Using Application Analytics to Achieve Security at Scale
Are you overwhelmed by the number of security events per day? If so, you are not alone.
Alert Fatigue is Leaving You Exposed
It is not uncommon for security administrators to receive tens of thousands of security alerts per day, leading to alert fatigue – and worse – security events going unattended.
Tellingly, a study conducted by the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) found that over 40% of security professionals think alerts lack actionable intelligence that can help them resolve security events. More than 30% of security professionals ignore alerts altogether because so many of them are false positives. Similarly, a study by Fidelis Cybersecurity found that almost two-thirds of organizations review less than 25% of alerts every day and only 6% triage 75% or more of alerts per day that they receive.
As a result of this alert flood, many organizations leave the majority of their security alerts unchecked. This is particularly a problem in the world of application security, as customer-facing applications frequently generate massive amounts of security events, based on user activity. Although many of these events are benign, some are not—and it only takes one alert to open the doors to devastating security events, like a data breach.
Not examining these events in detail leaves applications (and the data they store) exposed to security vulnerabilities, false positives, and sub-optimal security policies, which go unnoticed.
Many Events, but Few Activities
The irony of this alert flood is that when examined in detail, many alerts are, in fact, recurring events with discernible patterns. Examples of such recurring patterns are accessed to a specific resource, multiple scanning attempts from the same origin IP, or execution of a known attack vector.
Traditionally, web application firewall (WAF) systems log each individual event, without taking into consideration the overall context of the alert. For example, a legitimate attempt by a large group of users to access a common resource (such as a specific file or page), and a (clearly illegitimate) repeated scanning attempts by the same source IP address, would all be logged the same way: each individual event would be logged once, and not cross-linked to similar events.
How to Achieve Security at Scale
Achieving security at scale requires being able to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to security events. That is, distinguishing between large amounts of routine user actions which has little implication for application security, and high-priority alerts which are indicative of malicious hacking attempts or may otherwise suggest a problem with security policy configuration (for example, such as a legitimate request being blocked).
In order to be able to make this separation, there are a number of questions that security administrators need to ask themselves:
- How frequently does this event occur? That is, does this behavior occur often, or is it a one-off event?
- What is the trend for this event? How does this type of behavior reflect over time? Does it constantly occur at a constant rate, or is there a sudden massive spike?
- What is the relevant header request data? What are the relevant request methods, destination URL, resource types, and source/destination details?
- Is this type of activity indicative of a known attack? Is there a legitimate explanation for this event, or does it usually signify an attempted attack?
Each of these questions can go either way in terms of explaining security events. However, administrators will do well to have all of this information readily available, in order to reach an informed assessment based on the overall context.
Having such tools – and taking the overall context into consideration – confers security professionals with a number of significant benefits:
- Increased visibility of security events, to better understand application behavior and focus on high-priority alerts.
- More intelligent decision making on which events should be blocked or allowed.
- A more effective response in order to secure applications against attacks as much as possible, while also making sure that legitimate users are not impacted.
Radware’s Application Analytics
Radware developed Application Analytics – the latest feature in Radware’s Cloud WAF Service to address these customer needs.
Radware’s Cloud WAF Application Analytics works via a process of analysis based on machine-learning algorithms, which identify patterns and group similar application events into recurring user activities:
- Data mapping of the log data set, to identify all potential event types
- Cluster analysis using machine learning algorithms to identify similar events with common characteristics
- Activity grouping of recurring user activities with common identifiers
- Data enrichment of supplemental details on activities to provide further context on activities
Radware’s Cloud WAF Application Analytics takes large numbers of recurring log events and condensing them into a small number of recurring activities.
In several customer trials, this capability allowed Radware to reduce the number of Cloud WAF alerts from several thousand (or even tens of thousands) to a single-digit (or double digit) number of activities. This allows administrators to focus on the alerts that matter.
For example, one customer reduced over 8,000 log events on one of their applications into 12 activities (seen above), whereas another customer reduced more than 3,500 security events into 13 activities.
The benefits for security administrators are easy to see: rather than drown in massive amounts of log events with little (or no) context to explain them. Cloud WAF Application Analytics now provides a tool to reduce log overload into a manageable number of activities to analyze, which administrators can now handle.
Ultimately, there is no silver bullet when it comes to WAF and application security management: administrators will always need to balance being as secure as possible (and protect private user data), with the need to be as accessible as possible to those same users. Cloud WAF Application Analytics are Radware’s attempt to disentangle this challenge.