Observability 101 – How is it Different from Monitoring

Monitoring IT infrastructure was, in the past, a fairly complicated thing, because it required constant vigilance: software continuously scanned a network, looking for outages, inefficiencies, and other potential problems, and then logged them. Each of these logs would then have to be checked by a qualified SOC team, which would then identify any issues. This led to several common problems, such as alert fatigue and false flags – both of which we’ll discuss more later – and burnout was prevalent. In fact, these three issues (fatigue, flags, and burnout) have only increased as our interconnectivity has increased. Much like the pitfalls that have befallen the airline industry (such as increased security risks and tougher identification and authorization measures), our increasing connectivity is also presenting increased security risks, risks that require more stringent identification and authorization measures, adding to the workload of SOC teams.

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What does monitoring do? It lets us know if there are latency issues; it lets us know if we’ve had a jump in TCP connections. And while these are important notifications, they are no longer enough. Secure systems do not remain secure unless they are also maintained. Security teams need a system that can monitor all of these interconnected components. This is where observability comes in.

What is monitoring?

Observability is the capacity to deduce a system’s internal states. Monitoring is the actions involved in observability: perceiving the quality of system performance over a time duration. The tools and processes which support monitoring can deduce the performance, health, and other relevant criteria of a system’s internal states. Monitoring specifically refers to the process of analyzing infrastructure log metrics data.

A system’s observability lets you know how well the infrastructure log metrics can extract the performance criteria connected with critical components. Monitoring helps to analyze the infra log metrics to take actions and deliver insights.

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What is Observability?

Observability is the capacity to deduce the internal states of a system based on the system’s external outputs. In control theory, observability is a mathematical dual to controllability, which is the ability to control the internal states of a system by influencing external inputs. 

Infrastructure components that are distributed operate in multiple conceptual layers of software and virtualization. Therefore it is not feasible and challenging to analyze and compute system controllability.

Observability has three basic pillars:  metrics, logs, and tracing. As we noted a moment ago, observability employs all three of these to create a more holistic, end-to-end look at an entire system, using multiple-point tools to accomplish this. 

Comparing observability and monitoring

People are always curious about observability and its difference from monitoring. Let’s take a large, complex data center infrastructure system that is monitored using log analysis, monitoring, and ITSM tools. Monitoring multiple data points continuously will create a large number of unnecessary alerts, data, and red flags. Unless the correct metrics are evaluated and the redundant noise is carefully filtered monitoring solutions, the infrastructure may have low observability characteristics.

A single server machine can be easily monitored using metrics and parameters like energy consumption, temperature,  transfer rates, and speed. The health of internal system components is highly correlated with these parameters. Therefore, the system has high observability. Considering some basic monitoring criteria, such as energy and temperature measurement, the performance, life expectancy, and risk of potential performance incidents can be evaluated.

Observability in DevOps

The concept of observability is very important in DevOps methodologies. In earlier frameworks like waterfall and agile, developers created new features and product lines while separate teams worked on testing and operations for software dependability. This compartmentalized approach meant that operations and monitoring activities were outside the development’s scope. Projects were aimed for success and not for failure i.e debugging of the code was rarely a primary consideration. There was no proper understanding of infrastructure dependencies and application semantics by the developers. Apps and services were built with low dependability. 

Monitoring ultimately failed to give sufficient information of the distributed infrastructure system about the familiar unknowns, let alone the unfamiliar unknown.

The popularity of DevOps has transformed SDLC. Monitoring is no longer limited to just collecting and processing log data, metrics, and event traces but is now used to make the system more transparent I.e observable. 

The scope of observability encapsulates the development segment which is also aided by people, processes, and technologies operating across the pipeline.

Conclusion

Collaboration of cross-functional teams such as Devs, ITOps, and QA personnel is very important when designing a dependable system. Communication and feedback between developers and operations teams are necessary to achieve observability targets of the system that will help QA yield correct and insightful monitoring during the testing phase. In turn, DevOps teams can test systems and solutions for true real-world performance. Constant iteration based on feedback can further enhance IT’s ability to identify potential issues in the systems before the impact reaches end-users.

