According to the U.S. Congress’ 9/11 Commission, one of the key elements
that allowed the attacks to occur was the FBI’s inability to easily share
information gathered by different offices — to coordinate and analyze
But remedying this has not proven easy.
After spending as much as $170 million on custom software to address this
issue, the FBI announced on Jan. 13 that it might have to scrap the
software and start over.
”The FBI’s long-anticipated Virtual Case File has been a train wreck in
slow motion,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, (D-Vt.) said in a statement released
On a smaller scale, IT departments are having trouble managing their own
”Everything was a mess,” says Jim Patterson, security analyst for the
State of Illinois Legislative Information System (ILIS). ”Even from a
big vendor like Cisco, each device had its own reporting console, and
there was no way to have a central point to manage them.”
To make things worse, each device didn’t just require its own software,
but a dedicated PC in order to avoid running into conflicts.
”We would try to gather data from all these different devices, but there
was no way to correlate the information,” Patterson adds. ”The Cisco
Pix firewalls were generating so much traffic — millions of messages a
day — that the little built-in SQL server couldn’t even handle it.”
At Cisco’s recommendation, ILIS turned to a new type of management
software called Security Information Management (SIM), installing nFX
software from NetForensics, Inc., a company focused on the SIM market and
based in Edison, N.J. This allowed Patterson to aggregate all the
security information into a single database for analysis and alerting.
”The netForensics has a realtime event console with a scrolling display
of what is happening,” says Patterson. ”This reduces the number of
people you need to have monitoring security since everything is on one
SIM is an outgrowth of network log management software adapted for use
with security devices and software, including firewalls, Intrusion
Detection Systems (IDS), Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS),
authorization software and anti-virus. One of the main drivers has been
simply being able to make sense out of the huge amount of data that these
devices spit out on a regular basis. It is impossible to manually go
through the millions of messages and gain a clear concept of what is
happening from a security standpoint.
”Many times, this is driven by a failed IDS project that dumps out too
much data to effectively interpret,” says Paul Proctor, vice president
of Security and Risk Strategies for META Group, an analyst firm based in
Stamford, Conn. ”IDS implementations fail because organizations do not
tune them properly, not because they inherently produce too much data.”
Of course, when you have devices generating that much information, it can
be hard to properly tune the devices, thereby reducing the number of
Patterson says having a SIM has enabled the state to fine tune its
firewalls and sensors.
META Group’s Proctor advises that organizations shouldn’t start out with
the goal of cutting down on what they have. Instead, they should start by
determining what they need.
”A more effective approach is to start with a detection requirements
list tied to business needs, and then determine which events need to be
collected to support those requirements,” he says. ”If you take this
approach, SIMs can have value.”
A Global View
Installing and configuring a SIM can be a major undertaking. Patterson
says the Illinois system started out running its SIM on a single server,
but found that as the number of security devices increased, he had to
split it up. He is now monitoring 30 devices at three sites.
The netForensics software resides on three low-end Dell dual-processor
servers — one for collecting the data, one for the Oracle database, and
a third for reporting and analysis.
Larger installations require much more.
”When they embark on a large SIM project (with more than 300 audit
sources/nodes) they should put aside at least $50,000 in their services
budget for the vendor or a competent third-party to come in and install,
and tune for appropriate business requirements,” says Proctor.
Deployments with more than 1,000 nodes are usually multi-year efforts, so
set realistic expectations and project goals.”
Unisys Global Infrastructure Services of Blue Bell, Penn., for example,
has three security operations centers. One is in Blue Bell, Amsterdam,
another is in the Netherlands, and the third is in Wellington, New
Zealand. The centers provide the company, which has 200 managed security
clients, services around the globe.
Unisys Global began deploying a SIM from ArcSight, Inc. of Cupertino,
Calif. in June f 2003. The final roll out will be completed this year.
Once this is completed, the security analysis will be performed at three
levels — customer, regional and global. Having the global system in
place lets them spot a problem in one area of the world and take action
to harden security in others areas before they are hit.
”It has proven useful in helping to detect the zero-day threats out
there before there is a signature available for it,” says John Summers,
Global Director for Managed Security Services. ”Our European operations
center, for example, found a particular threat, what the network traffic
looked like, what ports it was talking on, and we wrote a specific
correlation rule to monitor data on those ports.”
Summers says that having a SIM has two main values.
To begin with, it enables them to do complex pattern detection across a
heterogeneous infrastructure. This has been useful in spotting blended
threats which seek to exploit multiple vulnerabilities.
The other benefit is that it is able to reduce the number of false
positives, allowing them to accurately spot the true threats.
”With IDS or any security device, you get way too many messages coming
in, so to handle it, people turn down the gain on their sensors so they
put out less noise, but also put out less signal,” says Summers. ”But
an event correlation platform allows you to turn the gain up again and
gives you a more accurate ability to detect suspicious or bad activity.”