If you’ve ever watched a thriller or horror movie, you’re probably familiar with the scene where someone is trying to keep a monster or attacker out so they barricade the doors and lock the windows and feel safe for 10 seconds…until someone remembers that the cellar door is unlocked and they discover the threat is already inside. That’s a pretty good metaphor for cybersecurity. IT security professionals scramble to protect and secure everything they’re aware of—but the one thing they’re not aware of is the Achilles heel that can bring everything crumbling down. That is why comprehensive visibility is crucial for effective cybersecurity.
You Can’t Protect What You Can’t See
As illustrated in the example above, you can have the best security possible protecting the attack vectors and assets you’re aware of, but that won’t do you any good if an attacker discovers an attack vector or asset you aren’t aware of and haven’t protected. It may not seem like a fair fight, but an attacker only needs one vulnerability to exploit. The burden is on the IT security team to make sure that everything is secured.
That’s easier said than done in today’s network environments. When you’re trying to keep a monster out of the house, you’re at least only dealing with a static and manageable number of doors and windows. In a dynamic, hybrid cloud, DevOps-driven, software-defined environment running containerized applications, the entire ecosystem can change in the blink of an eye and the number of assets to protect can increase exponentially. Employees have installed unauthorized routers and wireless access points and connected to unsanctioned web-based services that expose the network and sensitive data to unnecessary risk since the dawn of networking, but the advent of IoT (internet-of-things) has created an explosion in the volume of rogue devices.
Organizations need a tool that provides visibility of all IT assets—both known and unknown—including endpoints, cloud platforms, containers, mobile devices, OT and IoT equipment across hybrid and multi-cloud environment. It’s urgent for IT and cybersecurity teams to have comprehensive visibility and the ability to assess their security and compliance posture and respond in real-time to address challenges as they arise.
Vulnerability and Patch Management Can’t Replace Visibility
Since the dawn of cybersecurity, vulnerability and patch management have formed the backbone of effective protection. It makes sense. If you can proactively discover vulnerabilities in the hardware and software you use and deploy patches to fix the flaws or take steps to mitigate the risk, you should be able to prevent almost any attack.
Vulnerability and patch management are still important elements of effective cybersecurity, but comprehensive visibility is crucial. Finding and patching vulnerabilities without visibility provides a false sense of security. The assumption is that the environment is secure if all of the discovered vulnerabilities have been patched, but the reality is that only the vulnerabilities of the hardware and software you’re aware of have been patched. If you aren’t confident that you have an accurate, real-time inventory of your hardware and software assets, you’re not really secure.
Continuous Visibility Leads to Better Cybersecurity
Ideally, organizations need to have visibility of all IT assets—both known and unknown—throughout the entire IT infrastructure, spanning local networks and hybrid cloud environments. Imagine how much better your security and compliance posture would be if you actually knew—with confidence—what is on your global hybrid-IT environment at any given moment rather than relying on periodic asset scans that are already obsolete. What would it be like to have a single source of truth that enables you to identify issues and respond in real-time?
Visibility alone is not enough, though. It’s also crucial to have the right tools to do something with the information. Beyond visibility, you also need workflows to seamlessly connect to vulnerability and compliance solutions. For example, IT and cybersecurity teams should be able to add unmanaged devices and begin a scan, or tag unmanaged devices to initiate cloud agent installation to enable more comprehensive compliance checks.
Thankfully, the same platforms and technologies that make network visibility more complex and challenging also provide the power, scalability, and accessibility to deliver comprehensive, continuous visibility and tools and platforms that make it easier to run compliance and vulnerability programs. With the appropriate sensors placed strategically throughout the network and on devices, you can actively and continuously collect the necessary data.
The data can be stored in the cloud where the relevant IT, security and compliance information can be analyzed, categorized, enriched, and correlated. Because the data is stored and analyzed in the cloud, it has the flexibility and scalability to address spikes in assets resulting from high demand on containerized applications. It also simplifies and streamlines the ability to search for any asset and quickly determine its security posture.
With the right platform and tools, organizations have access to clean, reliable data—providing continuous visibility and relevant context to enable effective business decisions. It is also crucial for IT and cybersecurity teams to be able to quickly and easily find what they need. The information has to be available and accessible in seconds rather than minutes or hours or days so threats and issues can be addressed with urgency.
Knowledge Is Power
You can’t protect what you can’t see…or what you don’t know about. Don’t be the guy who thinks he is safe in the house while the monster crawls through an unlocked window at the back of the house. Effective cybersecurity is about knowing—with confidence and accuracy—what devices and assets are connected to your network and having the information and tools necessary to respond to threats in real-time.
Without comprehensive visibility, there will always be the chance that your false sense of security could be shattered at any time as attackers discover the vulnerable assets you aren’t aware of and exploit them to gain access to your network and data. Start with visibility. It is the foundation of effective cybersecurity, and it is absolutely essential.
About the Author: Shiva Mandalam is Vice President, Asset Management & Secure Access Controls at Qualys.
Copyright 2010 Respective Author at Infosec Island