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What is Cyber Security Monitoring? Tools, Examples & Process [2023 Guide]

What is Cyber Security Monitoring? Tools, Examples & Process [2023 Guide]

Cyber threats continue to evolve at an alarming rate, with over 300,000 new malware instances generated daily as of 2023. A staggering 92% are distributed through email, granting cybercriminals a massive vector to infiltrate organizations around the world. With the average detection time sitting at 49 days, the damage can be immense by the time an attack is uncovered.

As technology advances, cybercriminals come up with more sophisticated ways to break into networks and steal critical data. This brings up the vital need for robust cyber security monitoring to nip cyber attacks in the bud.

In this article, we will dig deep into what is cyber security monitoring, the must-have cyber security monitoring tools to keep threats at bay, real-world cyber security monitoring examples, and the step-by-step process to roll out monitoring across an organization.

Cyber security monitoring has evolved from being an afterthought to an indispensable fixture in every company’s cyber defense strategy. Read on as we lay out what it takes to stay on top of emerging cyber threats and anomalies in your network and pre-empt attacks before they result in irreparable damage.

Table of Contents

What is Cyber Security Monitoring?

Cyber security monitoring is the process of actively looking over, keeping tabs on, and checking up on an organization’s networks, systems, and applications to catch sight of potential security threats or weaknesses as they crop up.

Constant monitoring gets security teams up to speed on what’s going on across their digital estates at all times. It keeps them in the loop about normal behavior so they know how to spot when something is off or out of the blue, allowing them to respond rapidly to emerging issues. In short, cyber security monitoring is all about staying on top of your systems to mitigate risks and stay one step ahead of ever-evolving cyber threats.

Importance of Cyber Security Monitoring

As cyber threats evolve in complexity and scale, constant vigilance is crucial for safeguarding an organization’s data and infrastructure. Effective monitoring serves as the first line of defense, providing real-time insights to detect and thwart potential breaches.

Let’s dive into importance of continuous cyber security monitoring. 

Minimize data breaches

Continuously tracking traffic in and out of the network allows security teams to catch intruders trying to sneak data out or install malware before major damage occurs. Helps organizations better fend off attempts by cybercriminals to make off with sensitive customer records.

Improve response time to attacks

Tools continuously watching over endpoints arms analysts to expeditiously spot attacks as they start playing out. Monitoring speeds up detection so security teams can rapidly jump into action and curb incidents before they have the opportunity to spread very far.

Address security vulnerabilities

Scanning across all devices for flaws keeps IT pros clued into weaknesses like open ports, outdated software, or missing patches. Enables them to promptly patch problems or shore up defenses to stop malicious actors from leveraging vulnerabilities at their earliest stages.

Ensure compliance with standards and regulations

Regulators and auditors increasingly demand evidence of active threat detection. Monitoring logs and events justifies organizations are proactively looking over digital operations to flag non-compliant activities or suspicious policy violations occurring.

Reduce downtime

Enabling faster identification and containment when errors happen, or glitches emerge from incidents like DDoS attacks or data center failures, monitoring helps IT teams swiftly get systems back up and running. Cuts back on unplanned outages seriously impacting business productivity.

Tools for Cyber Security Monitoring  

In an era where cyber threats are ever-evolving, having the right tools for cyber security monitoring is essential. 

From intrusion detection systems to real-time analytics, these tools act as the backbone of your security architecture, enabling you to proactively identify, analyze, and mitigate risks.

SIEM tools and software solutions

SIEM solutions continuously log security-related events across an organization’s network and systems. They collect monitoring data to analyze and flag any irregularities or suspicious patterns of activity for security teams to delve deeper into.

Endpoint monitoring

Technologies like antivirus and EDR keep close tabs on endpoints like workstations, servers, and mobile devices. They track user behaviors, installs, file changes, and network activities at the device level. 

This helps pinpoint compromised assets or abnormalities originating from a single endpoint.

