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When Is a Stack Not a Stack? When It's Unified in the Cloud

All the right tools do not necessarily give you the best visibility across your enterprise

While trawling the blogs, feeds and news I came across an analyst’s article about best security practices in which he kept referring to “the stack.” And by this, he meant a multitude of various solutions that address certain security needs and capabilities; everything from email filtering, firewalling, authenticating, credentialing, logging and intrusion detection, etc...

And, if you read my blogs often enough, you know I am a big proponent of unified security. However, unified security is not a stack. It is easy to be confused as both look to utilize best of breed tools to prevent negative impact on IP assets. A stack references a number of technologies where each operates independently from one another. Single sign on by itself is a sufficient tool, but when operating alone in its own silo, important contextual information is lost.

The unified approach, as I describe in REACT, is a collaborative practice whereby each tools’ capabilities are cooperatively leveraged. It is a tightly integrated system where everything is correlated in real time in order to provide an accurate and up-to-the-moment view of who is doing what and how to your online and network resources. For example all the data collected from identity or access management is shared with SIEM and Log Management. Unification is about better visibility. It marries the features and functionality into a central understanding of what is truly going on in your network.

As 451 Group analyst and research director Rachel Chalmers said, “It takes more than a firewall to secure virtual infrastructure.”

Let’s look at unified security collaboration (UniSec) from a more practical standpoint. Your company has invested in several cloud-based database/CRM and other useful (legacy) applications. In some cases sensitive data exists somewhere in these apps—passwords, customer numbers, invoices, even personal/personnel information. Now single sign on makes it easier for authorized users to log into these resources. Identity management provisions (based on roles/rules) what specific assets they can see. If it ends there, you have partial visibility. You have controlled information and get the necessary reports. They only cover certain applications, but not the entire expanded network.

However, you also use a log management tool. So every log on is noted in some machine code and filed away for further review. But, your security designee is now reviewing similar data in multiple places. And, it’s often without context and days or weeks after any particular incident.

Now assume your company also has SIEM or some version of intrusion detection. Is it looking at Active Directory log ons? Is it looking at application usage? Is it notating unusual activity? Is it doing so in real time?

If stacked, you potentially have all the tools but, like a thoroughbred with blinders, it doesn’t see to the left or right. These tools do their job, but if they are performing in parallel, your visibility is limited. When unified through a REACT (real time event and access correlation technology) platform, a very different picture may emerge. Because an active SIEM correlates data from multiple silos of information, what looked like a simple log in, now is suspect (or vice versa). Who is accessing the database and making modifications at 3 in the morning? Who is using an unsecured device? Why does R&D need access to payroll records? Why is a retired password being used to log on…from an IP address in Bulgaria? Mr. Jones is no longer an employee, but has logged in 3 times this week and accessed our customer list.

And most importantly, what can be done with enhanced visibility? Faster, better decisions; quicker response to potential harmful situations; smarter deployment of personnel and computing resources. And that the reporting and the capabilities are all controlled centrally removes the time and effort to compile and analyze all the silos independently.

The unified approach addresses the broader threat landscape. Threats aren’t always large brute force attacks by some army of hackers trying to knock down the castle door with a battering ram. In most cases they’re considerably more subtle, but just as destructive. So if you can intelligently correlate information from a variety of sources, the greyer, more problematic issues can be addressed, alerted and remediated.

Now bundle it up as a cloud-based security initiative and there emerges other tangible and budgetary benefits. Companies who were certain they could only afford firewall and malware protection can now deploy an enterprise-grade security program complete with live security-as-a-service analysts monitoring 24/7. The scalability and agility make this option very attractive and very affordable for most modest or budget restrictive companies.

It is a great first step if an organization makes the investment in such tools as SIEM, Log Management, Single Sign On, Identity and Access Management. If you can afford it and have the manpower the proactively manage it, great. However, not to belabor the point, having all these tools can be like having lumber, nails, appliances, carpeting, concrete, etc…but if it doesn't “work” together, it is not a house, it is simply a stack of  useful parts. . Unification makes it a house…and the cloud makes it a home!

Kevin Nikkhoo

More Stories By Kevin Nikkhoo

With more than 32 years of experience in information technology, and an extensive and successful entrepreneurial background, Kevin Nikkhoo is the CEO of the dynamic security-as-a-service startup Cloud Access. CloudAccess is at the forefront of the latest evolution of IT asset protection--the cloud.

Kevin holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering from McGill University, Master of Computer Engineering at California State University, Los Angeles, and an MBA from the University of Southern California with emphasis in entrepreneurial studies.

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