Pratum Blog

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Because the bad guys never sit still, your threat-hunting system can’t afford to either. Managed XDR (Extended Detection and Response) service delivers the latest advances in endpoint protection and threat-hunting to keep up with new attack vectors. Managed XDR provides multiple advantages over traditional security stacks made up of several loosely connected systems. In this blog, we’ll focus specifically on managed XDR’s ability to track suspicious activity and decide when it’s time to intervene and stop a potential threat. Using a combination of machine learning and XDR rules programmed by analysts, these systems correlate actions across all corners of your technology stack to recognize threats that may have slipped by unnoticed before.

To help you understand the threat-hunting capabilities, let’s look at a day in the life of a managed XDR system as if it were the world’s most secure airport.

In our scenario, John Doe drives to the airport to catch the same 10:07am flight he’s taken every Monday for the last month. At the airport, he checks into the flight via a kiosk, makes his way through the TSA security checkpoint and heads to his assigned gate.

That seems routine enough. But if John Doe were living within an XDR-supervised system, the situation would look more like the following. (Keep in mind that while our airport example involving humans plays out over a couple of hours, this sequence may happen almost instantly in a managed XDR setting.)

An Unusual Access Point

Because our airport features highly enhanced security, anyone entering the property must pass through a manned checkpoint. At the guard shack, Agent Chuck Norris greets John Doe and asks to see his ID. Chuck recognizes John from his visits every Monday and notes that he’s arriving at his usual time. But Chuck notices some changes. John is entering via the west gate instead of the north gate that he typically uses, and he has a passenger with him. (Because our agent is Chuck Norris, he personally mans every gate every day.)

XDR parallel: XDR monitors every aspect of your technology stack and recognizes John as a known system user. But it notes that his pattern has changed. He’s trying to log in from a different web browser and IP address. Is John working somewhere else today, or is this a hacker who stole John’s credentials trying to log in from their location? Since the login info is correct and the login time matches John’s typical pattern of starting work each day, XDR lets him proceed.

Chuck finds something else sketchy. He knows that John took a different route from his house to the airport today. (Chuck gets a lot of intel.) But with a quick check of traffic reports, Chuck sees that there is road construction on the interstate. That would explain John’s atypical route to the airport.

XDR parallel: The system’s job is to stop threats while avoiding false positives. If a quick check can explain why a user may be entering through an unusual server, the system will allow them to proceed. But John’s activities have triggered enough rules for anomalous behavior that his session has moved to a higher alert level. XDR is now watching him more closely.

What About that Failed Login?

John makes his way through the main airport terminal to a kiosk, where he checks into his flight. His ID and flight reservation check out. A camera in the kiosk snaps a picture of his face, and his name and photo are instantly compared to every known no-fly list in the world. He comes back clear. He receives a boarding pass and heads to the security screening line.

XDR parallel: XDR systems are constantly improving their rules based on global threat analysis information. For example, Microsoft (Pratum’s XDR platform of choice) analyzed 31,700 indicators per second in 2020 and uses all of that information to constantly screen for emerging threats. If an attack happened on the other side of the globe last week, Microsoft’s XDR platform has probably taken note and learned to watch out for that technique.

At the entrance to the TSA screening area, John runs into—who else?—Chuck Norris. Chuck reviews John’s boarding pass and notices that John is entering the regular screening line, even though he has TSA Precheck. Anybody can mistakenly get into the wrong line. But Chuck knows that A) John flies every single week and B) Anybody with PreCheck takes advantage of it every time. Chuck points John to the proper line but makes another mental note. John hasn’t tried anything dangerous, but he’s not quite acting normal.

XDR parallel: Getting into the wrong line equates to a failed login attempt. XDR knows we all mistype passwords, but it looks at how many failed attempts were made—and how quickly. In John’s case, enough low-level indicators of anomalous events are adding up to the fact that he increasingly looks like a real potential threat. Without XDR, your security stack may not be coordinating all those seemingly disconnected events into an overall image of a suspicious actor. In many security stacks built on solutions from multiple vendors, the TSA agent, for example, wouldn’t know what the guard shack saw. But just like Chuck is everywhere in this airport, XDR sees everything happening in your system.

This Looks Like A High Risk

John successfully passes through the check of his ID and boarding pass. At the podium, Chuck confirms that John has Precheck on his boarding pass and allows him to proceed to that screening area.

XDR parallel: Precheck is the equivalent of a known user coming from a known IP address or trusted device. Because the system recognizes John’s identity and device, they get less scrutiny than other logins. In TSA terms, he can leave his shoes on during screening.

