Change, like most things in life, is unavoidable. The same can be said for any company’s IT infrastructure and operating systems. But, with that in mind, it’s important to understand who makes the changes and why they’re made. Is a move made by an approved employee with the best interests of the company in mind, or is it triggered by a cybercriminal who wants to corrupt the system and commit a cybercrime? Organizations commonly use a control system known as file integrity monitoring to detect unwanted and unusual changes in operating systems or applications (FIM).
In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know about FIM, including how to use it, what software is available, the advantages, and the legal implications of using software and tools to track file integrity.
So, What Is File Integrity Monitoring?
File integrity monitoring, also known as change monitoring, is used to maintain the integrity of your files by detecting any changes made to them, as the name implies. FIM can be used on a variety of systems, including your network, operating system, cloud, and others.
FIM is an artificial intelligence-based risk reduction technology (AI). It analyses all changes in a system, compares them to a predefined standard, and notifies management or the individual in charge if any unforeseen changes are discovered. This enables the company to detect any changes that may pose a security risk, a potential cyber attack, or a regulatory enforcement breach.
The FIM app looks at:
- who modified the file;
- when and what changes have been made;
- unusual changes in file sizes, versions and file configuration;
- unauthorized access of confidential files, system binaries, and directories; and
- changes in security settings, permissions, and registry keys.
File integrity programme, on the other hand, is flexible and can do more than just track files. It can also be used to configure hardware and IoT devices, applications, activity logs, operating systems, directory servers, media files, and cloud settings.
File Integrity Monitoring Software
Your company would need to instal file integrity management software or tools in order to use FIM technology. OSSEC, Tripwire, Qualys, McAfee Change Control, Kaspersky Labs, Splunk, Trustwave, and CloudPassage are some of the most well-known FIM software providers.
However, before choosing a FIM tool, make sure it has the following characteristics:
- Flexibility: File integrity management software must be able to add and delete files as required, as well as change the baseline. It should also allow you to make changes to and customise policies.
- Compatibility: The tool must work with a variety of files, operation logs, operating systems, hardware devices, and cloud configurations.
- Reduce “Noise”: It’s simple for these systems to be “noisy,” which means they have a lot of data without context. FIM solutions that only notify you when appropriate are the most powerful. They also make recommendations for how to proceed in terms of file reconstruction and remediation.
- Affordability: All FIM providers have tailored pricing practises to suit the needs of various organisations. A FIM software package will cost anything from $500 to thousands of dollars. Before deciding on a provider for your business, make sure you get quotes from many.
How Does the File Integrity Monitoring Work?
Let’s look at how FIM operates now that you know what it is and what to look for in a successful FIM solution. This procedure has been divided into two sections. We’ll start with what you’ll need to do to get it up and running, and then we’ll go through how it works on your device after it’s been installed successfully.
How to Implement File Integrity Monitoring
Install FIM Software
Select the best FIM provider for your requirements, budget, and technology. It can be installed in either an agent-based or an agentless mode on your system. But what exactly do these terms imply?
Agent-based file integrity monitoring involves installing agent software on the monitored host to provide real-time file monitoring. However, it consumes a significant amount of the host’s resources.
A scanner in an agentless file integrity monitoring system detects changes at the scheduled time and hashes all of the system’s files each time it scans. It’s simple to set up, but there will be no real-time monitoring.
Choose the Area of Monitoring
Choose which files, computers, programme configurations, directory servers, media files, and cloud settings to include in the FIM software. You must decide which areas are the most vulnerable and must be constantly monitored.
Define a Baseline
Any FIM tool requires a reference point, which it compares to the changes it senses in order to spot any suspicious activity. For all of your files and IT setups, you must establish a baseline or reference point. The following items can be included in the baseline:
- hash values,
- file size,
- access privileges,
- user credentials, and
- security settings.
Setting up the baseline takes the most time, but it’s also the most important step in reducing noise and false-positive alerts. You must keep a close eye on all of the normal (authorised) changes and establish separate baselines for each monitoring region. Instead of an absolute point, the baseline can sometimes be a range of values.
How Does FIM Work?
The FIM’s work starts after the company completes the three steps outlined above.
Detection and monitoring
Once installed, the FIM app will begin tracking any changes made to your files, programmes, logs, settings, and so on. It compares the adjustments to the baseline by observing when, how, and by whom they are made. Organizations should make the necessary adjustments to minimise false alarms. DDoS attacks, phishing attacks, unauthorised device access, data theft, malware or ransomware injections, and insider threats are all detected by most FIM devices.
Hundreds of code files can be found in the directory of a company website. Even if the management is aware that malware has been inserted into the website, finding malicious injections within thousands of lines of code is difficult. The ability of file integrity monitoring tools to pinpoint which specific files and codes have been compromised makes the recovery process quicker and easier. It can also manage the wp-config.php and.htaccess files on WordPress pages.
