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WHI TE PAPE RFalse Alarms and theHidden Cost of Ownership ofInaccurate DatabaseActivity Monitoring SystemsContents2    Sum...
Summary                                                     The Path of a False Alert    We have all witnessed the steady ...
information back to the Application Support Group                                                 10   A further email to ...
The Effect of the False PositivesNo company would tolerate this, of course. No                           The older technol...
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Secerno False Alarms whitepaper


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Secerno False Alarms whitepaper

  1. 1. WHI TE PAPE RFalse Alarms and theHidden Cost of Ownership ofInaccurate DatabaseActivity Monitoring SystemsContents2 Summary2 The Right Call2 The Path of a False Alert3 The Cost of the False Positives4 The Effect of the False Positives4 Improving Security Performance – Lowering Costs and Reducing Risk4 About Secerno Database Activity Monitoring4 Conclusion
  2. 2. Summary The Path of a False Alert We have all witnessed the steady flow of stories of If we are to understand the cost of even a single false data breaches from around the world. Data loss positive alert, then we need to follow its flow and the has become the new security nightmare, as the effects it has. Consider this imaginary but typical database – the prime repository of all of the sensitive scenario: information which ultimately defines a company’s value – has come blinking into the spotlight for the It is mid-afternoon and… first time. Previously felt to be impregnable, buried as it was within the depths of the organisation, it has 1 Your Database Activity Monitoring system sees now become perceived as one of the most vulnerable a statement which it considers to be anomalous. elements in the architecture. Databases are prey Perhaps it contains a keyword that might indicate to criminal organisations (often working through malicious activity. It triggers an alert. your own employees) and frighteningly subject to embarrassing accidental losses by staff flaunting, or 2 One millisecond later, your security event being ignorant of, your own carefully crafted security management system receives the alert. policies. 3 Around a minute later, the alert finds its way into an Over the course of the last decade, consumers’ email batch sent to the first line support team. concerns grew as the stories hit the press each week, so government agencies responded with more and more regulation, heaping on the compliance burden So far, so good. The alert has cost no money and but not necessarily helping actual data security. The has found its way to the inbox of a person. market duly responded and we see now the growth of new solutions to address the new auditing and the Of course, the query itself will have executed security needs. and the resulting data may well already be with the requestor, unless you have your system in Database Activity Monitoring (DAM) is one of these blocking mode. new market sectors. It is growing rapidly – doubling in size annually as companies adopt solutions to protect their key data assets. Purchasing decisions are being 4 The front line support analyst sees the alert arrive made based on notional functional requirements and and opens it up. Having read the information the ticket price of the solutions on offer. But what does supplied, he concludes that he is not sufficiently it really cost to protect your data effectively? What qualified to judge whether the database query are the key cost drivers which need to be taken into statement in question is malicious or not. It does not account? look like a text book SQL injection attack – he has seen enough of those before – but the DAM system This paper seeks to address these questions with a obviously responded for a reason. He does a little focus on the particular aspect of Database Activity research then decides to play safe, and escalates Monitoring system ownership costs: the impact on your the event on to the Database Administrator currently organisation of choosing a system prone to generating on call. Let us say this took half an hour. false alerts – the cost of “Crying Wolf”. 5 Another fifteen minutes later, the on-call DBA finishes his previous task and opens the message The Right Call from support. He decides to deal with this immediately. The database request certainly looks The first wave of anomaly detection in application legal and is not obviously malicious. The next step behaviour has depended on the tried, tested and partly requires application knowledge to answer the trusted approaches originally developed for host and question: “Does the query fit within the context of the network intrusion prevention in previous decades. The company’s applications?” Fifteen minutes later the approaches are probabilistic – looking for elements DBA decides to escalate the alert to the Application in each query which MIGHT indicate anomalous Support Group for advice on source code. behaviour – and are based on detecting known threats using signatures. It is now one hour since the original alert was In technology terms, these approaches represented triggered. It has been through two people’s the industry’s best bet – they were known to have their