Network monitoring

Network monitoring solutions watch traffic traversing an organization’s WAN, LAN, and wireless networks. They inspect inbound/outbound traffic for malware, sniff out abnormal traffic volumes and unauthorized access points. 

Network monitoring alerts security teams when anomalous traffic or protocol violations occur within networks.

Examples of Cyber Security Monitoring Tools

ARGUS

ARGUS is a distributed event collection, analysis, and correlation system. It can collect events from a variety of sources, including network devices, servers, and applications. ARGUS can also correlate events to identify patterns of malicious activity. 

It diligently tracks system processes and user behaviors, flagging any deviations that admins should further scrutinize.

  • Collects events from a variety of sources: ARGUS uses a variety of methods to collect events, including polling, trap-based monitoring, and file-based monitoring.
  • Analyzes events: ARGUS uses a variety of techniques to analyze events, including pattern matching, statistical analysis, and machine learning.
  • Correlates events: ARGUS correlates events to identify patterns of malicious activity, which  is done by looking for relationships between events, such as events that occur at the same time or events that occur in a specific sequence.

OSSEC

OSSEC is a free and open-source host-based intrusion detection system (HIDS). It monitors system logs, files, and processes for signs of malicious activity. 

It continuously oversees Windows, Linux, and Mac systems, promptly alerting on policy violations or unauthorized alterations. OSSEC can also be used to collect and store security audit data.

  • Monitors system logs: OSSEC monitors system logs for events such as failed login attempts, unauthorized access to files, and changes to system configuration.
  • Monitors files: OSSEC monitors files for changes, such as new files being created or existing files being modified.
  • Monitors processes: OSSEC monitors processes for suspicious activity, such as processes that are running with elevated privileges or processes that are trying to access unauthorized resources.

Splunk

Splunk is a widely adopted enterprise SIEM platform adept at aggregating logs from diverse devices, apps, and infrastructures. 

It deftly parses voluminous data streams, skillfully correlating events to rapidly pinpoint root causes behind incidents.

  • Collects security logs: Splunk can collect security logs from a variety of sources, including network devices, servers, and applications.
  • Stores security logs: Splunk stores security logs in a central repository for easy access and analysis.
  • Analyzes security logs: Splunk uses a variety of techniques to analyze security logs, including pattern matching, statistical analysis, and machine learning.
  • Generates reports: Splunk can generate reports on security logs to help organizations identify and track threats.
  • Creates alerts: Splunk can create alerts based on patterns of malicious activity. These alerts can be used to notify security teams of potential threats.

P0F

P0F is a lightweight passive OS fingerprinting tool that shrewdly examines network traffic to discern OS, device types, and client details. 

It is often deployed to aptly categorize unknown entities and assist Machine Learning models in detecting anomalies on networks.

  • Analyzes the TCP/IP handshake: P0F analyzes the TCP/IP handshake to identify the operating system of the remote host. The analysis is done by looking at the way the remote host responds to certain requests.

Nagios

Nagios is a go-to standard for monitoring infrastructure and services, and alerting on server errors or downtime. 

It keenly watches configurable metrics, promptly notifying when predefined SLA thresholds are exceeded to ensure consistent uptime.

  • Monitors a variety of systems and services: Nagios can be used to monitor a variety of systems and services. This includes network devices, servers, and applications.
  • Sends alerts when problems are detected: Nagios can be used to send alerts when problems are detected. This helps organizations to quickly identify and resolve problems.

Process & Steps for Implementing a Cyber Security Monitoring Program

To bolster their defenses, organizations must diligently implement a cohesive security monitoring strategy. This entails several critical steps:

Select the right tools and software

Shortlist various solutions based on pedigree and capabilities. Carefully evaluate each option to ascertain they can adeptly detect pertinent alerts. Only those equipped to deeply analyze vast event streams should be considered.

Train and hire experts

Recruit or train in-house specialists versed in security analytics. Continual skills refinement readies analysts to keenly detect even stealthy threats. Monitoring duties demand dedicated experts who can aptly operate tools and discern incident patterns.