Observability has a strong human component involved, similar to DevOps. It’s not limited to technologies but also covers the approach, organizational culture, and priorities in reaching appropriate observability targets, and hence, the value of monitoring initiatives.

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Episode 2 – Tactical Security Intelligence and Zero Trust Architecture: How to Adapt Your SIEM and SOC

Welcome to another episode of Infralytics. This episode brings together Shankar Radhakrishnan, Founder of Skedler, and Justin Henderson. Justin is a certified SANS instructor and a member of the Cyber Guardian Blue team at SANS, authoring a number of courses at SANS. Justin is also the Founder and lead consultant at H&A Security Solutions.

Together, Shankar and Justin discuss the intricacies of “Tactical Security Intelligence and Zero Trust Architecture: How to adapt your SIEM and SOC​” during their informative video podcast. Let’s recap their discussion and learn more about what sets tactical security intelligence and zero trust architectures apart from other cybersecurity approaches.

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What is Tactical Security Intelligence?

Tactical security intelligence provides information about the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) used by threat actors to achieve their goals (e.g., to compromise networks, exfiltrate data, and so on). It’s intended to help defenders understand how their organization is likely to be attacked, so they can determine whether appropriate detection and mitigation mechanisms exist or whether they need to be implemented.

What Sources of Data/Information Can Be Divulged?

Tactical security intelligence can divulge what tools threat actors are using during the course of their operations to compromise target networks and exfiltrate data. This type of information will usually come from post-mortem analyses of successful or unsuccessful attacks, and will ideally include details of the specific malware or exploit kits used. It can also identify the specific techniques that threat actors are using to delay or avoid detection. Justin Henderson tells us that most organizations are using tactical security intelligence to “[perform] critical alerting and monitoring back where the data normally resides. The best visibility to see the attacker doesn’t exist there, it exists earlier on like the desktops and laptops.”

Data Monitoring

How do you adapt your SIEM platform for effective tactical intelligence?

In some cases, tactical security intelligence will highlight the need for an organization to invest additional resources in order to address a specific threat. Your tactical security intelligence may lead you to implement a new security protocol or reconfigure an existing technology in order to simplify matters and continue driving innovation forward while averting serious threats. Unfortunately, incident response efficacy relies heavily on human expertise, therefore it can be more difficult to measure the impact of tactical threat intelligence when it comes to identifying serious threats. This is why when supplementing your SIEM platform with tactical security intelligence solutions, it’s best to implement a strong feedback loop between frontline defenders and your threat intelligence experts to ensure more robust network protection.

What is Zero Trust and How Does it Differ From Other Approaches?

Zero trust, as an approach is a reflection of the current, modern working environment that more and more organizations are embracing now. Under the zero trust approach, organizations trust nothing, but verify everything. This approach requires logging, authentication and encryption of all data communication. While it is impossible to fully implement zero trust, Justin Henderson tells us that the best way to go about managing Zero Trust is to “know a baseline, find deviations, then investigate.” The approach is considered as all-pervasive, capable of powering not only large, but also small-scale organizations across various types of industries.

Zero Trust

How Does Zero Trust Impact Your SOC?

To protect, adopting a zero trust approach may be your best bet for success as it allows your organization to seamlessly monitor suspicious activity. This real-time data exposure allows your IT team to reduce the potential for security exposure, thereby giving them the ability to leverage the power of their SOC immediately. Doing so can help your organization sidestep a data breach which can cost $3.9 million on average per a 2019 Ponemon Institute report.

Don’t forget to subscribe and review us below because we want to help others like you improve their IT operations, security operations and streamline business operations. If you want to learn more about Skedler and how we can help you just go to Skedler.com where you’ll find tons of information on Kibana, Grafana, and Elastic Stack reporting. You can also download a free trial with us, so you can see how it all works at skedler.com/download. Thanks for joining and we’ll see you next episode.

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