Suffering from a surfeit of security tools

Published Jan 11, 2024
by Matias Madou, Ph.D.
cASE sTUDY

Suffering from a surfeit of security tools

Published Jan 11, 2024
by Matias Madou, Ph.D.
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This article originally appeared in Security Boulevard. It has been updated and syndicated here.

It’s almost ingrained in our collective psyche that more of a good thing is an even better thing. If you have one of something that you really like, then there is nothing wrong with having two or three, or even more. After all, you can’t have too much of a good thing, right?

Unfortunately, while that logic works for a few things, there are times when it quickly breaks down at higher volumes. In some cases, you begin to experience diminishing returns. How much extra value or joy is that 13th piece of chocolate cake really going to bring you? And then there are other times when adding too much of a good thing can become something that is a significant risk profile for you or your organization.

Too many cybersecurity tools

A critical area where too much of a good thing has quickly become a bad one is with cybersecurity tools, which have blossomed out of control at most organizations in recent years. A study in Dark Reading found that most Chief Information Security Officers rely on an average of 55 to 75 distinct security products or applications to protect their networks. And yet, attacks are still getting through. According to the Verizon 2023 Data Breach Investigations Report, successful attacks are on the rise, and the most complex among them are taking longer than ever to detect.

How can attackers circumvent what seems to be on the surface an impossible gauntlet of 75 or more cybersecurity tools? The fact is that they often do trip alarms, but human defenders are too busy maintaining their defensive tools or responding to thousands of daily alerts to notice. Having lots of security tools can actually give attackers the cover they need to remain undetected.

A recent report in TechRadar highlighted the negative consequences of having too many cybersecurity tools. Among companies surveyed, 71% felt they had more tools than their cybersecurity teams could ever successfully manage. This was actually causing their security posture to get worse as more tools were added. In fact, contrary to the belief that more tools equates to more security, the overwhelming majority of those surveyed reported feeling much less secure because of all the cybersecurity tools installed throughout their environment.

The situation has only gotten worse with the massive move to the cloud at most organizations. One of the reasons that layering lots of cybersecurity tools into a network to cover every possible avenue of attack got popular was because in an era of almost totally on-premise assets, the strategy kind of worked. Or at least organizations didn’t run into diminishing returns and negative consequences quite so quickly. In cloud environments, however, the more tools you add, the more complexities and vulnerabilities you produce.

Besides the work that goes into maintaining overlapping tools, the other big problem with a tools-centric approach is the ocean of false positives that will certainly occur as more tools come online. Chasing down false positives can drain all the time away from human security personnel for no real benefit to the organization. And meanwhile, a real attack can easily hide within all the false alarms. Cybersecurity professionals may never find real threats until it’s far too late.

A better way

It would be disastrous to remove all of the security tools from your environment. But you also don’t want to have so many that the key tools that could really help out aren’t given enough attention. It’s important to find the right selection of tools, and to make sure that you don’t have too many draining your time and resources.

The key to making tool consolidation work is to simultaneously invest in a human-led approach to security. And this should include using an asset that has traditionally not been deployed in that role: teams of developers tasked with coding the very apps and software being targeted by attackers.

Although developers traditionally have not been tasked with security, this is changing. In fact, encouraging developers to concentrate on security is a key facet of DevSecOps movements where everyone takes some responsibility for deploying secure applications. Nobody expects developers to suddenly become security experts or to bear the primary responsibility for security at their organizations, but teaching them how to write secure code, and rewarding them for a job well done, can go a long way to setting the stage for the elimination of all those overlapping security tools. 

If you start with good, secure code, then you can easily begin to eliminate some of the hundreds of cybersecurity tools designed to scan for common exploits and vulnerabilities. Eventually you will foster an environment where developers create secure code, and a few select cybersecurity tools can act as an additional check that is easy for security teams to monitor and maintain without being overloaded by too much of a supposedly good thing.

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Author

Matias Madou, Ph.D.

