It’s not news that organizations’ networks are increasing in complexity. The rise of hybrid work, the proliferation of the cloud, and the increased use of IoT devices has pushed networks far outside the server room — and even the four walls of the office — into a digital-first realm.
While these changes have increased efficiency, scalability, and how operations work in the modern age, they’ve also created new avenues for cybercriminals to launch an attack.
Network monitoring, or the continuous monitoring and evaluating of a computer network and associated assets, is now an essential component of cybersecurity for any organization. This source of telemetry allows organizations to take in information from various parts of the network, such as the firewall or internal applications, and not only see what’s happening, but understand where risks may lie or where incidents may be in motion.
Learn more about other sources of telemetry with “Seeing Is Securing: The Case for Holistic Visibility.”
Continuous Network Monitoring and Its Benefits
You may have heard the concept that all attacks will ultimately end up on an endpoint, since this argument is often used to highlight the importance of endpoint security.
The truth is all threats will land on an endpoint, depending upon how you define an endpoint, as the attack progresses. You should ask yourself, however, if you are satisfied with detecting the threat as it lands, or would you prefer to detect the threat as it enters the environment and makes its way to the endpoint?
Network monitoring can be done 24×7 through a scanner that simply pings the network and gets a response. It determines if there is any unusual activity, unknown or unauthorized devices and can, in some cases, identify vulnerabilities. These kinds of scans fall into two categories, passive and active, and there are four main types:
1. External Vulnerability Scans
This is a form of actively scanning external IP addresses and domains, probing for vulnerabilities in internet-facing infrastructure to determine which ones can be exploited. This kind of scan is used to secure the perimeter, such as the firewall. Because the perimeter is often where a hacker will start when looking for a weakness, these scans can help identify pressing issues for the security team
2. Internal Vulnerability Scans
As the name suggests, these scans delve into network devices within an organization, such as endpoints, IoT-enabled devices, and mobile devices. Internal scans can help an organization perform patch verification or identify misconfigurations. This may be done in either a passive or active manner depending upon the type of scan being performed and the device tasked with obtaining this information.
3. Host-Based Agent Scans
These scanners live on an endpoint, or host device, and track active processes, applications, or even Wi-Fi networks. This kind of monitoring detects unusual behavior, such as multiple failed login attempts to an application or a backdoor installation. These scans are often done passively as they record the information as it occurs on the host.
4. Active Scanning Tools
Though not continuous, these tools which are often used by red teams or penetration testers to simulate how threat actors may map a network, can be an important part of network monitoring and overall cybersecurity improvement within the environment. These tools can provide an in-depth look at a network or network segment and include a range of options based on the detail required and how aggressively the scan performs.
These four tools may be used in varying ways within managed detection and response solutions, which offer visibility across the network (and beyond), digest all the information and present what’s relevant in a single dashboard, and allow for 24×7 monitoring.
As the network becomes a larger piece within an organization’s IT puzzle, the benefits of securing it, through network telemetry and subsequent action, become central to the cybersecurity strategy.
Major benefits to network monitoring include:
- Increased visibility
- Efficient use of IT resources, which are often limited internally
- Saved time and costs through faster remediation and restoration after an incident
- Faster identification of security threats within or external to the network
- Ability to improve security posture through identification of vulnerability management and other needs
Network Monitoring and Firewalls
It used to be that to secure your organizations’ network from external threats and establish a strong perimeter of defense, the firewall was the end-all-be-all solution. You plugged a single computer into the internet, and your firewall prevented viruses from gaining access to that computer.
Now, as “plugged” becomes “wifi,” “computer” becomes “endpoint” and “virus” evolves into “malware”, the times have changed. While firewalls are both a security tool and monitoring device for traffic flowing into and out of the network, they’re just one component of the network that needs to be monitored.
Networks are now more intricate and contain a multitude of internal devices and applications, so the firewall is just one part of an overall approach to network monitoring and security.
Network Monitoring Increases Overall Security
As organizations digitize and IT environments grow, network monitoring becomes a more important telemetry source. The real-time updates, often coming end– to– end, can be the difference when an incident occurs, a threat arises, or an organization is trying to patch a major vulnerability.
Therefore, it’s important that an organization incorporates strong network monitoring into their security posture as a primary telemetry source. Limited visibility within the network can allow a hacker to gain access, create damage, and laterally move to another part of the environment before the organization is even aware.
A strong network monitoring solution should be able to:
- Work with multiple hardware and software devices
- Consolidate information for better digestion
- Differentiate whether unusual activity is occurring from a specific application
- Scale as dictated by the organization’s needs
However, it’s important to remember that full visibility comes from multiple sources of telemetry. Learn more about how endpoints and the network work together to provide holistic visibility with Exploring Endpoint Telemetry: Discovering Its Strengths and Limitations.
Understand how a managed detection and response solution can provide holistic visibility with our MDR Buyer’s Guide.