As John exits the screening area, Chuck remembers something from earlier today. A local cop—OK, that was actually Chuck, too—pulled John over for speeding on the way to the airport. Chuck had given John only a warning, but Chuck noticed at the time that John seemed very nervous during the conversation. Chuck decides he won’t let John out of his sight until John is on his plane and headed away from Chuck’s airport.

XDR parallel: It’s all adding up to the fact that John is acting strangely—and may not even really be the John Doe he’s claiming to be. His activities are now considered high-risk.

Time to Stop the Threat

At the TSA checkpoint, Chuck is running the X-ray (Does this guy ever take a coffee break?). He spots a suspicious object in a bag ahead of John’s. Chuck inspects the bag and finds a pocketknife. If Chuck were a rookie, he might tackle the guy, handcuff him and haul him away for this. But Chuck’s no rookie, and he knows that people forget pocketknives in bags all the time. That doesn’t make them terrorists. So Chuck confiscates the knife and sends the man on his way.

XDR parallel: Good XDR rules don’t overreact. Locking out a user or shutting down a system over such a small infraction causes significant inconvenience and business interruption for no good reason

John makes it through the X-ray screening with no red flags, but Chuck notices him walking toward a restricted area. John types a code into the door’s keypad, and it opens. Why would a passenger have the code to a door leading to the runway? Chuck decides that John is launching some kind of attack. Chuck runs toward John, wrestles him to the floor and slaps on the cuffs. John is neutralized as a threat. But Chuck recalls that when John went through the guard shack earlier today, he had a passenger in the car. Where is that person now? Chuck knows the other man has already checked in for a different flight leaving from Terminal A, so Chuck orders Terminal A locked down until he can find John’s accomplice.

XDR parallel: When enough anomalous activities add up, XDR shuts down the perceived threat. In this case, John had a valid access code, but nothing in his normal profile indicates that he SHOULD have that code. So XDR would declare him a threat and shut down his access before he can do any damage.

Just as Chuck knew about our suspect’s associate, XDR can scan for other entities, such as users and IPs, that are associated with the threat.

Chuck made the key decision to lock down only one terminal, not the entire airport. If XDR makes a habit of shutting down entire systems, productivity comes to a standstill. So managed XDR rules are designed to make good decisions and to confine quarantines to the minimum elements necessary.

As you can see, XDR provides powerful abilities to build awareness of an emerging threat and take action to stop it. Most of this happens only after Security Operations Center (SOC) analysts have customized the XDR tool to recognize the kinds of patterns shown here and prevent false negatives. For more information on how managed XDR could make your environment more secure and efficient, contact us today.

Guess Who game board characters

What is a False Positive?

In security information and event management (SIEM) we rely on software to help identify patterns which indicate security threats. A series of failed login attempts, for example, will generate a ticket alerting a Security Operations Center (SOC) analyst that someone may be trying to hack into the system. (Note that SIEM solutions are increasingly being incorporated into overall Extended Detection and Response (XDR) solutions. Read this article for an overview of Managed XDR. 

With any monitoring solution, one of the biggest challenges is the dreaded false positive. A false positive is any alert triggered by a rule that’s written too broadly, causing it to issue a ticket over an event that’s not a legitimate security threat. A false positive is the equivalent of a home motion-sensor alarm that goes off every time the wind blows through the backyard trees. Before long, the homeowner ignores the alarms, leaving them off-guard when it really IS a burglar setting off the alarm.

For IT teams that don’t have an in-house SOC or a managed service supporting them, the daily stream of false positives from a SIEM leads to alert fatigue, which produces frustration and growing inattention to alerts in general. One major IT survey found that 44% of alerts go uninvestigated.

Clearly, narrowing the focus to real threats raises an IT team’s chances of spotting problems and fixing them.

How We Identify False Positives

Discovering false positives using SIEM can be a lot like playing the game Guess Who. The player’s objective is to guess the Mystery Person on the opponent’s card by asking one question per turn (Such as, “Are they a man?”) and eliminating any gameboard faces that don’t fit the Mystery Person’s description. In a SIEM setting, we are working to eliminate false positives so that the only alerts we see represent actual threats.

Players usually start with generic questions, but broadstroke guesses still leave us with a board full of faces. On the other hand, asking questions that are too specific takes a long time to narrow down the options. In SIEM, if we write rules that are too generic, we’ll face numerous false positives that only cause clutter and confusion. If we write rules that are too specific, we may miss critical incidents that leave our systems vulnerable. The key is to make educated decisions based on the data (or gameboard faces) in front of us. We start with a wide data set and use logic to narrow the results.

