Known knowns, Unknown unknowns

“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know. ”
–Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense

In SIEM world, the known knowns are alerts. We configure rules to look at security data for threats/problems that we find to be interesting and bring them to the operators’ attention. This is a huge step up in the SIEM maturity scale from log ignorance. The Department of Homeland Security refers to this as “If you see something, say something.” What do you do when you see something? You “do something,” better known as alert-driven workflow. In the early stages of a SIEM implementation there is a lot of time spent refining alert definitions in order to reduce “noise.”

While this approach addresses the “known knowns”, it does nothing for the “unknown unknowns”. To identify the unknown, you must stop waiting for alerts and instead search for the insights. This approach starts with a question rather than a reaction to an alert. Notice that often enough, it’s non IT persons asking the questions e.g., Who changed this file? Which systems did “Susan” access on Saturday?

This approach results in interactive investigation rather than the traditional drill down. For example:
– Show me all successful login’s over the weekend
– Filter these to show only those on server3
– Why did “Susan” login here? Show all “Susan” activity over the weekend…

This form of active data exploration requires a certain degree of expertise in log management tools, with experience and knowledge of the data set to review a thread that looks out of place. Once you get used to the idea, it is incredible to see how visible these patterns become to you. This is essential to “running a tight ship” and being aware of out of the ordinary patterns given the baseline. When staffing technical persons for the EventTracker SIEM Simplified service team, we are constantly looking for “insight hunters” instead of mere “alert responders.”  Alert responding is so 2013…

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