Solving Security: Repetition or Redundancy?


To effectively defend against today’s risks and threats, organizations must examine their failings as well as their successes.

In life in general — and, of course, in security specifically — it is helpful to understand when I am the problem or when my organization is the problem. By that, I mean that it is important to discern when an approach to a problem is simply ineffective. When I understand that an approach doesn’t work, I can try different things until I find the right solution. This is the definition of repetition.

Redundancy, on the other hand, is when I (or my organization) keeps trying the same approach and nothing changes. It makes no sense to expect different results without a different approach. This, of course, is the definition of redundancy. What can the difference between repetition and redundancy teach us about security? An awful lot.

Intelligence: When run properly, a mature intelligence capability can help an organization understand the risks and threats it faces, bolster its detection abilities, and improve its response capabilities. On the other hand, a poorly run intelligence capability confuses decision-makers, deluges alert queues with false positives, and slows incident response.

I’ve seen organizations try to shove poor intelligence sources and an underdeveloped capability into security operations in an effort to leverage them. The results aren’t pretty. More surprising than the results is the tendency of these organization to try this same approach again and again with the expectation that something valuable will somehow emerge from it. That’s not repetition. It’s redundancy.

Vendor risk management: Most medium-to-large businesses have a vendor risk management (VRM) program. The maturity of VRM programs varies widely across the security industry. Nearly all VRM programs have one thing in common: They involve a painfully manual, labor-intensive process. What’s amazing to me is not that organizations struggle with a process that needs improvement. That is to be expected and will improve with time as new approaches and solutions become commonplace. What amazes me is that organizations expect different or improved results from the same broken process. That’s redundancy.

Vulnerability management: Staying on top of vulnerabilities is of the utmost importance to a security organization. Whether it be endpoints, servers, web applications, or otherwise, it’s important for an organization to understand where its potential points of exposure are. But to stop there is foolish. What good is a weekly report of vulnerabilities without correlating it with overall risk, sensitive and/or confidential data, system criticality, and other dimensions? Those additional dimensions give an organization the ability to leverage vulnerability information to mitigate and reduce risk. That’s an approach that can be repeated. Continuing to run weekly reports merely to put them on the shelf? That’s redundant.

Alerting content: Alert fatigue is a known problem that organizations struggle with. Blindly implementing default signature sets recommended by vendors and others without considering how they attempt to detect, address, and reduce risks the organization is concerned about isn’t a recipe for success. It’s most often a recipe for unmanageable alert volumes and an avalanche of team-drowning false positives. The fact that many organizations struggle with alert fatigue is not in the least surprising. The fact that those same organizations continue to complain about alert fatigue and expect better results without ever adjusting their approach is quite surprising. That’s just plain redundant.

Incident response: Anyone who has worked in the security field for some amount of time understands the necessity and value of a mature incident response capability. What’s less widely understood is the long and winding road that leads to just such a capability. I’ve never met a well-oiled incident response team that came together magically overnight. It’s to be expected that certain processes, procedures, and functions may not work perfectly, or even fairly well, at the get-go. More important than things working perfectly is learning from when things don’t work perfectly. This is easier said than done, of course.

For an organization to truly improve its incident response capability, it needs to examine its strengths and weaknesses as well as its successes and failings. This requires that the organization view itself as the problem, in the sense that there are certain functions within incident response that the security team does not perform well. Only then can repetition work its magic to improve the organization’s incident response capability. Otherwise, we’re in the realm of redundancy.

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Josh (Twitter: @ananalytical) is an experienced information security leader with broad experience building and running Security Operations Centers (SOCs). Josh is currently co-founder and chief product officer at IDRRA and also serves as security advisor to ExtraHop. Prior to … View Full Bio

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