Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Brief History of Network Security Monitoring

Last week I was pleased to deliver the keynote at the first Security Onion Conference in Augusta, GA, organized and hosted by Doug Burks. This was probably my favorite security event of the year, attended by many fans of Security Onion and the network security monitoring (NSM) community.

Doug asked me to present the history of NSM. To convey some of the milestones in the development of this operational methodology, I developed these slides (pdf). They are all images, screen captures, and the like, but I promised to post them. For example, the image at left is the first slide from a Webinar that Bamm Visscher and I delivered on 4 December 2002, where we presented the formal definition of NSM the first time. We defined network security monitoring as

the collection, analysis, and escalation of indications and warnings to detect and respond to intrusions.

You may recognize similarities with the intelligence cycle and John Boyd's Observe - Orient - Decide Act (OODA) loop. That is not an accident.

During the presentation I noted a few key years and events:

  • 1986: The Cliff Stoll intrusions scare the government, military, and universities supporting gov and mil research.
  • 1988: Lawrence Livermore National Lab funds three security projects at UC Davis by supporting the Prof Karl Levitt's computer science lab. They include AV software, a "security profile inspector," and the "network security monitor."
  • 1988-1990: Todd Heberlein and colleagues code and write about the NSM platform.
  • 1991: While instrumenting a DISA location suffering from excessive bandwidth usage, NSM discovers 80% of the clogged link is caused by intruder activity.
  • 1992: Former FBI Director, then assistant AG, Robert Mueller writes a letter to NIST warning that NSM might not be legal.
  • 1 October 1992: AFCERT founded.
  • 10 September 1993: AFIWC founded.
  • End of 1995: 26 Air Force sites instrumented by NSM.
  • End of 1996: 55 Air Force sites instrumented by NSM.
  • End of 1997: Over 100 Air Force sites instrumented by NSM.
  • 1999: Melissa worm prompts AFCERT to develop dedicated anti-malware team. This signaled a shift from detection of human adversaries interacting with victims to detection of mindless code interacting with victims.
  • 2001: Bamm Visscher deploys SPREG, the predecessor to Sguil, at our MSSP at Ball Aerospace.
  • 13 July 2001: Using SPREG, one of our analysts detects Code Red, 6 days prior to the public outbreak. I send a note to a mailing list on 15 July.
  • February 2003: Bamm Visscher recodes and releases Sguil as an open source NSM console.

As I noted in my presentation,. the purpose of the talk was to share the fact that NSM has a long history, some of which happened when many practitioners (including myself) were still in school.

This is not a complete history, either. For more information, please see my 2007 post Network Security Monitoring History and the foreword, written by Todd Heberlein, of my newest book The Practice of Network Security Monitoring.

Finally, I wanted to emphasize that NSM is not just full packet capture or logging full content data. NSM is a process, although my latest book defines seven types of NSM data. One of those data types is full content. You can read about all of them in the first first chapter of my book at the publisher Web site.

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