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Complete and continuous remote worker visibility with Network Visibility Module data as a primary telemetry source

Navigating the new normal

Organizations are currently facing new challenges related to monitoring and securing their remote workforces. Many users don’t always use their VPNs while working remotely – this creates gaps in visibility that increase organizational risks. In the past, many organizations viewed these occasional gaps in visibility as negligible risks due to low overall volumes of non-VPN-connected remote work. However, today, that’s no longer the case, as organizations and workers have been thrust into a new “work from home (WFH) era.”. This not only led to an explosion in the need for remote access from anywhere and on anything – effectively expanding threat surfaces and concurrently increasing opportunities for attackers – but – as if that weren’t enough – organizations were also hit with a wide-ranging and prolonged employee activity visibility blackout. This left security teams scrambling to adapt as this sudden “visibility blackout” further exacerbated overall organizational security risk levels.

Nostalgically remembering the good old days

Back in olden times, circa late 2019 – back in the heydays of employee-activity visibility via on-premises network monitoring, and way, way back when people’s work-week routines involved commuting to the office, clocking in, logging onto the corporate network, and doing work in between water cooler breaks – organizations using Secure Network Analytics had absolute, total visibility into everything that their employees were doing. Back then, before the WFH era – security teams could instantly glean deep insights into practically everything that was being hosted within, interacting with, and connecting to their corporate networks. And despite these being simpler times, security teams still had to be incredibly agile, up to speed with rapidly changing and evolving technologies, and always ready to react to security incident-related fire drills at a moment’s notice.

Amidst the arms race that is network security, SecOps professionals must always be comfortable with high-pressure situations and fast-paced environments. It just comes with the territory. Plain and simple. It’s a job that requires a thick skin and continuous adaptation. I have always been impressed with security professionals’ ability to embrace such complexity and ambiguity, remain calm and collected, and just focus on the task at hand and execute. And I especially admire the ones that are naturally energized by their work and thrive on it. However, last year’s abrupt exodus away from corporate offices marked a paradigm shift that left even the best security teams in the dark and effectively lent a whole new meaning to the age-old adage, “the only constant is change”.

New WFH blind spots

To illustrate, in today’s new WFH era, whenever remote workers don’t use their VPNs, organizations are 100% blind to what their employees are doing. This prevents security teams from successfully establishing baselines of normal worker behavior and continuously monitoring them, concomitantly preventing them from being able to alert on anomalous activity and hindering their ability to detect certain types of threats. As a result, SecOps teams have been left in the dark and have been finding themselves asking questions like, have any of our users visited malicious URLs? Is anyone exfiltrating sensitive proprietary data? Have any users’ devices been unintentionally compromised and are now demonstrating command and control (C&C) activity? Are we facing compliance-related and broader organizational risks due to employees running outdated and vulnerable operating systems that need to be patched?

Obtaining complete and continuous remote worker visibility with NVM data

To adapt to this modern conundrum, Secure Network Analytics recent release 7.3.1 began to address this whole “WFH visibility blackout conundrum” by making endpoint Network Visibility Module (NVM) data a primary telemetry source to provide organizations with continuity in remote worker monitoring and visibility without requiring NetFlow telemetry to be present. But that was just phase 1 – now, with release 7.3.2, we’ve further extended this capability with the Data Store now supporting all NVM telemetry record collection to offer 100%-complete and continuous remote worker visibility. So now, whenever a user either works on-network or remotely – be it at home or a local coffee shop – and thus off-network without tunneling through a VPN, or if they are optimizing their remote work experience through split tunneling, all their activity is stored locally. With Network Visibility Module data being a primary telemetry source, whenever workers do eventually turn their AnyConnect VPNs back on, the NVM module phones home and sends logs of all their user activities back to Secure Network Analytics.

This gives security practitioners the continuity in visibility that they need by allowing them to monitor remote worker activities through the collection and storage of NVM endpoint records. Security teams can now gain visibility into activities that they were previously blind to, such as:

  • Downloading and hoarding of large amounts of sensitive company data
  • Data exfiltration or the sharing of sensitive company data to an external source
  • Visiting malicious IP addresses and/or inadvertently installing trojans or other malicious processes
  • Running older operating system versions with vulnerabilities that need patching

Et cetera. The list of potentially suspicious activities goes on, regardless of whether they are unintentional or motivated by an insider that has gone rogue.

Additionally, with Release 7.3.2, customers that are using NVM data along with a Data Store deployment are also gaining the following benefits:

  • NVM telemetry records can be collected, stored, and queried in the Data Store
  • New NVM reports that are now available in the Report Builder application
  • The ability to define customized security events based on NVM data-specific criteria
  • All Endpoint Concentrator functions are now fully managed by the Flow Collector
Remote worker
Figure 1. A Secure Network Analytics deployment enabled with both the AnyConnect Secure Mobility Client and the Data Store. User endpoints generate NVM data with rich and granular device context – such as IP addresses, host and usernames, machine types and models, which operating systems and versions are running, the processes that launched network connectivity, MAC addresses, hash information, and more – that is all collected and stored in the Data Store.

Extend the zero-trust workplace to anywhere on any device

In fact, not only does deploying the NVM module software meet the challenges outlined above by extending visibility beyond the walls of the enterprise network to enable more efficient remote worker monitoring, but it also extends the zero trust workplace to anywhere globally and on any device by providing security practitioners with visibility into who is online and what they’re doing by capturing additional granular user device context such as IP addresses, host/user names, machine types and models, which operating system and version is running, the processes that launched network connectivity, MAC addresses, hash information in case potentially harmful files are being shared and traversing the network, and more.

Drastically comprehensive and context-rich visibility is simply table stakes in our “new normal”

Despite efforts to begin transitioning back to the office, with some organizations embracing hybrid models going forward, a significant paradigm shift has already occurred – WFH is here to stay. Having pervasive visibility into remote worker activities is no longer a negligible risk that could be ignored. Nor should any NDR solution portray it as a “nice to have” rather than a “need to have” capability. Now, in today’s “new normal,” with users capable of connecting to the enterprise network from literally anywhere and on literally any device, the need for continuity in visibility across all remote activity has never been more pronounced.

Modern problems require modern solutions. Nowadays, organizations need NDR solutions that offer an unparalleled breadth and depth of visibility across their modern, distributed networks. Secure Network Analytics delivers the most comprehensive, granular, and continuous visibility into remote worker activities through the Network Visibility Module, as well as best-in-breed and industry-leading behavioral analytics to alert on suspicious and anomalous network activity.

To learn more about Secure Network Analytics’ newest release, check out the Release 7.3.2 Release Notes.

Don’t have Secure Network Analytics? Learn more by visiting https://www.cisco.com/go/secure-network-analytics or try the solution out for yourself today with a free visibility assessment.