Security analytics proves challenging but effective, finds survey by SAS and Ponemon

IT security practitioners surveyed note deployment difficulties and data issues as
stumbling blocks, but most cite security analytics as critical to their organizations’ cyber defenses

Security analytics solutions are delivering deeper visibility into organizations’ security data than ever before. But deployment and day-to-day usage remain challenging, according to a new Ponemon Institute survey, When Seconds Count: How Security Analytics Improves Cybersecurity Defenses, sponsored by analytics leader SAS.

“There has been much said about the promise of security analytics to improve security operations,” said Larry Ponemon, Chairman and founder of Ponemon Institute. “This is one of the first studies to deeply examine actual use of these solutions and identify where organizations are succeeding and struggling.”

Most responding IT and IT security practitioners believe security analytics solutions have greatly improved their organizations’ overall security posture. They said the solutions make it easier to reduce false positives and to spot and stop anomalous traffic. However, these improvements come with challenges, starting with implementation. More than half of respondents (56 percent) characterized their initial deployments as “difficult” or “very difficult.” Among them, 65 percent cited the configuration and/or tuning required to make the system usable.

“Nearly all solutions require initial configuration and tuning for optimal performance,” said Stu Bradley, Vice President of Cybersecurity Solutions at SAS. “Organizations can avoid many pitfalls by clearly defining workflows and project goals before starting an implementation.”

Success hinges on data

Respondents also cited data issues as deployment obstacles, with about half (51 percent) noting “too much data” and 45 percent indicating problems accessing the required data.

Even beyond deployment, a significant majority (65 percent) pointed to data challenges, top among them data quality (cited by 66 percent of the respondents), data integration (65 percent) and data volume (55 percent).

“Organizations often want to jump immediately to the analytic output, shortcutting initial steps required to get the data right,” said Bradley. “But if they don’t appropriately address the data up front, they’ll suffer for it later and face major challenges deriving what they expect from their security analytics solution.”

Detecting the ‘right’ threats

Respondents reported gaps between threats they want their solutions to detect and those they’re actually finding. They identified data exfiltration (cited by 50 percent of the respondents), adversary reconnaissance (40 percent), adversary lateral movement (36 percent), and malicious insiders/insider threats (36 percent) as most important for their security analytics solution to detect. Yet none of those are among the threats their solutions are proving most adept at detecting, which they specified as account compromise (named by 50 percent of respondents), privilege escalation (48 percent) and malware deployment/delivery (46 percent).

“When you look at these security objectives, they’re all very different – and they each bring fundamentally different data into play,” said Bradley. “That speaks to the breadth and depth of analytic sophistication needed for an organization to develop all the right capabilities. Success requires a confluence of different analytic disciplines and also a carefully plotted road map for maturing analytic capabilities. With such a road map, organizations can make the most of their limited security resources.”

The future of security analytics

Although current solutions don’t seem to be living up to the hype, organizations are already deriving tremendous benefit from security analytics. Among respondents, 61 percent consider security analytics critical to their cyber defenses, and 71 percent expect to expand its use over the next year.

“With security analytics still in its infancy, this survey is a critical benchmark,” said Ponemon. “It shows we’ve come a long way in a short period, but the industry hasn’t yet mastered the complexity. With this user pulse reading, though, the industry’s call to action becomes clear.”

“Security analytics clearly isn’t as effective as security practitioners need it to be,” echoed Bradley. “Addressing these challenges calls for a ‘lifecycle’ approach – one that doesn’t just focus on data and algorithms. What we need is a consistent, governed process for deploying analytics. And the analytics must be consumable across a broad range of resources. It’s a difficult challenge. But building analytic sophistication ultimately pays off in improving organizations’ ability to discover, detect, investigate and respond to security events in a reliable, repeatable way.”

About the survey

For this research, Ponemon Institute selected a sampling frame of 17,200 IT and IT security practitioners familiar and involved with security analytics in their organizations. Survey responses were captured in December 2016. The final sample included 621 surveys, a 3.6 percent response. Most respondents – 87 percent – are personally using the security analytics solution in their organizations, and 80 percent of these organizations have fully implemented solutions.

Notably, most respondents indicated that their organizations adopted security analytics reactively – a stunning 68 percent in response to a cyberattack or successful intrusion.

About SAS

SAS is the leader in analytics. Through innovative analytics, business intelligence and data management software and services, SAS helps customers at more than 83,000 sites make better decisions faster. Since 1976, SAS has been giving customers around the world THE POWER TO KNOW®.

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