hands. The data resulting from the query is in a weaknesses but they were all there was available, spreadsheet being sliced, diced and acted upon. and some protection is better than none of course. However, there is a fundamental problem with these approximate approaches which in practical terms 6 The Application Support Group specialist looks at the renders them ineffective in security terms: they alert information for a few minutes then passes the are prone to generating far too many false positive case over to their resident DBA. responses. False alarms drive operators to distraction, inflate the true cost of ownership and eventually lead to 7 The Application Support Group DBA is a little the devices being tuned down or disabled. perplexed. It sort of looks reasonable to him. Sure, the use of this particular query structure is rather A new generation of DAM solutions has become inelegant, but it is legal SQL. The “Our-town Credit available now, alongside these first entrants. So how Union” subject of the query looks fair enough. They do you weigh up the cost of owning these against the are a new customer, but presumably legitimate. He older products – how much will they save you? Hence, calls up the application source code. And, just to be on the question we seek to answer now is: what is the cost the safe side, as this is a security alert, he escalates of generating false positive alerts? the issue to his manager as “under investigation”. This all takes him an hour. He eventually sends the query2
  3. 3. information back to the Application Support Group 10 A further email to the IT administrators over there specialist to confirm his conclusion that the query eventually confirms that the query originated from was legally generated from their own applications. a hot desk in room 6.2.13. There is no-one there, of course, as the query was issued yesterday. But the 8 The DBA’s manager sends an email at the end of log shows who had been there. They are called and the day to the security team with alert details. they eventually confirm their legitimate use of the application and query data. We are now three hours into the event. The 11 The Security Team mark the incident ticket as Security Group has the alert for investigation, closed, more than 24 hours after the query had though the message is on its way back to triggered the alert. front line support that the query was probably generated legally, by the company’s own 12 The incident response team looks at the policy applications. description on the DAM system and realise that the “Union” element in the customer’s name had triggered a signature used for checking for 9 The IP address originating the query came from potentially malicious UNION instructions in SQL. within the company, so the Security Analyst receiving They disable the rule concerned. the query contacts the Operations Group. The next morning, they confirm that the query originated in the A day after the false alert was generated and Sales Department in Building 6. the incident is closed, while the results data from the query are on a memory stick on the other side of the country. No harm was done in this case. The Path of a False Alert 12 Day 2 Time elapsed DATA 26 hours20 SECONDS SQL STATEMENT Rule disabled Time elapsed 30 minutes Day 1 DAM DBA SQL STATEMENT EMAIL ALERT SIEM EMAIL ALERT EMAIL SYSTEM 1 2 3 4 1st Line Support Team Time elapsed Time elapsed 1 millisecond 1 minute Day 1 Day 1 Day 1 Time elapsed 60 minutes Day 1 Incident Closed Time elapsed Operations Team IT Admin Team 140 minutes 5 EMAIL EMAIL Day 1 Time elapsed 9 Day 2 Time elapsed Day 2 Time elapsed 10 Day 2 Time elapsed 7 3 hours and 18 hours and 20 hours 20 hours and 15 minutes 30 minutes Room 15 minutes Email Query Building Number Email Query “Which building did it come from?” Name “Which room?” Day 1 Time elapsed 6 125 minutes EMAIL ALERT ASG MANAGER 7 DBA DETAILS EMAIL End User Security Team Application Support Group Day 1 Time elapsed 10 Time elapsed 23 hours 3 hours Incident Closed 8 Day 2 11 Day 2 Time elapsed 25 hoursThe Cost of the False PositivesSo what happens now? There have been ten such false Ten such alerts have been generated during thepositive alerts from the system in the intervening time it took to clear this one, building up a potential24 hours, all worthy of investigation. The DAM system response cost of $12k/day, just on false positiveshas seen 15 million SQL statements flow past in that alone. Within two weeks, you will have spent moretime, so a false alarm rate appears low, at first glance, chasing false alarms than you did on the box below one per million. But consider the cost to theorganisation: Following the same logic, ten full-time equivalent staff would be required just to respond to this A minimum of eight people have been involved system alone. in investigating this process and at least one person-day was used to resolve and document The appliance that cost $50k to buy is costing the issue fully. We can estimate the full cost to the hundreds of thousands of dollars to run. organisation at around $1,200. 3