Guess Who game board

Continuing with our Guess Who analogy, let’s say we’ve narrowed the field to two options. Our final choices look very similar: Both are male, Caucasian, and bald, and both have orange hair. But we know they aren’t the same. If a SIEM solution’s rule is searching for Bill using the criteria listed above, Herman represents a false positive. Herman and Bill meet all of the same “threat” criteria we’ve listed so far. The solution is finding a factor unique to Bill, such as a small nose. If we add this final condition to the original filter criteria, the false positive disappears.

False Positives in SIEM

How Expert SOC Analysts Can Help

When dealing with a SIEM solution, this shows the value of an experienced, well-trained security analyst. As good as machines are with calculations and patterns, they often need the human element to spot a real threat and a false positive. At Pratum, we constantly upgrade the ruleset of our SIEM solution based on the expertise of our security analysts and consultants.

Understand how managed SIEM and XDR work together.

Our security analysts examine event logs to identify pieces of information that the software wasn’t considering. For example, in a case of failed logons, an analyst would look in the raw log for the error code that gives the reason for the authentication failure. If the error code indicates that the password has expired, the analyst could typically conclude that it is not a serious security incident. By adding that insight to the existing rule, the analyst can eliminate future false positives from this kind of event.

Why False Positives Must Be Addressed.

Although most false positives don’t pose an immediate security threat, any false positive can be a major distraction from threatening incidents. For example, a DNS configuration problem might constantly produce authentication issues on a network. It may be tempting to ignore an alert once you’ve decided it’s a false positive. But if you do that with several false positives you’ve learned to ignore, and several of them generate multiple alerts each day, you’ll soon get lost in daily noise that distracts you from legitimate security problems.

Remember that it costs the same amount of money to license a poorly tuned SIEM system as a well-tuned one. It’s worth investing in a managed service that can help you get the most from the tool you’re paying for.

If you need help monitoring your system’s activities efficiently and eliminating false positives, contact us for more information on our threat detection and response services and SOC services.

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Editor's Note: This post was originally published in June 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Man in front of XDR platform overlaid with Managed XDR

Extended detection and response (XDR) has become one of the hottest cybersecurity trends. XDR platforms offer impressive capabilities out of the box with their combination of SIEM, endpoint protection and other tools. But managed XDR services are critical to helping these tools reach their full potential.

XDR platforms offer three key advantages:

1

Active monitoring of your entire technology stack (including the cloud).

2

Real-time threat hunting and mitigation.

3

A well-integrated security stack built on a single vendor’s tools (Microsoft, in Pratum’s case).

XDR also gets a lot of attention as the next evolution in managed endpoint protection based on its ability to improve continually through machine learning. But XDR typically reaches its full potential only in a managed XDR setting. XDR needs Security Operations Center (SOC) professionals tuning the SIEM, endpoint protection and other tools in response to ever-changing environments, emerging best practices and the latest threat-defense strategies. You could think of XDR like a race car. It’s fast with anyone at the wheel, but it takes a professional driver to truly tap into the car’s capabilities. In this post, we look at how managed XDR constantly improves threat hunting on its own and how analysts tune the solutions for specific environments.

(Read this blog for an overview of XDR’s key components and advantages.)

Learning in Real Time

As XDR’s threat detection monitors all corners of your data environment with SIEM, endpoint protection, etc., it continually builds profiles of the attack vectors you face. In other words, every attack on your system literally makes it stronger as the XDR solution builds a database of actions designed to see and stop similar attacks in the future. While some of these profiles come built into the solution, a managed XDR provider can tune and create custom learning models specific to your business, data and network.

But your XDR solution’s ongoing education isn’t confined to what’s happening in your environment alone. Top managed XDR providers continually analyze security events worldwide and incorporate the insights into your system’s performance. For example, Microsoft reports that it analyzed 1 trillion security events in 2020, up from 300 billion in 2019. Every one of those events rolls up into the XDR’s machine learning, giving it something like the institutional wisdom of an intelligence agent who can personally watch and learn from every crime scene worldwide for years on end. SOC analysts can also build on this intelligence by correlating threat actors that are performing suspicious activity and reconnaissance against your organization’s systems and employees.

A managed XDR provider like Pratum also strengthens your XDR system based on situations we’ve seen throughout our client base and through our years of customizing rules for SIEM situations. We leverage every lesson learned across all the systems we manage, giving each client a best-in-class XDR installation, regardless of their organization’s size.

