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Network Packets Matter to Security Professionals

Imagine that you investigate car accidents. When you arrive at a scene, you see the smashed cars, skid marks, bent post, and whatever else, and quickly determine that one car came into the path of the other one. This paint on the fender matches that dent in the other car, for example, and even the angles where the car ended up tell a story.

Now imagine that the insurance company asks you to investigate an accident that happened last month. You can still go to the scene, but this time, all you see are some skid marks, a still bent post, and a few other things. But no cars. Perhaps you can still figure out what happened, but it isn’t easy.

Being an accident investigator without being able to see the cars is the situation that security incident investigators find themselves in when they are investigating a breach and can’t see the packets that were the vehicle for the attack.

The problem is that most attacks aren’t discovered for months, and by that time, the packets are gone. It just isn’t practical to store weeks and months of network traffic; a network averaging only 3 Gbps requires 7.5 petabytes of storage in 229 (the median time between breach and discovery according to a recent study.) And since it is the median time, even with 7.5 petabytes, you’re missing half the security events. So let’s double it to be safe. And assume we’re buying relatively inexpensive storage. That is still over $5 million!

The answer is intelligently determining what to store, but that’s the subject of another blog post. Stay tuned!

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