Employ a Managed Security Service Provider

Leverage managed detection and response from expert MSPs to supplement less developed in-house teams. This taps their constant oversight to swiftly flag off-hour breaches. Augmentation via outsourcing provisionally improves immediate response abilities.

Identify assets and events to monitor

Maintain rigorous asset management by consistently logging all critical systems and networks requiring coverage. Pay close attention to accurately prioritize monitoring based on data classification. Maintaining precision is key to minimizing false positives.

Establish active monitoring and incident response plan

Finally, carefully codify standardized playbooks for 24/7 monitoring and nimble incident handling. Regularly hone these skills to ensure practitioners can readily coordinate containment with minimal fallout. Drills are important to methodically assess enhancements over time.

Examples of Cyber Security Monitoring

Understanding the concept of cyber security monitoring is often best illustrated through real-world examples. 

From network intrusion detection to log analysis, these instances showcase the diverse ways monitoring can be applied to protect against a range of cyber threats.

Case Study 1: Target Breach 

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In 2013, Target was broadsided by a massive data breach that compromised over 40 million credit and debit cards. Hackers pulled off the attack by breaking into Target’s systems via a third-party refrigeration vendor, Fazio Mechanical, that had lax security.

Overview of the incident

The perpetrators installed hard-to-detect malware that siphoned off encrypted data stored on the magnetic stripes of payment cards. This indicates the malware may have been planted through an automated update process that Fazio Mechanical did not catch.

Once in, the hackers had access to Target’s point-of-sale systems and scraped customer names, card numbers, expiration dates, and PINs. The company was caught unawares despite passing PCI compliance audits, showing that policies had not been hashed out properly.

The breach was a gut punch that knocked Target off its feet during the holiday season. Profits tanked 46% in Q4 2013 as customer visits nosedived. The CEO stepped down, and over 140 lawsuits were filed. Estimates peg the total costs at $252 million before lawsuits.

In hindsight, Target overlooked several warnings and left networks poorly segmented. Information security practices fell through the cracks, leaving systems wide open to phishing schemes. This highlights the need for air-tight cybersecurity to avoid getting blindsided again.

The company eventually shelled out $18.5 million in a settlement that mandated hiring a CISO and third-party encryption. Target also had to shift to EMV chip cards that would have foiled the malware. While Target picked up the pieces, the breach forever changed its security posture.

The key takeaways are that Target lacked adequate safeguards, neglected warnings, and had porous network segmentation. Robust cybersecurity requires continuous vigilance, regular audits, proper segmentation, and end-to-end encryption. 

Companies must keep security top of mind to avoid leaving loopholes that get exploited in attacks.

How cyber security monitoring could have helped prevent or detect the breach

A multi-faceted security strategy would have curbed the detrimental impacts of this intrusion on Target and its patrons.

  • Had Target tracked payment terminal behaviors, anomalies may have raised flags. Monitoring applications logging operations could have detected compromised machines beaconing out odd data.
  • Overseeing network traffic patterns, security teams might have spotted the intruders establishing a foothold. Firewalls continuously double-checking inbound connections could have blocked the initial malware infiltration.
  • Once embedded, endpoint solutions scrutinizing each register’s processes might have caught the controllers installed. Alerting on unexpected applications phoning home risks being thwarted.
  • A SIEM platform amassing logs throughout numerous divisions could have cleverly identified the developing signs of an organized shakedown. Timely alerts when stores started sporadically phoning out card details risks interrupting exfiltration.

With proactive cyber security network monitoring and cyber security threat monitoring scanning every vulnerable entry point, this large-scale breach may have been averted altogether or its damage contained sooner. Vigilance foils future fallout from similar infiltrations.

Case Study 2: WannaCry Ransomware Attack 

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Overview of the incident

The WannaCry ransomware worm wreaked havoc when it ripped through over 200,000 computers across 150 countries on May 12, 2017. Major companies like FedEx and Honda were blindsided as operations ground to a halt. The UK’s National Health Service was knocked off its feet, forcing ambulances to detour patients.