Tuned by Human Experts

Many XDR vendors promote their solution’s productivity right out of the box. At Pratum, we agree that XDR can immediately provide a marked step up from a traditional security stack as it extends threat detection and automated response into every area of your technology system and helps tools such as your SIEM and endpoint protection talk to each other. But a lot of XDR marketing understates the significant advantages you can gain from human experts tuning the solution. Pratum’s SOC analysts sit between the automated alerts and the customer, reviewing and responding to incidents. A SOC analyst provides a determination and recommendation for each alert, and they can answer client questions or provide additional context when needed.

It doesn’t matter how sophisticated the technology is if you aren’t monitoring the correct devices or logging the necessary event data. Pratum’s managed services helps clients ensure that their system is monitoring the right devices and delivering the right data so that machine learning and artificial intelligence can effectively do their jobs.

Pratum clients consistently find that retaining a cybersecurity firm for their managed XDR platform easily pays for itself in increased efficiency and security. Remember that it costs just as much to license a poorly tuned XDR as a finely tuned system. So it makes sense to invest an incremental amount on management to significantly increase your platform’s effectiveness.

Start With Proper Provisioning

Managed XDR pays off on Day One of provisioning as your organization decides what data to capture. If your configurations send the wrong event information to the system, even the best rules for reviewing login attempts, for example, never get to do their job. Mediocre provisioning is like hiring a 24/7 security team but installing security cameras that can’t see anything at night.

Without the support of a managed XDR provider, many IT teams get only halfway there with XDR provisioning. For example, our analysts frequently see systems configured to report only the traffic that gets through the firewall. If the firewall blocked an activity, you don’t need to worry about it, right? But XDR systems also need to see failed activity in order to get the full story and identify unsuccessful attempts.

Similarly, we’ve seen IT teams set up monitoring only for failed login attempts. Successful attempts must be legitimate and above review, right? But even successful, legitimate login attempts educate your XDR as it builds a picture of the baseline information that typifies a legitimate login. XDR systems can learn, but only if you’re giving them the necessary data. Think about your own daily routine during the week. You leave home at roughly the same time, take the same route to work, etc. Even if someone was able to steal your car, go to your house and use your garage door opener, they would still be tripping several alarms in XDR’s world by coming home at an unusual time of day, etc.

Get The Rules Right

With XDR, as with any automated system, humans must continually recalibrate the automatic responses. On the outside, attackers continually devise new tricks. On the inside, an IT team constantly adds and removes devices, services, users and more. Software and firmware get upgrades. As all of those elements change your system, a SOC team ensures that your XDR adjusts properly.

For example, an off-the-shelf XDR system might spot someone trying to login with an employee’s credentials from a new geographic location. If XDR deems the login suspicious and shuts it down, it may be locking out an employee trying to check in from the road. Once analysts know the situation, they could create a specific rule that lets the employee log in from that location going forward. But how would you write such rules for hundreds of employees who don’t notify IT every time they take a trip? Realistically, most IT departments would just start ignoring those alerts after a few of them turn out to be traveling employees. Alert fatigue has done its work.

Managed XDR analysts can do better. They could program rules to ask things like, How often has this employee logged in from different locations in the last six months? How many of those have been outside the U.S.? Is this attempt using that user’s normal web browser? Instant answers to those questions can help the system decide whether to shut down the attempt. Most XDR systems have these capabilities, but it takes a managed XDR provider watching industry-wide trends to truly tune the tools effectively.

Leveraging Data for Constant Improvement

Managed XDR also constantly measures how well your security stack is functioning. For example, Pratum’s device assessments typically find that the antivirus software on many endpoint devices hasn’t been updated since it was installed or that security tools are misconfigured. XDR can provide visibility to the business based on these security layers and report back how vulnerable the devices are and how much exposure the organization faces as a result. Similarly, XDR can look at how many attempts your firewall is blocking every day, confirming whether it’s doing its job. When aggregated, these metrics provide the business accurate information about its top risks and ways to improve.

That kind of insight becomes especially powerful when combined with a consultant’s expertise. Working together, XDR and a consultant provide a full picture of the people, processes and technology (the PPT fundamentals of information security) that make up your organization’s security. While the consultant is assessing the people and processes, managed XDR reviews the technology. With consultants and your SOC working hand-in-hand, you can eliminate gaps that commonly sabotage security stacks.

We’re ready to help you review how managed XDR could make your security stack more efficient. Contact us for a free consultation.

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