Thursday, October 14, 2021
Friday, October 8, 2021
Friday, May 7, 2021
After two months and a few hundred dollars later, my most recent personal project is completed. 10 years after my TOGAF9 certification, I decided to play the test taker again and obtain a new batch of professional certifications: AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner, AWS Certified Security Specialty and Microsoft Certified: Azure Fundamentals.
I didn't need these certifications for my current job, and I'm not looking for a new one either, so this is not about job requirements or job hunting. So why did I do it?
I did it because I could do it :-) Well, ok, let me elaborate a bit. My career has been slowly moving away from more technical roles, and that's reducing my direct, hands on contact with technology. I don't think this is a bad thing, but as someone with the technical background, I miss that deeper understanding of the things I need to talk and write about.
At the same time, I do not have the same drive to learn things that I do not have an immediate need for, learning just for the sake of learning. I still love learning new things, but that youth drive of building labs and labs for learning things we may never touch as part of our job is just not there anymore. Putting a target like a certification in front of me (and paying for it) seems to be an effective way to trigger my brain into "I need to learn this" mode. I learned many things in the past while preparing for getting certs, so I thought I could use the same method again. It was nice, it worked well for this intent.
Cloud adoption keeps growing and cloud is directly affecting the work of anyone in security these days. It's not different for me: I work for a Cloud SIEM vendor, and we are bringing many innovations to the SIEM space that are directly related to cloud. Securonix recently announced "Bring Your Own Cloud", for example, and it is deeply rooted in AWS offerings, so it seemed natural to me that I should put a couple of AWS certs in my project. AWS Cloud Practitioner helped me learn more about the very broad range of offerings from AWS, and the security specialty was useful to provide more depth to my understanding of cloud threats and cloud security controls.
In addition to the AWS certs, I wanted to add the (ISC)2 CCSP to the mix as well. I checked the domain of knowledge of the cert, ran through a few practice exams and noticed I already had most of the skills and knowledge required to pass it. So why didn't I do it? Because it's freaking expensive! USD600 is beyond any reasonable justification for a simple multiple-choice exam. Maybe I would take it if I was looking for a job like cloud security architect, or even as a CISO for a company with a strong cloud presence, but just for the fun of doing it? No, I'm sorry, it doesn't make any sense.
An Azure cert was a natural choice to complete my project. AWS and Azure are by far the most visible cloud providers (sorry Google!), so going through the process for both looked like the best choice.
There are a few things I noticed during this exercise that I think it's worth sharing. First, it confirmed to me that test taking talent is really a thing. I'm a helluva test taker. I'm not bragging; apart from helping me pass tests and exams easily, it doesn't provide me with any real competitive advantage "on the job". I've always been like that and was happy to see I haven't lost it after so many years without sitting for a test. I didn’t spend more than a handful of hours reading for the full project. I don’t feel nervous and even have fun while taking the tests, so everything was a fun experience.
But when you are a hiring manager and you see those certs in a resume, it's always important to find out if those certs came from real experience or just from good test taking skills (or worse, memorizing those awful brain dumps).
Don't get me wrong, it doesn't mean that certs on a resume means nothing. Remember, the main reason for me to do it was to force me into learning something about those technologies. Even if I don't have the hands-on experience the test developers were trying to verify with these exams, I still had to at least read a bit and get solid understanding of the basic concepts.
Talking about basic concepts...if you want to get certs, LEARN THE F* BASICS! You can't believe the number of questions I was able to answer because of basic stuff, not necessarily tied to those specific cloud providers. If you know how crypto works, for example, a lot of the AWS security specialty questions will be very easy to answer. Same thing for networking and network security. AWS security groups, network ACLs, Azure network security groups...those are straightforward to learn when you know those things well. I didn't take the real CCSP, but the practice questions I've done indicate that CISSP level concepts would put more than half of way behind you on that one.
Finally, some interesting bits about AWS and Azure I was able to notice:
· Knowing the basics of one of those means you have almost all the basics of the other. Key concepts are virtually identical.
· The naming convention of Azure is AWESOME. It's very easy to know what products and services do just from their names. They may not sound as sexy as "Athena", "Glacier", or high tech as “S3”, “EC2”, but they tell you in a very simple manner what they are about.
· Both services are evolving so fast it's hard to keep study material, documentation and questions aligned and up to date on the latest offerings. Don't be surprised to see questions about things you didn't see in your study material. Check some of the announcements and blog posts from the past year as part of your study work.
· AWS Security Specialty is the one I see closest to being "hard". There's really a lot of stuff to cover, in a relatively deep level of detail: Networking, Crypto, IAM, logging, policies syntax and small idiosyncrasies. I can see how it really tries to assess real experience on AWS security.
