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Companies are not harnessing Big Data to protect against threats

A study finds that just 35% of businesses can quickly detect security breaches and 58% store big security data for three months or less.

By Duncan Macrae

McAfee have released a study that reveals how organisations around the world are unable to harness the power of Big Data for security purposes.

According to the ‘Needle in a Datastack’ report, businesses are vulnerable to security breaches due to their inability to properly analyse or store big data.

The ability to detect data breaches within minutes is critical in preventing data loss, yet only 35% of firms stated that they have the ability to do this. In fact, more than a fifth (22%) said they would need a day to identify a breach, and five percent said this process would take up to a week. On average, organisations reported that it takes 10 hours for a security breach to be recognised.

Mike Fey, executive VP and worldwide CTO, said: "If you’re in a fight, you need to know that while it’s happening, not after the fact. This study has shown what we’ve long suspected — that far too few organisations have real-time access to the simple question ‘am I being breached?’ Only by knowing this, can you stop it from happening."

Nearly three quarters (73%) of respondents claimed they can assess their security status in real-time and they also responded with confidence in their ability to identify in real-time insider threat detection (74%), perimeter threats (78%), zero day malware (72%) and compliance controls (80%). However, of the 58% of organisations that said they had suffered a security breach in the last year, just a quarter (24%) had recognised it within minutes. In addition, when it came to actually finding the source of the breach, only 14% could do so in minutes, while 33% said it took a day and 16% said a week.

This false confidence highlights a disconnect between the IT department and security professionals within organisations, which is further highlighted when the Needle in a Datastack findings are compared with the with a recent Data Breach Investigations report of security incidents. The study of 855 incidents showed that 63% took weeks or months to be discovered. The data was taken from these organisations within seconds or minutes in almost half (46%) of the cases.

Needle in a Datastack found that on average that organisations are storing approximately 11-15 terabytes of security data a week, a figure that Gartner Group predicts will double annually through 2016. To put that in perspective, 10 terabytes is the equivalent of the printed collection of the Library of Congress. Despite storing such large volumes of data, 58 percent of firms admitted to only holding on to it for less than three months, thereby negating many of the advantages of storing it in the first place.

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According to the McAfee Threats Report: Fourth Quarter 2012, the appearance of new advanced persistent threats (APTs) accelerated in the second half of 2012. This type of threat can lay dormant within a network for months or even years, with numerous recent high profile examples including attacks on major U.S. newspapers. Long term retention and analysis of security data to reveal patterns, trends and correlations is crucial if organisations are to spot and deal quickly with these APTs.

To achieve real-time threat intelligence in an age where the volume, velocity and variety of information have pushed legacy systems to their limit, businesses must embrace the analysis, storage and management of big security data. These ever-growing volumes of events, as well as asset, threat, user and other relevant data have created a big data challenge for security teams. To overcome this challenge, successful organisations have moved from traditional data management architectures to systems that are purpose-built to handle security data management in the age of APTs.

With this need to identify complex attacks, organisations should go beyond pattern matching to achieve true risk-based analysis and modelling, according to McAfee. Ideally, this approach should be backed by a data management system able to create complex real-time analytics. In addition to the ability to spot threats in real-time, McAfee said that organisations should have the ability to identify potentially sinister long-term trends and patterns. Beyond just finding a ‘needle in a datastack’, organisations should move to a longer time horizon, the company added, with risk-based context to find the right needle, so they can proactively deal with today’s threats.

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