Overconfident execs failing security’s latent big data challenge: McAfee

Companies may feel more secure because they’re buying tools to collect masses of security data, but many are still struggling to make effective use of it as they wrestle with the big-data challenges modern security-monitoring systems present, a McAfee security-intelligence manager has warned.

“They’re storing a lot of security information, but the problem is that they’re storing it in different systems,” McAfee APAC practice manager for security intelligence and event management (SIEM) solutions Mason Hooper told CSO Australia.

Citing results from McAfee’s Needle In a Datastack survey – collected by research firm Vanson Bourne from 500 senior IT decision makers across the US, UK, Germany and Australia – Hooper said companies were storing an average of 11 to 15 terabytes of security data weekly, yet 58 per cent of respondents disposed of the data within three months.

This led to a situation in which many organisations have far less effective security capabilities than they think they do. “They’re detecting events – or parts of them,” Hooper explained, “but because they’re siloed off in different bits of the security infrastructure, or they’re living in silos, many organisations don’t have the tools to be able to analyse that effectively.”

Despite this lack of tools, organisations were generally confident they could detect a security breach within a relatively short time: 73% said they could evaluate their security status in real time, with 74 per cent confident they could detect insider threats, 78 per cent confident about perimeter threats, 80 per cent confident they could pick up on compliance breaches, and 72 per cent sure they could detect attacks by zero-day malware.

Studies have repeatedly shown it actually takes much longer before a breach is noticed, with a 2012 report from Symantec Research Labs study suggesting finding that it takes an average of 312 days before zero-day attacks are detected, and a separate Trustwave report putting the figure at six months. The latest Verizon Data Breach Investigations report, which evaluated 855 real-world security incidents, found that 63 per cent took weeks or months to be discovered – but data was stolen from the companies within seconds or minutes.

Despite those statistics, the companies McAfee surveyed were generally optimistic about their security protection: 35 per cent of surveyed companies said they have the ability to detect data breaches within minutes.

These figures suggest that “a lot of businesses have misplaced security confidence,” Hooper said – an assertion that was reinforced by the finding that 58 per cent of organisations had suffered a security breach within the last year but just 24 per cent had actually recognised it within minutes.

Fully 22 per cent said they would need a day to pick up on a breach; 5 per cent said it would take a week; and, on average, the companies said they would need 10 hours to pick up on a breach. Identifying the source of the breach was even more difficult, with just 14 per cent able to do so within minutes, 33 per cent taking a day and 16 per cent requiring a full week.

As companies like travel provider have confirmed, boosting these numbers is a critical part of the security challenge facing companies today – as is consolidating multiple sources of data across disparate systems.

However, Hooper said, without a crash course in big-data discipline, most companies will struggle to make good on the promise of the data they are collecting.

“They’ve really got to embrace new techniques to analyse that big security data – and use tools that are able to respond to threats in real time. There’s a lot of information out there, and the more that you’re able to keep and analyse it in real time, the better placed you are to respond to that question of ‘am I being breached?’

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