Am I done with the certs now? Maybe, not sure. It may become an expensive hobby :-). Well...those Azure security certs do not look that hard, I still have that 50% off voucher for AWS exams and I really need to spend some time learning about Google cloud ;-)
P.S. As I’m doing this during the COVID-19 pandemic, I took these tests in the “online proctored” mode. THEY SUCK! I was expecting those VUE, PSI guys would have learned by now how to do it right. No, they tech and processes are horrible. I had problems during the 3 exams, one with PSI (AWS Practitioner), the worst one, and two with VUE. If you are a person that gets anxious or nervous during the exam, this is definitely not for you. Some of the issues I had to go through would take many candidates out of their minds and strongly impair their ability to answer the questions.
Friday, April 16, 2021
The SIEM market is a US$5B market with a two-digit annual growth rate. Still, we keep seeing multiple questions and discussions around SIEM’s role, future and value. Why?
There are many reasons, including:
- The high importance of SIEM’s role for security operations: The SIEM is often the foundation of Security Operation Centers and has a critical role in their work. It is natural to see it being constantly evaluated and discussed as it has a role in almost all SOC processes.
- Cost and budget share: SIEM is not cheap. It usually takes a big chunk of the security budget. Organizations will keep trying to reduce it as part of their cost optimization efforts, while vendors of other technologies will keep trying to sell their products as alternatives to tap into existing SIEM budgets.
- Operational effort required: SIEM is definitely not a “set and forget” tool. This is not a deficiency per se, as other technologies, such as EDR, also require people to deliver value. But the concerns about how much effort must be put into SIEM operations is a constant driver of discussions about improvements or even replacements of this technology.
- Multitude of experiences: SIEM has been around for more than 20 years. Many professionals have gone through multiple implementations, sometimes with good experiences, sometimes not so much. I’ve seen many people with very strong opinions on SIEM based on their personal experiences with this type of tool, experiences that many times are not representative of how SIEMs can support security initiatives.
- Evolution of other technologies and of the entire technology landscape: As other technologies evolve, it is inevitable to look at how they impact the role of SIEM. It happened with UEBA, it happened with SOAR, it is happening with XDR. The technology environments where these tools operate are also constantly evolving. Big SAN storage systems came up, virtualization became ubiquitous, big data spread out like wildfire. These changes affect the security tools we use to protect IT environments in multiple ways. Some increased the amount of data to be collected and processed, while others were used to evolve SIEM and make it more scalable and capable.
Nothing is more important to those discussions as Cloud SIEM. Not just “hosted” in the cloud, but as a native cloud offering. Why? Because now SIEM vendors can have some control over deployment success. What are you saying, Augusto? Didn’t they have control over the success of their own product before? Yes, that’s true!
As a traditional SIEM vendor, it is very hard for you to ensure the customer will be able to get all the benefits your product can provide. First, they may underestimate the required capacity for their environment. They will end with a sluggish product, overflowing with data, having to deal with adding servers, memory, storage, or even stopping the deployment to rearchitect the whole solution before getting any value from it. I’ve seen countless SIEM deployments dying this way before generating any return of investment.
But it doesn’t stop there. They may get the sizing right but underestimate the effort to keep it running. They estimate the number of people to use the SIEM, but they forget that a traditional SIEM requires people to use it but also to keep it running. That means people will spend their time keeping servers running, applying patches (to operating systems, middleware and to the SIEM software too), troubleshooting log collection, ensuring storage doesn’t blow up, and not paying attention to what the SIEM should actually be doing for them. The tool is up and running, but again, not providing any value.
We can see how much the vendor depends on the customer to provide value. And even if the customers do things properly, there are other challenges too. Traditional software allows for high variation of deployments: Customers running on different versions, with different hardware and architecture. How can a vendor distribute SIEM content (parsers, rules, machine learning models, etc) that works in a consistent manner to its customers in this scenario? It just can’t.
Considering these factors, I risk saying that offering a traditional SIEM solution is like the Sisyphus Myth. As much as the vendor tries to deliver value, the solution will eventually fail to achieve the customer objectives. As traditional software, SIEM was really destined to die.
How does the cloud SIEM change this?
Second, a SaaS SIEM puts customers on highly standardized deployments. With most customers running on the same version, without capacity challenges, it’s far easier to deliver content that works for all of them. That makes a huge difference in perceived value. And it doesn’t stop there. With this scenario it becomes easier to the vendor to finally realize the benefits of the “wisdom of the crowds”. Developing more complex ML models for threat detection, for example, becomes easier and more effective. The vendor now has access to more data to train and tune the models. Even simple IOC match detection content can be quickly developed and delivered to all customers, allowing the SIEM vendor to provide detection of new, in the wild threats.
Finally, delivering any software solution via SaaS gives the developer the opportunity to embrace more agile development practices. Upgrading a traditional SIEM deployment is so complex that vendors would naturally rely on traditional waterfall development practices, generating big releases with long times between them. SaaS SIEM can leverage agile development and CI/CD practices, so new features can be quickly added, and defects quickly fixed.
