Harnessing the Power of Big Security Data


McAfee today released a study revealing how organisations around the world are unable to harness the power of Big Data for security purposes. According to the report ‘Needle in a Datastack’, businesses are vulnerable to security breaches due to their inability to properly analyse or store big data.

“Reading through the Needle in a Datastack study, it’s concerning to find that some organisations cannot identify security breaches and security risks as they happen,” said Mike Sentonas, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of McAfee Asia Pacific. “Consider the amount of commercially sensitive information that could be stolen by a cybercriminal if they’ve got days, or even a week, to download it without being detected. We’re talking terabyte territory.”

The ability to detect data breaches within minutes is critical in preventing data loss, yet only 35 per cent of firms stated that they have the ability to do this. In fact, more than a fifth (22 per cent) said they would need a day to identify a breach, and five per cent said this process would take up to a week.  On average, organisations reported that it takes 10 hours for a security breach to be recognised.

“If you’re in a fight, you need to know that while it’s happening, not after the fact,” said Mike Fey, executive vice president and worldwide Chief Technology Officer. “This study has shown what we’ve long suspected — that far too few organisations have real-time access to the simple question ‘am I being breached?’ Only by knowing this, can you stop it from happening.”

Misplaced security confidence putting organisations at risk

Nearly three quarters (73 per cent) of respondents claimed they can assess their security status in real-time and they also responded with confidence in their ability to identify in real-time insider threat detection (74 per cent), perimeter threats (78 per cent), zero day malware (72 per cent) and compliance controls (80 per cent). However, of the 58 per cent of organisations that said they had suffered a security breach in the last year, just a quarter (24 per cent) had recognised it within minutes. In addition, when it came to actually finding the source of the breach, only 14 per cent could do so in minutes, while 33 per cent said it took a day and 16 per cent said a week.

This false confidence highlights a disconnect between the IT department and security professionals within organisations, which is further highlighted when the Needle in a Datastack findings are compared with the with a recent Data Breach Investigations report of security incidents. The study of 855 incidents showed that 63 per cent took weeks or months to be discovered. The data was taken from these organisations within seconds or minutes in almost half (46 per cent) of the cases.

Organisations increasingly exposed to Advanced Persistent Threats

Needle in a Datastack found that on average that organisations are storing approximately 11-15 terabytes of security data a week, a figure that Gartner Group predicts will double annually through 2016. Despite storing such large volumes of data, 58 per cent of firms admitted to only holding on to it for less than three months, thereby negating many of the advantages of storing it in the first place.

According to the McAfee Threats Report: Fourth Quarter 2012, the appearance of new advanced persistent threats (APTs) accelerated in the second half of 2012. This type of threat can lay dormant within a network for months or even years. Long term retention and analysis of security data to reveal patterns, trends and correlations is crucial if organisations are to spot and deal quickly with these APTs.

Realising the Value of Big Security Data

To achieve real-time threat intelligence in an age where the volume, velocity and variety of information have pushed legacy systems to their limit, businesses must embrace the analysis, storage and management of big data security . These ever-growing volumes of events, as well as asset, threat, user and other relevant data have created a big data challenge for security teams. To overcome this challenge, successful organisations have moved from traditional data management architectures to systems that are purpose-built to handle security data management in the age of APTs.

With this need to identify complex attacks, organisations should go beyond pattern matching to achieve true risk-based analysis and modelling.  Ideally, this approach should be backed by a data management system able to create complex real-time analytics. In addition to the ability to spot threats in real-time, organisations should have the ability to identify potentially sinister long-term trends and patterns.  Beyond just finding a ‘needle in a datastack’, organisations should move to a longer time horizon with risk-based context to find the right needle, so they can proactively deal with today’s threats.


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