating the network analysis process, administrators can initiate various tests or analytics, as well as set indicators and create whitelists and blacklists, and monitor the results. Despite the fact that automated solutions can relieve administrators or network teams of the burden of performing redundant tasks, human judgement is still an important component of a fully functional solution. Also important is that all aspects of network monitoring AND network security monitoring—which do overlap—must work together in order to provide complete analytics.
Taking network monitoring as an example, network monitoring is concerned with understanding the composition of all components within a compute infrastructure, as well as their availability, status, behaviour, performance, and configuration; however, security is inextricably woven into each of these responsibilities. If an attacker is able to launch a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack against servers and appliances, you will not be able to maintain availability. A performance bottleneck can only be created if an attacker can infect your network with malware while taking advantage of network configurations that leave your systems vulnerable.
This is why it is common for network administrators to collaborate directly with the security team and to combine tools in order to perform multiple functions while also correlating results. The dilemma that frequently arises is that by using the same tools for both network monitoring and security monitoring, you run the risk of reducing the effectiveness of security monitoring itself. Monitoring tools that claim to be a “jack of all trades” are typically mediocre when it comes to security monitoring, leaving the environment vulnerable to advanced attacks, including zero-day exploits, as a result.
Network and security monitoring used to be limited to internal infrastructure only, and this was true for many years. Even small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can now have networks that span WAN connections, branch offices, data centres, and cloud hosts. The massive amount of data that must be collected as a result of this expanded business infrastructure presents a challenge. The collection of data immediately puts a strain on network performance, and the volume of packets being analysed can quickly become overwhelming to handle. After only a few minutes of packet captures, a few megabytes of data can be accumulated, so imagine how much storage and processing power would be required for a full day’s worth of packet captures.
Although network traffic analysis is required by administrators for all forms of network monitoring, choosing the wrong solution can have negative consequences for availability, integrity, and performance. To be truly effective, monitoring tools must be able to provide continuous, ubiquitous analysis that is updated in real time. As previously stated, because data exfiltration only takes a few minutes, using monitoring tools that provide data that is several hours old is no longer a practical option.
Our approach and tools must be revised and updated as necessary.