The industry is evolving from one of conventional threat detection toward a strategy that emphasizes context and preempts user behavior.

Katie McCullough, Chief Information Security Officer, Panzura

February 15, 2024

5 Min Read
Dashboard with the word "TRANSFORMATION" on screen
Source: Denis Putilov via Alamy Stock Photo


Cybersecurity, once a fortress built on rigid protocols and reactive measures, is undergoing a transformative shift. As digital landscapes become more intricate and data-driven, the need for a nuanced approach to safeguarding digital assets is more pronounced than ever. This evolution marks a departure from conventional threat detection, steering toward a strategy that emphasizes context and preempts user behavior to detect anomalous patterns.

This isn't just about erecting barriers against known threats; it's about delving deeper into the subtleties of how data is accessed, shared, and utilized. It's a proactive stance, focusing on the early detection of potential risks through the lens of user interactions and data movements, instead of simply "guarding the fort." For many analysts, this heralds a significant change in how organizations perceive and tackle cybersecurity, shifting the focus from basic threat hunting and detection to a more holistic understanding of the digital ecosystem.

Threat Hunting Alone Is No Longer Enough

The conventional model of cybersecurity has long been centered on reactive threat detection. This approach, grounded in the detection of known threats, remains important and was incredibly effective in a digital landscape where threats were more predictable and less complex. It relied on established security protocols and predefined threat databases, focusing on identifying and mitigating threats after they had breached the system. This method served as the foundation of many cybersecurity frameworks, operating under the assumption that known threats could be managed effectively with existing tools and knowledge.

However, the digital world's rapid expansion into the cloud, combined with a rush of new AI-based capabilities, has brought about a new era of cyber threats, characterized by their complexity and subtlety. The limitations of the traditional model have become increasingly apparent, as cyberattackers continuously develop novel methods to circumvent standard security measures. These emerging threats often exploit vulnerabilities in unexpected ways, making the reactive nature of threat detection on its own obsolete. This realization has sparked a crucial shift in cybersecurity, giving rise to strategies that are not just reactive but also proactive, leveraging user behavior and data flow to assess risk and preempt potential threats.

The Rise of User and Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA)

User and entity behavior analytics (UEBA) isn't exactly new, but it's now becoming standard. UEBA is unique in that it shifts the focus from simply responding to known threats to analyzing patterns of user and entity behavior to identify anomalies that could indicate potential security risks. This method leverages advanced analytics, machine learning, and "big data" to build a comprehensive baseline of normal user behavior, making it easier to spot deviations that could signal a breach or malicious activity. By focusing on behavior patterns, UEBA provides an adaptive, context-sensitive approach to security, capable of identifying threats that traditional tools might miss.

This approach is particularly effective in detecting insider threats, compromised accounts, and even subtle forms of data exfiltration. For instance, UEBA can flag activities like unusual login times, repeated failed access attempts, or unexpected spikes in data downloads. These activities, while not inherently malicious, can serve as early warning signs of potential security issues. It's not about spotting "bad behavior" per se, but about identifying "not good" behavior and flagging it as a potential concern. By integrating UEBA into their cybersecurity strategies, organizations can gain a more nuanced and proactive stance in their defense mechanisms, enabling them to respond to threats before they escalate into serious breaches.

The Growing Importance of Data Flow

Data flow involves deep-diving into the intricacies of how data is handled, accessed, and transferred within an organization. This concept extends beyond the traditional perimeter defense, delving into the granular aspects of data movement and access patterns. By understanding the mechanics of data — how it flows, who accesses it, and when — cybersecurity strategies can be fine-tuned to detect subtle irregularities that might indicate a security risk. It's like understanding the inner workings of a complex machine; by learning each part's role and normal operation, it becomes easier to identify when something doesn't work as intended. This level of insight is crucial in a landscape where threats are not always overt or immediately recognizable. By incorporating data flow into their cybersecurity framework, including good API security practices, organizations can adopt a more proactive stance, identifying and addressing potential vulnerabilities before they are exploited.

In tandem with the shift toward more nuanced cybersecurity strategies, there's also a growing emphasis on data privacy and the adoption of sovereign clouds and data localization. This trend reflects an increasing awareness of the need for stringent data protection, especially in a global context, where data regulations vary significantly across regions. Sovereign clouds offer a solution by aligning data storage and processing with local regulations, ensuring compliance and enhancing data sovereignty. This proactive approach to privacy is not just about adhering to laws like the GDPR; it's about recognizing the importance of regional nuances in data regulation and providing a tailored response. By integrating these considerations into their cybersecurity framework, organizations ensure that their data management practices are not only secure but also compliant with the diverse legal requirements they face, fortifying their stance on both cybersecurity and data privacy.

Integrating UEBA Into Modern Cybersecurity Strategies

Modern cybersecurity solutions that support UEBA often include features that facilitate secure remote access to data, controlled sharing, and collaboration, all while maintaining a vigilant watch over data security. These features ensure that while employees and partners can access and work with data seamlessly, any unusual activity is promptly identified and addressed. This balance of security and usability is crucial in today's fast-paced, data-driven business environments, where the agility of operations must be matched with uncompromising security measures. By weaving UEBA and data flow into their security initiatives, organizations can achieve this balance, creating a robust security framework that supports, rather than hinders, their operational goals.

About the Author(s)

Katie McCullough

Chief Information Security Officer, Panzura

Katie McCullough is the Chief Information Security Officer at the multi-cloud data management leader, Panzura. She is responsible for security and compliance for the company and customers alike. Katie has more than 25 years of experience executing and leading security operations, compliance, managed services, and cloud solutions. During her time working for industry-leading companies OneNeck IT Solutions and CDW/Berbee, Katie has time and again proven her strategic leadership creating secure IT environments that enable businesses to run, grow, and transform.

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