Matias is a researcher and developer with more than 15 years of hands-on software security experience. He has developed solutions for companies such as Fortify Software and his own company Sensei Security. Over his career, Matias has led multiple application security research projects which have led to commercial products and boasts over 10 patents under his belt. When he is away from his desk, Matias has served as an instructor for advanced application security training courses and regularly speaks at global conferences including RSA Conference, Black Hat, DefCon, BSIMM, OWASP AppSec and BruCon.

Matias holds a Ph.D. in Computer Engineering from Ghent University, where he studied application security through program obfuscation to hide the inner workings of an application.

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Suffering from a surfeit of security tools

Published Jan 22, 2024
By Matias Madou, Ph.D.

This article originally appeared in Security Boulevard. It has been updated and syndicated here.

It’s almost ingrained in our collective psyche that more of a good thing is an even better thing. If you have one of something that you really like, then there is nothing wrong with having two or three, or even more. After all, you can’t have too much of a good thing, right?

Unfortunately, while that logic works for a few things, there are times when it quickly breaks down at higher volumes. In some cases, you begin to experience diminishing returns. How much extra value or joy is that 13th piece of chocolate cake really going to bring you? And then there are other times when adding too much of a good thing can become something that is a significant risk profile for you or your organization.

Too many cybersecurity tools

A critical area where too much of a good thing has quickly become a bad one is with cybersecurity tools, which have blossomed out of control at most organizations in recent years. A study in Dark Reading found that most Chief Information Security Officers rely on an average of 55 to 75 distinct security products or applications to protect their networks. And yet, attacks are still getting through. According to the Verizon 2023 Data Breach Investigations Report, successful attacks are on the rise, and the most complex among them are taking longer than ever to detect.

How can attackers circumvent what seems to be on the surface an impossible gauntlet of 75 or more cybersecurity tools? The fact is that they often do trip alarms, but human defenders are too busy maintaining their defensive tools or responding to thousands of daily alerts to notice. Having lots of security tools can actually give attackers the cover they need to remain undetected.

A recent report in TechRadar highlighted the negative consequences of having too many cybersecurity tools. Among companies surveyed, 71% felt they had more tools than their cybersecurity teams could ever successfully manage. This was actually causing their security posture to get worse as more tools were added. In fact, contrary to the belief that more tools equates to more security, the overwhelming majority of those surveyed reported feeling much less secure because of all the cybersecurity tools installed throughout their environment.

The situation has only gotten worse with the massive move to the cloud at most organizations. One of the reasons that layering lots of cybersecurity tools into a network to cover every possible avenue of attack got popular was because in an era of almost totally on-premise assets, the strategy kind of worked. Or at least organizations didn’t run into diminishing returns and negative consequences quite so quickly. In cloud environments, however, the more tools you add, the more complexities and vulnerabilities you produce.

Besides the work that goes into maintaining overlapping tools, the other big problem with a tools-centric approach is the ocean of false positives that will certainly occur as more tools come online. Chasing down false positives can drain all the time away from human security personnel for no real benefit to the organization. And meanwhile, a real attack can easily hide within all the false alarms. Cybersecurity professionals may never find real threats until it’s far too late.

A better way

It would be disastrous to remove all of the security tools from your environment. But you also don’t want to have so many that the key tools that could really help out aren’t given enough attention. It’s important to find the right selection of tools, and to make sure that you don’t have too many draining your time and resources.

The key to making tool consolidation work is to simultaneously invest in a human-led approach to security. And this should include using an asset that has traditionally not been deployed in that role: teams of developers tasked with coding the very apps and software being targeted by attackers.

Although developers traditionally have not been tasked with security, this is changing. In fact, encouraging developers to concentrate on security is a key facet of DevSecOps movements where everyone takes some responsibility for deploying secure applications. Nobody expects developers to suddenly become security experts or to bear the primary responsibility for security at their organizations, but teaching them how to write secure code, and rewarding them for a job well done, can go a long way to setting the stage for the elimination of all those overlapping security tools. 

If you start with good, secure code, then you can easily begin to eliminate some of the hundreds of cybersecurity tools designed to scan for common exploits and vulnerabilities. Eventually you will foster an environment where developers create secure code, and a few select cybersecurity tools can act as an additional check that is easy for security teams to monitor and maintain without being overloaded by too much of a supposedly good thing.

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