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    May 22, 2023

    Can Network Monitoring Identify Security Threats? Here’s What to Know

    By continuously monitoring network activity and assets, network monitoring plays a key role in identifying cybersecurity threats.  The network monitoring process gathers important data that can be used in analytics or in conjunction with cybersecurity applications to rapidly identify and respond to threats.

    This crucial role in security will only increase as applications and networks become increasingly connected. This rising use of cloud applications, Internet connectivity, and network as a service (NaaS) means that network connections are speeding up their rate of connectivity, including automated changes that rapidly connect to new networks on the fly. This hybrid and multicloud network connectivity demands important capabilities from network monitoring to defend against security or misconfiguration risks.

    This means that network monitoring’s role in helping to identify security threats is likely to grow. End-to-end network visibility is important in gathering data that is fed into analysis engines to help identify early indicators of network and systems threats or breaches.

    Collecting and monitoring network data

    Proper network monitoring requires the continuous observation of a wide range of data and related to network traffic, devices, and systems. The information gathered can provide a visualization of the infrastructure, as well as any traffic anomalies, devices problems, and data that can be used for root-cause analysis of problems. Information can be gathered from a variety of equipment, including network switches, routers, firewalls, load balancers, cloud services, applications, and endpoints such as servers or laptops.

    Network monitoring systems have progressed beyond the basic infrastructure and now gather data from a wide range of devices and functions, including application-level detail. 
    The large amount of data gathered from a sophisticated network monitoring platform is crucial to cybersecurity applications which create a baseline for activity and traffic and can run analytics programs against to detect anomalies or threats.

    Some of the protocols and layers that can be accessed by network monitoring systems include HTTP, SNMP, and DNS data at the application layer; SSL and TLS information at the presentation layer and NetBIOS information at the session layer. At the transport layer, networking monitoring can access TCP and UDP protocols. At the network layer, it can access information such as IP, ICMP, and IPsec. And at the data-link layer it can access protocols such as PPP or Ethernet. Data measures include monitoring of bandwidth use, CPU utilization, network errors, and total network uptime.

    By collecting information from these sources, the network monitoring system can be combined with cybersecurity data such as malware databases, threat detection systems, and intrusion detection systems (IDS). More comprehensive analysis systems feed the information data lake and apply artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to automate the search and protection against threats.

    Specific cybersecurity use cases

    By continuously observing and log the network to search for anomalous, suspicious, and threatening behavior, network monitoring aids a variety of cybersecurity use cases. These use cases include:

    • Traffic analysis: Network monitoring tools provide insights into network traffic, including the source and destination of data packets, protocols used, and bandwidth consumption. This information is used to identify suspicious or malicious traffic patterns, such as large-scale data exfiltration or denial-of-service attacks.
    • Malware detection: Network monitoring can monitor for malicious code, unusual file transfers, and suspicious communications with known domains. This can help enable early detection of malware infections.
    • Intrusion detection/ intrusion prevention: By looking for anomalous behavior, network monitoring tools can help detect unauthorized access attempts and potential intrusions. This includes analyzing network traffic patterns, anomalies, and attack signatures to identify suspicious behavior.
    • Data exfiltration prevention: Network monitoring can identify instances of sensitive data being accessed in unauthorized ways. It can detect abnormal data transfers, unauthorized access attempts, or unusual data flows indicating data breaches or insider threats.
    • Incident response: Network monitoring can also play a role in providing incident response by with real-time visibility into security events. Cybersecurity teams can use this information to determine the nature and scope of an incident, mitigate its impact, and take actions to contain and remediate the threat.

    Overall, these use cases and others demonstrate that network monitoring is an essential tool for identifying security threats. By using network monitoring tools and technologies, organizations can detect and respond to incidents promptly and strengthen their security posture. 

    Editor’s Note: Active network monitoring is a key capability as organizations move workloads and security to the cloud. Learn more.

    R. Scott Raynovich

    R. Scott Raynovich is the Founder and Chief Analyst of Futuriom, an independent cloud technology analysis firm focused on deep primary research in cloud infrastructure. He has been studying and writing about technology markets as an analyst and writer for 30 years. In the past he was a partner and Editor in Chief of...

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