  4. 4. The Effect of the False PositivesNo company would tolerate this, of course. No The older technologies described above use regularcompany could. So the specialist managing the DAM expression matching – an approach which relies onsystem continued to disable the signatures and rules simply spotting known strings and patterns in SQLgenerating false alerts. The false alarm rate dropped statements. As we have seen in the scenario wea little temporarily, each time, but then crept up again considered, this simplistic method is prone to producingas new business systems came online. Eventually, the false positive alerts, as there is little or no appreciationresponse team simply disabled alerting, leaving the of the context of the keyword within its in place just for producing monthly reports andto satisfy regulatory requirements demanding they A new approach has been developed by Secerno; thehave such a system installed. They had been facing an SynoptiQ Analysis Engine at the heart of Secerno.SQL.impossible dilemma: commit enormous resource to SynoptiQ enables Secerno.SQL systems to analysechasing false alerts or switch off the security aspects each database query statement in full, understandingof the DAM system, leaving the database exposed. They the intent of the whole interaction, rather than justhad little choice but to switch off the alerts and adopt checking for keywords irrespective of their context.the “Ostrich Position”. This approach delivers error-free database activity monitoring and blocking. It is the only solution able toThe biggest cost hidden in the scenario hit the company do this.several weeks later, when an employee started usingthe company’s own applications to retrieve credit card The Secerno.SQL approach has fully automatedand identity information on their entire customer base. analysis and clustering, with intelligence naturally builtThe partly-disabled DAM system was at least helpful into the system. To put it simply:in analysing how he managed to do this, and he wassubsequently caught and successfully prosecuted. The older solutions use simple processes and relyThe company was forced to spend more than a million on intelligent humans to carry out difficult securitydollars on upgraded security measures, forensic and analysespenetration testing, recruiting new staff as well ascustomer and investor PR, but the company’s share Secerno uses intelligent processes which meanprice and market reputation never fully recovered the that humans can make simple security decisionsresulting dip. easily and quickly Independent reviews and customer case studies haveThe Improving Security Performance – Lowering Costs shown that the result of this breakthrough approach isand Reducing Risks a zero defect rate on alerting – to the degree that the majority of Secerno customers run their systems inThere is another way, one which avoids the hidden blocking mode, further reducing the cost of respondingoverheads associated with false positive alerts; to alerts, and guaranteeing the highest level of dataallowing monitoring, and even blocking, to remain in – delivering true security.The full semantic analysis of each and every SQL Conclusionstatement, carried out by a Secerno.SQL databaseactivity monitoring and blocking system – powered Database Activity Monitoring is an essential tool forby Secerno’s patented SynoptiQ technology - would protecting sensitive data assets in database systemshave shown that the query was consistent with normal from losses to external and internal sources – but itapplication behaviour. No alert would have been must be accurate. It is a fast-growing market preciselygenerated. The system would sit there quietly, waiting because of the value of the data protected and the hugefor a real incident. cost of a potential data breach.If you have absolute confidence in your system and it However, unless they can operate with a zero-errorissues an alert, then you can be completely sure that an rate, then the cost of alerting anomalous behaviouranomalous statement was on the wire. These systems becomes prohibitive (not to mention the ability to blockare so quiet when operational, that many customers becomes impactical) and the security of your sensitiveoperate them in blocking mode. Thus any statement data assets gets thrown out of the window.that triggers a response can be stopped before itreaches the database, before it can do any damage.This lowers the response cost and protects your data. ZERO FALSE POSITIVESAbout SecernoSecerno.SQL is Secerno’s award-winning family of database activity grammatical clustering and machine-learning. SynoptiQ analysesmonitoring and database security solutions - uniquely available all database traffic to automatically fingerprint the true intent of allas either hardware or virtual appliances. Secerno.SQL protects database requests. This enables organisations to see and prove withdata at the point at which it is accessed and delivers the highest unprecedented granular analysis exactly how their data is accessedlevels of protection against internal and external threats, optimises and changed.compliance auditing and delivers the ability to improve the securityand efficiency of applications. SynoptiQ automatically clusters database interactions with others of similar intent; highlighting areas of concern such as authenticatedAt the core of all products is Secerno’s patent-pending SynoptiQ users abusing their privileges, attackers masquerading astechnology, based on breakthrough research into efficient authenticated users or any other form of SQL injection attack. Code: WP0810_FALSALRM Web: Email: Copyright © Secerno Ltd 4