Modern field guide to security and privacy

The importance of ‘knowing your network’

Real-time visibility into an enterprise’s network is one of the best tools network defenders have in warding off adversaries, said Kent Rounds, the president of cybersecurity firm Tychon.

Some of the largest security incidents often stem from some of the smallest errors.

How do companies find even tiny cracks in their digital armor? Kent Rounds has some simple but sound advice: know your network.

Attackers often have to only unearth a single hole in an company’s defenses in order to gain access to some of its most critically important data, said Rounds, the president of cybersecurity firm Tychon, a vendor that lets companies see and understand what’s happening on their networks.

“Adversaries [can] understand and know the attack surface even better than the operators themselves,” added Rounds, a cybersecurity veteran of more than 20 years, during an interview on the RSA Conference’s RSAC-TV in February.

Indeed, last year, during the Enigma Conference, the National Security Agency’s hacker-in-chief Rob Joyce similarly warned security engineers in the audience that some of their most sophisticated adversaries often have more insights into their networks than they do.

“Don’t assume a crack is too small to be noticed or too small to be exploited,” Joyce, the head of the agency’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) group, told the crowd.

“We’ll poke and we’ll poke and we’ll wait and wait and wait,” he added, “because we’re looking for that opportunity.”

The best way to combat all manner of sophisticated and patient enemies, Rounds said, is giving network defenders, the people inside of an organization charged with keeping its data safe, “a snapshot of the environment in real-time, versus something that’s days, weeks or months old.”

While most organizations patch the most critical, publicly-proclaimed vulnerabilities, it’s often simpler issues like the configuration of software or small unnoticed holes that go unattended.

By giving operators — real people working on actual security problems — insight into their entire network, they’ll be able to fix even small vulnerabilities before they are exploited by an infiltrator.

“It’s giving that operator the insight into what’s happening in my environment and being able to have actionable data to change,” Rounds said. “Before the adversary can take advantage of a crack in the armor.”

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