Why add more hay?

Recent terrorist attacks in France have shaken governments in Europe. The difficulty of defending against insider attacks is once again front and center. How should we respond? The UK government seems to feel that greater mass surveillance is a proper response. The Communications Data Bill  proposed by Prime Minister Cameron would compel telecom companies to keep records of all Internet, email, and cellphone activity. He also wants to ban encrypted communications services.

This approach would add even more massive data sets for analysis by computer programs than currently thought to be analyzed by NSA/GCHQ, in hopes that algorithms would be able to pinpoint the bad guys. Of course France has blanket surveillance but that did not prevent the Charlie Hebdo attack.

In the SIEM universe, the equivalent would be to gather every log from every source in hopes that attacks could be predicted and prevented. In practice,accepting data like this into a SIEM solution reduces it to a quivering mess of barely functioning components. In fact the opposite approach “output driven SIEM” is favored by experienced implementers.

Ray Corrigan writing Mass Surveillance Will Not Stop Terrorism  in the New Scientist notes “Surveillance of the entire population, the vast majority of whom are innocent, leads to the diversion of limited intelligence resources in pursuit of huge numbers of false leads. Terrorists are comparatively rare, so finding one is a needle-in-a-haystack problem. You don’t make it easier by throwing more needleless hay on the stack.”

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