Why Observability Alone Is Not Enough to Keep Your Organization Safe

By Venkat Thummisi [ Join Cybersecurity Insiders ]
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Author: Venkat Thummisi, Co-Founder & CTO – Inside Out Defense

Cybersecurity teams are only as successful as their ability to observe what’s happening inside the complicated computer networks they guard.

Gartner expects that by 2026, 70 percent of organizations successfully applying observability will achieve shorter latency for decision-making, enabling competitive advantage for target business or IT processes. This is because observability is not a forecast or prediction tool – but a genuinely evidence-based data source needed for decision-making.

Observability may be a new buzzword in IT, but it’s a decades-old term in physics. It means inferring the state of a complicated system by observing only the outputs of that system. It’s not the same as application performance monitoring (APM) or network performance management (NPM). Some say that observability is the next step from APM, but it’s essential to understand that observability does not replace monitoring.

Security and event management systems (SIEM) are aggregation tools that analyze security event data over time, then alert to a problem. There are several security observability tools that perform similar activities.

Audits function similarly – they alert you to problems weeks or months after they occur. In the world of access management, a minute later is too late.

Observability complements existing cybersecurity practices.

Detailed observability enables the IT team to swiftly identify and resolve unauthorized access either by bad actors from the outside or by what appears to be legitimate users operating on the inside.

Over the past couple of years, cloud-native architectures – including a push for uncomplicated access across platforms and systems – have added new complexity to IT settings. Observability has become even more critical in this dynamic environment of a proactive cybersecurity system.

Privileged access monitoring is one area of observability that continues to gain more importance. Cybercriminals frequently target privileged user accounts – and the corresponding access credentials – because they know they will gain deeper access via high-level access credentials. And any activity they launch once they are inside the system is less likely to cause suspicion.

Organizations must regularly monitor privileged access accounts to ensure that they are used only for intended purposes and that the user is indeed who they claim to be. Observability has drawn a lot of attention in the field of cybersecurity. It has proved very successful in aggregating security events of various types and offering in-depth analysis and insights.

Observability must have an immediate fix to be successful in privileged access monitoring.

There are several reasons why observability alone is not enough when it comes to privileged access monitoring.

  1. It may not be live and in real-time. Most software solutions’ observability is reactive rather than proactive. It attempts to offer accurate and detailed knowledge of what may be happening in an IT security environment but does not prevent or address problems. Privileged access issues are here-and-now problems and must be addressed the moment they occur.
  2. Observability can produce excessive noise: Several PAM and SIEM solutions, among other observability tools, bombard IT staff with vast recommendations, making it difficult to detect and address real security issues
  3. It’s a fact that constant alert output from observability tools causes alert fatigue in IT teams. As a result, even if alerts contain real security dangers, they are more likely to be ignored, making it more likely that a breach will go unnoticed.
  4. Observability doesn’t deal with the underlying source of privilege access misuse or abuse. Organizations must combine observability with proactive security issue prevention strategies to overcome these problems. This involves putting in place tools to detect and fix cybersecurity issues, enabling IT security staff to manage and watch over privileged access efficiently.
  5. Guarding against privilege access abuse entails a deeper inspection and analysis of the associated user behaviors being validated against the organizational and regulatory mandates to identify abusive access behavioral patterns. Modern threats are very sophisticated, and they seamlessly pass through the current crop of security scanners as these were purpose-built to detect static threat signatures. Ex: An admin user on an AWS S3 bucket downloading or making changes to the configurations passes through as a genuinely entitled user going about their activities. However, a larger corroboration of the user’s distributed set of activities in other environments may tell a different story about the user’s specific activities in the AWS environment.

Observability is a crucial tool for IT security operations, especially privileged access monitoring, but it is insufficient to provide efficient control of privileged security.  It is a valuable technique for monitoring privileged access. IT teams can swiftly identify and address possible security concerns by tracking the activity of privileged users and accounts. However, observability by itself won’t guarantee efficient privileged access monitoring.

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