WannaCry spread rapidly by exploiting a Windows vulnerability called EternalBlue, developed by the NSA and leaked online. The ransomware took advantage of unpatched older Windows systems to propagate widely.

Within hours, the outbreak was stymied when a researcher stumbled upon a kill switch domain that shut WannaCry down. But significant damage was already done, with many victims shelling out ransom payments to unencrypt locked systems.

Attribution remains muddy, with some believing North Korea’s Lazarus Group was behind the attack. But false flags may have been planted to pin it on North Korea. The hacker collective Shadow Brokers has also been implicated.

The researcher Marcus Hutchins emerged as an unsung hero after he registered the kill switch domain for just $10.69. This essentially pulled the plug on WannaCry by making it quit executing when it detected a response from the domain.

Key takeaways are that organizations must patch systems promptly and segment networks to contain outbreaks. Shoring up cybersecurity and having an incident response plan are critical to avoid being broadsided by ransomware attacks. 

While WannaCry was stopped in its tracks thanks to a kill switch, organizations must not bank on dumb luck and instead prepare for fast-spreading threats.

How cyber security monitoring could have helped prevent or detect the attack

Robust cyber security monitoring likely would have aided in warding off or rapidly flagging the widespread WannaCry ransomware outbreak in 2017.

  • Had organizations tracked Windows updates and patches, they could have noticed unpatched systems existing on networks. Promptly applying the March MS17-010 patch would have prevented the initial infection vector.
  • Vigilant endpoint monitoring also may have caught the malware setting up shop. Signatures alerting on its abnormal encrypted file operations or registry modifications could have quickly tipped off analysts.
  • Network monitoring detecting the ransomware actively scanning for other vulnerable machines might have immediately throttled its internal spread. Firewalls reshaping traffic patterns may have contained the contagion.
  • Even once launched, a SIEM platform consolidating logs might have cleverly identified the early anomalies indicating a coordinated attack. Rapid correlation could have uncovered the compromised hosts initiating lateral movement.
  • Earlier detection would have helped security personnel rapidly enact countermeasures. Isolating or shutting down breached endpoints might have stopped the adversary short of encrypting sensitive files across entire networks.
  • Proactive monitoring diligently overseeing weak spots thus could have blocked this threat or, at minimum, contained damage before global repercussions accrued. Vigilance in tracking emerging attacks bolsters future incident evasion.

Best Practices for Effective Cyber Security Monitoring

Implementing robust cyber security monitoring is more than just deploying the right tools; it’s about adhering to best practices that elevate your security posture. 

From regular audits to layered defenses, effective monitoring involves a multifaceted approach designed to catch vulnerabilities before they become threats.

Regular vulnerability assessments

Carrying out regular vulnerability assessments is crucial to stay on top of flaws in your system. By scanning networks, devices, and applications, you can sniff out security gaps before attackers take advantage of them. 

Schedule periodic vulnerability scans to uncover weak points and patch them up before adversaries dig in. Falling behind on vulnerability checks can open the door wide for data breaches.

Real-time alerting and incident response

Prompt detection and quick response are key to mitigating damage from cyber attacks. Real-time monitoring and alerting helps to nip attacks in the bud before they spiral out of control. At the first sign of an anomaly, the team must spring into action to contain the incident. 

Make sure to lay out an incident response plan detailing how to react to different attack scenarios. Carry out drills to keep the team match-fit in handling cyber emergencies. A slow response can allow attacks to snowball into catastrophic breaches.

Regular updates and patches

While assessing vulnerabilities, don’t forget to roll out regular software updates and patches. Cybercriminals prey on known software vulnerabilities, so patching holes as they are discovered goes a long way in locking intruders out. 

Set up procedures to stay on top of patches for operating systems, browsers, apps, and services. Standardizing patch management across the organization is vital to eliminate security gaps.

