Answering Reader Questions

Thanks to the patient readers who submitted questions while I've been on the road for work. I'd like to post a few questions here, along with my answers. Identities of those asking questions have been preserved unless noted otherwise, as is my policy.

How does something like Sguil relate to something like OSSIM? I find that I would love to use Sguil for analysis, but it doesn’t deal with HIDS, and I feel if I run both on the same network, I am overlapping a bit of things, as well as using a bit of resources redundantly?

I see Sguil and OSSIM as different products. Sguil is primarily (and currently) an analyst console for network security monitoring. OSSIM (from what I have seen, and from what I have heard speaking directly with developers) is more of an interface to a variety of open source tools. That sounds similar but it is somewhat different. I don't see a reason why you have to choose between the two.

I think it is important to realize that although OSSIM has the term "SIM" in the name, it's really not a SIM. Most people consider a SIM to be a system that interprets logs from a variety of sources, correlates or otherwise analyzes them, and presents more intelligence information to the analyst. OSSIM doesn't really accept that much from other log sources; it relies on output from other open source tools. I am sure I am going to hear from a bunch of satisfied OSSIM users who claim I am ignorant, but my group decided not to use OSSIM because it was less SIM than we needed and too much portal to open source applications. If you want that, it's still helpful.

In your book you stated that Sguil is really used for real-time monitoring, but what happens when you are a small company, and don’t employ 24x7 staff? Does the analyst come in the next morning and work thru alerts that come thru the previous evening?

That is one model. In another model, you set Sguil to auto-categorize all alerts, and then query for something of interest. Sguil was originally built for a 24x7 SOC environment, but you don't necessarily have to use it that way.

I have been [in a new job as an analyst at a] MSSP for 3-weeks and have formed an opinion that slightly mirrors your points about MSSP's being ticket-shops; in my opinion, MSSP, and specifically the division that I am in is like a glorified and/or specialized help/service desk. We get tickets, we fix things, we close tickets, repeat, etc. This is like a help desk except instead of dealing with say desktops and servers, we are dealing with firewalls and IDS'.

I had a conversation with a friend who helped land me the job this afternoon and one of the things that he pointed out to me was that I would have to get used to the fact that our customers (government and commercial) are not interested in situational awareness or tactical traffic analyses, or NSM in general. In fact, to my company NSM is a product by [insert vendor name here]. :)

This is funny, but true. Please don't get the impression that I am complaining, I willingly chose to work for this company and am happy to have the opportunity to learn new technologies (different firewalls, different IDS') from a different perspective and within many disparate networks. It's just that I have come to the conclusion that all Information Security is NOT Information Warfare and am not sure how to cope with this. I am a packet-head and an analyst at heart, but as I have been told, our customer's do not place the same premium on understanding their traffic that I do, nor does my company by that extension because it is not a salable service.

Wow, doesn't that question just punch you in the gut? I feel your pain. MSSPs exist to make money, and differentiation by the real issue -- detecting and ejecting intruders -- doesn't appear on the balance sheet. If anyone disagrees, re-read MSSPs: What Really Matters and read near the bottom: As Bamm Visscher asks, "Is your MSSP just a 'Security Device Management Provider'?" (SDMP?)

I have anecdotal evidence from a variety of sources that many companies are taking in-house some of the security services they previously outsourced. Some are doing so because they are getting little to no value for their MSSP dollar. Others realize that almost all of the MSSPs are just SDMPs, and the customer demands someone who has a better chance understanding their business and actually improving security. Those who retain MSSPs are usually checking PCI or other regulatory boxes or not clued in to the fact most MSSPs are terrible. A very small minority is happy with their MSSP, and I can probably name the company or two providing the service. (Please don't ask for their names.) Some customers are hoping everything ends up in the cloud anyway, so security becomes someone else's problem! (Sorry!)

To specifically address your concerns -- I would do the best you can with your situation, but if you decide you really aren't happy, I would look for alternatives. Either find a MSSP that operates how you would like it to, or find a company or agency with a good in-house operation. Now that you've seen how a ticket shop operates it's easy to identify one in the future.

Do you know if there has been any progress with FreeBSD 7.0 in coupling up Snort inline with a bridge-mode FreeBSD machine? I think that this would be a match made in heaven. The last time I did research on this, it wasn't yet possible because the kernel can't handle divert sockets.

Sorry, I have not tried this recently.

Are you handling AV issues? I wanted to know if you had tied that into your IR plan and any lessons learned you might be able to share. Right now our AV is handled by the systems team but when they get an alert "IF" they look at it they typically re-run a scan or maybe some spyware tools and call it good, no traffic monitoring, no application base lining, typically my team will come along after the fact when we see traffic that falls out of spec and question what's happened recently on the box.

I have lobbied to now pull this into my team (Network Ops and Security), increase headcount, and I have an idea on how to handle it but wanted to see if you've already dealt with it.

Great question. Ideally antivirus is integrated into an overall Security Operations Center, since AV is both a detection and containment mechanism. However, AV often seems to be run by separate groups (a dedicated AV team, or the end user desktop team, or another batch of people). I recommend integrating access to the AV console into your own processes. Either formally establish a process to involve your incident responders when notified by the AV team of a situation they realize is problematic, or offer support when you observe troublesome behavior on the AV console. Preferably the AV team escalates suspected compromises to the IRT, but you may have to be a little more aggressive if you want to compensate for lack of cooperation between the teams.


DavidJBianco said…
To the reader who was asking about OSSIM: I'm just going to make a guess here, but since you were talking about HIDS, maybe you were talking about OSSEC instead?

One of the nice things about Sguil 0.7.0 is that there's now a supported way for you to insert your own events into the database and have them show up on the console. I actually wrote a custom agent to interpret the OSSEC logs and insert events into Sguil if they meet a certain minimum priority threshold. Using this removes the false dichotomy between Sguil and OSSEC, as you no longer have to choose one or the other to monitor.

The code is available here if you're interested.

Also, to the person who was asking about AV. Depending on your AV solution, you may very well be able to create a custom agent similar to mine. I know that Symantec's enterprise level AV products can create a text log file on the central AV server whenever clients detect infections, and this wouldn't be too hard to parse out.

We've also had some luck with the virus and malware sets of Snort rules put out by Sourcefire and by the Emerging Threats project. They've quite good at identifying various types of adware, spyware and malware on the wire, but might be noisy if you have a lot of unmanaged clients with user-installed software.
Unknown said…
To your reader working at the MSSP, I like to think of the situation in terms of the movie Jerry Magquire, specifically the sports agency he worked for at the beginning. It is typical business economics: More clients, less service per client = more money. Jerry Maguire gets fed up with this and wants better, more personal, and worthwhile service to less clients because he can't do that with his current client load. He feels this will give his clients more value, and in turn make his company more money. (I.e. quality over quantity)

This is the trap MSSPs can fall into, where good security service is second to having more customers and less time per customer. In fact, it is in their best interest to supress alerts quickly and care little about the real health of the customer's networks. Provide reports, point out that their network is up and they're not in the news (yet), and move on. This is the easy road; having quality security service is hard and you need the right people, but a ticket shop can employe tech support persons and churn those tickets!

I think a lot of enthusiastic security geeks feel like you do, and get bogged down by the economic realities most of us end up facing.

But hey, that's the world we live in, and I would hope you learn a lot in this role. In fact, you might learn enough to keep your enthusiasm high and step your way up into a position where you can achieve your desired levels of quality and impact.
Anonymous said…
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