Building a Cyber Defence Centre: IBM’s rules for success

According to GCHQ, the number of cyber-attacks threatening UK national security have doubled in the past 12 months. How can organizations protect themselves against this growing threat especially when statistics show that most data breaches are only discovered some time after the attack took place? One important approach is to create a Cyber Defence Centre to implement and co-ordinate the activities needed to protect, detect and respond to cyber-attacks.

The Cyber Defence Centre has evolved from the SOC (Security Operation Centre). It supports the processes for enterprise security monitoring, defence, detection and response to cyber based threats. It exploits Real Time Security Intelligence (RTSI) to detect these threats in real time or in near real time to enable action to be taken before damage is done. It uses techniques taken from big data and business intelligence to reduce that massive volume of security event data collected by SIEM to a small number of actionable alarms where there is a high confidence that there is a real threat.

A Cyber Defence Centre is not cheap or easy to implement so most organizations need help with this from an organization with real experience in this area. At a recent briefing IBM described how they have evolved a set of best practice rules based on their analysis of over 300 SOCs. These best practices include:

The first and most important of these rules is to understand the business perspective of what is at risk. It has often been the case that the SOC would focus on arcane technical issues rather than the business risk. The key objective of the Cyber Defence Centre is to protect the organization’s business critical assets. It is vital that what is business-critical is defined by the organization’s business leaders rather than the IT security group.

Many SOCs have evolved from NOCs (Network Operation Centres) – however the NOC is not a good model for cyber-defence. The NOC is organized to detect, manage and remediate what are mostly technical failures or natural disasters rather than targeted attacks. Its objective is to improve service uptime and to restore service promptly after a failure. On the other hand, the Cyber Defence Centre has to deal with the evolving tactics, tools and techniques of intelligent attackers. Its objective is to detect these attacks while at the same time protecting the assets and capturing evidence. The Cyber Defence Centre should assume that the organizational network has already been breached. It should include processes to proactively seek attacks in progress rather than passively wait for an alarm to be raised.

The Cyber Defence Centre must adopt a systematized and industrialized operating model. An approach that depends upon the individual skills is neither predictable nor scalable. The rules and processes should be designed using the same practices as for software with proper versioning and change control. The response to a class of problem needs to be worked out together with the rules on how to detect it. When the problem occurs is not a good time to figure out what to do. Measurements is critical – you can only manage what you can measure and measurement allows you to demonstrate the change levels of threats and the effectiveness of the cyber defence.

Finally, as explained by Martin Kuppinger in his blog: Your future Security Operations Center (SOC): Not only run by yourself, it is not necessary or even practical to operate all of the cyber defence activities yourself. Enabling this sharing of activities needs a clear model of how the Cyber Defence Centre will be operated. This should cover the organization and the processes as well as the technologies employed. This is essential to decide what to retain internally and to define what is outsourced an effective manner. Once again, an organization will benefit from help to define and build this operational model.

At the current state of the art for Cyber Defence, Managed Services are an essential component. This is because of the rapid evolution of threats, which makes it almost impossible for a single organization to keep up to date, and the complexity of the analysis that is required to identify how to distinguish these. This up-to-date knowledge needs to be delivered as part of the Cyber Defence Centre solution.

KuppingerCole Advisory Note: Real Time Security Intelligence provides an in-depth look at this subject.


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