A file integrity management tool sends out automatic email alerts to the appropriate people and keeps track of everything on its dashboard. A successful FIM software application would also recommend reconciliation measures (such as how to restore files). Any FIM programme deletes corrupted files and takes remediation action automatically. For your IT audits, you can also generate reports from the FIM software’s dashboard.
Benefits of Implementing File Integrity Monitoring
Now that you understand how file integrity management software functions, the million-dollar question is what value it adds to an enterprise. Is it really worth the investment, or will a company get by without it?
Let’s take a look at the FIM tool’s features and see how useful it is in real life:
FIM is needed to meet with many crucial regulatory compliance standards, such as:
- PCI-DSS — Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard;
- HIPAA — Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act;
- SOX — Sarbanes-Oxley Act;
- FISMA — Federal Information Security Management Act;
- NERC CIP — North American Electric Reliability Corporation critical infrastructure protection; and
- NIST — National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Protection Against External Cyber Attacks
Any suspicious changes in the device, which may signify a cyber attack, are detected by FIM software. To minimise the harm, it’s critical to identify cyber attacks at their earliest stages.
Insider Threat Detection
An insider danger is indicated by a shift in activity records, odd changes in access conditions and permissions, mass data access and transfer, and so on (where current or former employees corrupt the system or steal valuable data). These events are tracked by FIM software and brought to management’s attention until it’s too late.
When a corporation suffers a cyber assault, it not only loses millions of dollars in litigation, but its image suffers as well. (In some cases, the damage is so severe that no amount of positive publicity can help.) It takes decades and a lot of money to develop a reputation and a brand image. However, all it takes is a single cyber attack or data leak to bring everything crashing down. FIM adds an additional layer of protection to the company’s defences against such calamities.
File Integrity Monitoring and PCI-DSS Compliance
Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard must be followed by any website that handles sensitive financial data such as credit card/debit card numbers and bank account information. There are several laws that a website must obey in order to achieve PCI DSS compliance status. The criteria that recommend using file integrity monitoring to ensure the security of users’ financial information are as follows:
PCI-DSS Requirement 11.5
Deploy a change-detection mechanism (for example, file-integrity monitoring tools) to alert personnel to unauthorized modification (including changes, additions, and deletions) of critical system files, configuration files, or content files; and configure the software to perform critical file comparisons at least weekly.”
PCI-DSS Requirement 10.5.5
Use file-integrity monitoring or change-detection software on logs to ensure that existing log data cannot be changed without generating alerts (although new data being added should not cause an alert).”
As you can see, the PCI DSS suggests that merchants use file integrity monitoring (or other similar change detection systems) to monitor sensitive files for changes, ensuring that any unwanted data alteration is detected. It implies that the activity logs should be carefully monitored as well. If anyone attempts to adjust the operation records, the FIM programme can warn the responsible staff.
File Integrity Monitoring and HIPAA Compliance
Any tampering with health data will result in serious consequences. It not only gives the medical care provider false health details, but it can also lead to data theft, identity theft, and ransomware attacks. According to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, healthcare providers must take reasonable measures to ensure that all healthcare-related data is authenticated, recorded, intervention-protected, and integrity-protected. Fines of up to $1.5 million will be imposed if a data breach occurs and the healthcare agency is not HIPAA-compliant.
In terms of file monitoring, take a look at the following HIPPA requirements for integrity protection:
§ 164.312(e)(2)(i): Integrity Controls Addressable
Implement security measures to ensure that electronically transmitted electronic protected health information is not improperly modified without detection until disposed of.”
§ 164.312(c)(2): Mechanism to authenticate ePHI
Implement electronic mechanisms to corroborate that electronic protected health information has not been altered or destroyed in an unauthorized manner.”
Unlike PCI DDS, HIPAA does not specifically recommend the use of FIM software, but it does recommend that any electronically transmitted sensitive health data be shielded from unauthorised alteration. Health-care entities must incorporate a monitoring system to ensure the data has not been tampered with or lost without authorization. As you would expect, in order to comply with this law, healthcare organisations must implement a control system, such as a file integrity management solution.
The Drawbacks of File Integrity Management Solutions
File integrity monitoring is a critical method for detecting unauthorised changes and recording identified changes. However, just like any other technology, FIM has some drawbacks. False positives are one of the drawbacks of using FIM applications. If you don’t set up the baseline correctly, the FIM tool can interpret a legitimate adjustment as an illegal one and issue a warning note, making your warnings false positive. When the number of false positives rises, investigative time and money are squandered.
Another disadvantage of FIM is its price. It can be a significant financial strain for entrepreneurs and small businesses. However, the benefits of FIM outweigh the costs because cybercrime can cause significant direct and indirect harm to a company.
A Final Thought
Despite any disadvantages, the advantages of file integrity management outweigh the disadvantages. FIM is essential to your legal compliance if you’re an agency or company that manages users’ confidential financial details or health-related information. You must enforce it into your own structures. As you’ve seen, an effective file integrity management solution is a critical tool for maintaining a strong security posture in your organisation.