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Struggling With Attack Detection And Analysis

New survey shows organizations don't know when they've been attacked and can't easily determine scope of attacks

Enterprises are increasingly finding it harder to detect attacks in a timely fashion or quickly determine the scope of attacks when they are discovered. A new survey out this week shows that while the majority of organizations seem confident in their ability to quickly analyze and respond to security alerts, many have a hard time finding attacks in real-time or even being sure they've experienced an attack.

Conducted among 250 decision-makers worldwide, the Bit9 survey showed that 62 percent of organizations analyze and respond to security alerts. However, more than a fifth of organizations reported their ability to protect endpoints and servers from emerging threats that have no signature to be deficient or non-existent. Nearly the same amount of organizations reported the same deficiency in their ability to determine in real-time how many systems are infected by file discovered to be malicious.

Furthermore, 55 percent of organizations reported that they either couldn't discover zero-day attacks or only could find them by accident during routine maintenance or if a user contacts help desk due to abnormal system behavior.

[Are you missing the downsides of big data security analysis? See 3 Inconvenient Truths About Big Data In Security Analysis.]

Perhaps most telling of all, though, is that a full 13 percent of decision makers reported that they didn't know whether they'd experienced an attack in the past year.

"That was a big surprise. I would expect that number to be a single digit and a low single digit at that," says Nick Levay, CSO of Bit9. "A lot of organizations don't necessarily do a good job of keeping track of metrics related security events. I have a feeling that inadequate tracking of some of that stuff results in senior decision makers not necessarily having an accurate view of what kinds of security events are occurring in the network."

It's a trend corroborated by many experts operating within the security space, who explain that organizations are not able to keep up with advanced attacks due to poor visibility across isolated systems.

"Many companies have infected machines and don't even know it, highlighting the advanced nature of certain malware," says Vann Abernethy, senior product manager at NSFOCUS. "Some very advanced malware variants can move laterally within an organization to avoid detection, then go dormant for a long time, communicate back to its command and control using encryption, or turn off common anti-virus and anti-malware."

Abernethy explains that organizations need to be able to augment existing security defenses with better forensics, so that security teams are looking closely at system behavior through "daily forensic inspection and data analysis."

Most organizations today don't focus enough on that kind of analysis, instead overly relying on alerting and prevention tools, says Jason Mical, vice president of cyber security for AccessData.

"These products only catch what you tell them to look for," he says. "At this point, organizations need to increase their visibility into what's happening in their enterprises and focus on eliminating those cyber security blind spots."

In order to do that, more security organizations have to streamline their cybersecurity infrastructure, Mical says.

This means finding ways to better enable real-time collaboration across different infosec teams and potentially considering ways to consolidate disparate analysis tools into a platform-based technology approach.

"Right now, most organizations still have disparate teams, each using several disparate tools. They have to correlate all the critical data manually," he says. "It causes dangerous delays in validating suspected threats or responding to known threats."

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Ericka Chickowski specializes in coverage of information technology and business innovation. She has focused on information security for the better part of a decade and regularly writes about the security industry as a contributor to Dark Reading.  View Full Bio

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