Defense in depth: Layering your security coverage

The more valuable a possession, the more steps you take to protect it. A home, for example, is protected by the lock systems on doors and windows, but the valuable or sensitive items that a criminal might steal are stored with even more security — in a locked filing cabinet or a safe. This provides layers of protection for the things you really don’t want a thief to get their hands on. You tailor each item’s protection accordingly, depending on its worth to you and the likelihood of theft.

Your corporate network and data are the same. Protecting the valuable assets within your network requires layers. Often called defense in depth, this strategy offers multiple levels of security tools and strategies that are designed to guard against attacks.

However, these security systems aren’t perfect, and that’s exactly what threat actors are determined to exploit. In your home, you may have put the jewels in the safe, but if the safe isn’t locked, anyone can gain access. Same with your SOC. If your defense system has gaps, it’s only a matter of time before someone will gain access to your data.

Fear of patching

Having a state-of-the-art security system that appears to cover every type of attack is good, but you may not be addressing how threat actors access your system or what they’re looking for. Adversaries don’t like change, Phil Neray, VP of cyber defense strategy at CardinalOps, said at Splunk’s .conf23 event. Stolen credentials and exploited vulnerabilities remain the most popular attack vectors, according to Verizon’s Data Breach Investigations Report.

But if users within the company are falling for phishing scams or ignoring patch updates, it no longer matters how solid your layers are. Threat actors will find their way inside.

And why do people ignore patching? They fear a lack of availability to their system while the patches and updates are put in place.

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Moving through the network

There’s a tendency to think of layers in terms of top to bottom or left to right — if you can’t stop them at point A, then there is defense at point B. But that often ignores how threat actors actually move within the system. Depending on the type of attack, they are moving wherever they see an opening, and one missed layer of protection can impair defenses, such as missed encryption on passwords stored in an otherwise well-defended vault.

Your layered defenses are also only as strong as your ability to detect anomalies or intrusions. Neray offered four questions to ask when looking at the quality of detections in your layered defense:

  • Where are you missing detections?
  • Are detections broken or too noisy?
  • How do you quickly onboard new detections?
  • How are you leveraging automation?

Each detection should cover multiple security layers rather than just a single location, Neray stated.

Embrace sophisticated defenses

You want more than just layers, but threat-informed defenses based on the threats unique to your organization, said Neray. Once you understand what you are protecting and where those assets are stored, you can build your layers of protection to defend against those threats.

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