Employee training and awareness

Employees are the first line of defense against cyber attacks. Running regular security awareness programs can spur employees to be extra vigilant. Educate them on phishing schemes, social engineering, password security, and safe web practices. 

Bolster training with phishing simulation emails to keep employees alert. Promoting a culture of security makes the workforce your ally instead of your weakest link.

Ensuring effective attack detection

Prevention alone is not enough – focus on nailing down effective attack detection, too. Fortify cyber security network monitoring to spot anomalies, suspicious traffic, unauthorized access attempts, and malicious activity. 

Correlate insights from firewalls, endpoints, servers, etc. to connect the dots. Make sure to fine-tune detection rules to minimize false positives. Swiftly pinpointing actual attacks is crucial for rapid incident response.

Importance of continuous monitoring

Periodic assessments alone cannot keep up with rapidly evolving threats. The key is continuous security monitoring – around-the-clock vigilance across the environment. Monitor networks, endpoints, system logs, applications, and users to catch issues in real-time. 

Set up automation to take over mundane tasks like compliance reporting. Continuous monitoring helps get ahead of threats before they culminate in data theft or destruction.

In summary, robust cyber security monitoring boils down to regularly reviewing vulnerabilities, enforcing real-time threat detection, promptly responding to incidents, installing updates, training employees, and non-stop vigilance. 

With persistent cyber security threat monitoring and nipping problems in the bud, organizations can thwart cyber attacks in their tracks.

Conclusion

As seen through various real-world examples, a combination of the right monitoring tools is necessary to maintain full visibility. SIEM platforms, endpoint sensors, network appliances, and other specialized solutions all contribute unique insights. 

When deployed together as part of a well-planned monitoring program, they augment defenders’ capability to thoroughly investigate incidents, hunt for stealthy adversaries, and preempt future attacks.

In the face of persistent digital threats, cyber security monitoring serves as a crucial line of defense. When honed with the right people, technologies, and processes, it arms security teams to get ahead of intruders and safeguard sensitive data no matter what new tactics may be deployed. 

Comprehensive visibility is mission-critical – this overview of monitoring highlights why it must be a fundamental part of any security program.

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FAQ

1. What is cyber security monitoring?

Answer: Cyber security monitoring is the continuous oversight of an organization’s networks, systems, and applications to detect and respond to potential security threats in real-time.

2. Why is cyber cecurity monitoring important?

Answer: It serves as the first line of defense against cyber threats, helping organizations to quickly identify and respond to security incidents, thereby minimizing damage and downtime.

3. What tools are commonly used for cyber security monitoring?

Answer: Tools commonly used include SIEM solutions, endpoint monitoring technologies, and network monitoring solutions. These tools help in real-time analysis and threat detection.

4. Can you give an example of how cyber security monitoring can prevent an attack?

Answer: In the case of the Target breach, effective cyber security monitoring could have flagged anomalies in payment terminal behaviors and network traffic patterns, potentially preventing the breach.

5. What are the key steps to implement a cyber security monitoring program?

Answer: Steps include selecting the right tools, training experts, identifying assets and events to monitor, and establishing an incident response plan.

6. What are the benefits of using a Managed Security Service Provider (MSSP)?

Answer: An MSSP can provide expert oversight, helping to quickly identify and respond to threats, especially during off-hours, thereby augmenting your in-house security capabilities.

7. How does cyber security monitoring ensure compliance?

Answer: Continuous monitoring provides the evidence needed to prove that an organization is actively identifying and responding to security threats, thereby aiding in compliance with regulatory standards.

8. What is real-time alerting and why is it important?

Answer: Real-time alerting immediately notifies security teams of potential threats, enabling quick action to prevent or contain incidents.

9. How often should vulnerability assessments be conducted?

Answer: Regular, periodic assessments are crucial to identify and patch security gaps before they can be exploited by cybercriminals.

10. How can employee training improve cyber security monitoring?

Answer: Trained employees can act as an additional layer of defense by identifying phishing schemes, using strong passwords, and following safe web practices, thus complementing technical monitoring measures.

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