Security Monitoring On A Budget: Security Know-How Needed

Managed providers and simpler security-monitoring appliances can help small and medium businesses better understand their networks, but building in-house expertise is important
Even three years ago, small businesses shied away from security monitoring as too complex and too difficult to deploy, with a 2009 article calling such systems "not for the faint of heart."

Now, log-management services in the cloud, easier-to-use managed security services, and simpler security information and event management (SIEM) solutions have made security monitoring possible for all but the smallest firms. For such businesses, gathering intelligence on security events can be an offshoot of network monitoring or the other way around, but each can give companies better visibility into what is going on with their information systems, says Nicole Pauls, director of product management for SolarWinds, an information-technology provider.

"Maybe I come in with a security problem, but I also want to do performance monitoring," Pauls says. "While we see a lot of companies approaching us from a security perspective, we also see IT generalists. They don't have a background in security, but they have a security need."

Today's common wisdom is that companies should assume that they are breached. No wonder, then, that even small and medium businesses are looking at analyzing logs and correlating events to create a better view of their security state. While cost is a big challenge for smaller firms, the primary hurdle is a lack of technical knowledge, security expertise, and time. For a lot of small companies, the IT person is also the security person and may have other duties as well.

"If you get down to 100 employees, you are lucky if you are going to find anyone who is the security person," says Roger Thornton, chief technology officer for AlienVault, a vendor of open-source security-monitoring system. "If you really don't have anyone dedicated to security, you are going to have to go down the route of an MSSP."

[Subtle attackers who are after intellectual property are hard to find; monitoring can help, but a good analyst can help even more. See Monitoring To Detect The Persistent Enemies.]

The companies typically do not have a large budget to spend on monitoring, but know that security is a necessary expense. For that reason, a managed security service tends to be best, but some easy-to-use on-premise solutions can work as well. eIQnetworks, for example, has MSSPs that buy its enterprise security monitoring equipment to power the services that they offer to customers, but the company also sells a simpler-to-use product to smaller businesses.

"The complaint we hear most about SIEM technologies is that they require a lot of overhead, not just from a hardware perspective but that they also require professional services and tuning in order to get the thing off the ground," says John Linkous, chief security and compliance officer for eIQnetworks. "So our approach is, let's hit 75 percent of what most information security people are going to want to look at and put in in a straight, easy-to-use package."

The company's product, SecureVue NGS, costs just under $13,000. AlienVault's OSSIM appliance costs $17,500 and combines more than 30 open-source tools into a common dashboard and security workflow. SolarWinds' Log and Event Manager starts at $4,500.

For companies that do not have a single security person who can spend the time installing, tuning, and maintaining a security monitoring system, a managed security service provider can take over the burden at an annual premium. Yet companies should still task one tech-savvy employee with monitoring the provider, because the responsibility for the corporate network still falls with the company, says AlienVault's Thornton.

"Even if you do you use an MSSP, it is really smart to have one person on the team who is working with them, asking to see what the raw data looks like, how many events did they process, and saying, 'Show me the false alarms that you guys didn't think were important,'" Thornton says. "You just have to continually audit that relationship."

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