Cloud SIEM is on its infancy when you consider SIEM is just past its teenage years. But there are so many opportunities to explore with this model that I believe now we can say “Next-Gen SIEM” without feeling silly about it. Be careful with “SIEM is dead” claims. That sounds to me much like "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers", by Thomas Watson in 1943.
Friday, March 19, 2021
The topic on SOC automation is really a fun one to think about, and even after putting my thoughts into words with my last post, I've still kept thinking about it. Some additional considerations came to my mind.
The simplistic question of "Will machines replace humans in a SOC" can be clearly answered with a NO, as I explained in my previous post. As the human attackers are required to evolve the attacking robots, blue team people are required to update the automated defenses.
But things change if the question is asked with some additional nuance. If you ask "will defense actions be automated end to end, from detection to response actions?", it becomes a more interesting question to answer.
The scenario of automated threats that Anton described in his post will, IMO, require SOCs to put together some end to end automation. Having a human involved for every response will not scale to face those attacks. Humans will be responsible for creating those playbooks and monitor their performance, but they cannot be involved in their execution. We need SOC automation that allows us to detect, investigate and initiate response without human intervention. This is challenging, but we must get there at some point.
Andre Gironda commented on the LinkedIn post pointing to my blog post that even with the appropriate tools he still can't fully automate simple phishing response. I could say he's probably being too perfectionist or doing something wrong, but I actually believe him. I believe automation can provide value by reducing human effort in the SOC right now, but full automation, even for some specific threats, is still challenging. But we'll have to get there if we want to stand a chance.
Tuesday, March 16, 2021
The debate around SOC automation has been a fun one to follow. Allie Mellen wrote a short but on the spot piece about it, reaffirming what seems to be the commonsense opinion on this topic today: Automation is good, but to augment human capacity, not replace it.
After that Anton brought up a very interesting follow up, confirming that view but also pointing to a scary future scenario, where automation would be adopted so extensively by the attackers that it would force defense to do the same. Does this scenario make sense?
I believe it does, and indeed it forces defense to adopt more automation. But even if Anton says the middle ground position is "cheating", I still think it is the most reasonable one. There will never be (until we reach the Singularity) a fully automated SOC, just as there will never be a fully automated attacker (until...you know). Why? Let's look at the scenario Anton painted for this evolved attacker:
Even if it looks scary, this scenario is still limited in certain points. You may have malware capable of creating exploits by itself, but what will they exploit? What is this exploitation trying to accomplish? There is an abstract level of actions that is defined by the creator of the malware. Using MITRE ATT&CK language, the malware is capable of generating multiple instances of a selection of techniques, but a human must define the tactics and select the techniques to be used. Quoting Rumsfeld, there will be more known unknowns, but the unknown unknown is still the realm of humans.
A few years ago, I had a similar discussion with a vendor claiming that their deep learning-based technology would be able to detect"any malware". This is nonsense. Even the most advanced ML still needs to be pointed to some data to look at. If the signal required to detect something is not in that data, there's no miracle. Let's look at a simple example:
You may claim this is an edge scenario, but I'm using anexaggerated situation on purpose. There’s still many cases that we can relate to, such as breaches due to the use of shadow IT, cloud resources, etc. What I want to highlight is the type of lateral thinking very often employed by attackers in cybersecurity. And the lateral thinking is still exclusive of humans.
What I'm trying to say is that fully automated threats are scary, buy they lack the main force that makes detecting threats challenging. Defense automation can evolve to match the same level, but both sides will still rely on humans to tip the scale when those machines reach a balance point in capabilities.
What we have today is similar to those battling robots TV shows. Machines operated by humans. If things evolve as Anton suggests we will move to what happens in "robot soccer": human created machines operating autonomously, but within a finite framework of capabilities.
Robot wars vs Robot Soccer
Threats and SOCs will become more automated for sure. As they automate, they become faster, so each side has to increase its own level of automation to keep up. But when automation limits are reached, the humans on the threat side must apply that lateral thinking to find other avenues to exploit. They need to take the Kirk approach to Kobayashi Maru. When this happens, the humans on the defense side become critical. They need to figure out what is happening and create new ways to fight against the new methods.
So, humans will still be necessary on both sides. Of course, the operational involvement will be greatly reduced, again, on both sides. But they will be there, waiting to react against the innovation introduced by their counterparts on the other side.
This may be an anticlimactic conclusion, and it is. But there are some interesting follow up conversations to have. The number of humans required, their skills and how they are engaged will be different. What does it mean for outsourcing? Do end users still need people on their side? If solution providers engage this problem in a smart way, we may be able to remove, or greatly reduce, the need for humans on the end user organization side, for example. The remaining humans would be on the vendor side, adapting the tools to react against the latest attacks. For the end user organization, the result may look very similar to full automation, as they would not need to add their humans to the mix. Will we end up with the mythical "SOC in a box"? Future will tell.