Security Experts:

Why You Should Be Dwelling on Dwell Time

Corporate boards used to care only about one thing - that your company didn't get breached on their watch. Those days, sadly, are behind us.

Few companies can say they haven't experienced a breach.

Those that do are delusional.

Security leaders are seeding the narrative that breaches are an inevitability in business. Sadly, I believe this to be a fact. This leads to a new set of metrics and measurements to worry about. The world is no longer binary. That's both good and bad - because shades of gray are hard to explain.

While not every board is completely on board with this new reality - the times are changing rapidly. Enter the concept of dwell time. Dwell time forces security leaders to work hard to not only prevent exploitation, but to also detect, respond, and recover as quickly as possible. Whereas in the past all of the security budget went to preventative tools and processes, today we're focusing much more on rapid detection and response than ever before.

Dwell time, for those who aren't sure of the meaning, is the length of time an attacker has in your environment from the time they get in, until they're eradicated. Dwell time is important, because if you can kick an attacker out before they've had an opportunity to achieve their objective - then you win.

Not every security professional is on board with this new thinking, however. Many still believe, foolishly, that once an attacker is in your environment it's game over. That's wrong. If an attacker exploits an open vulnerability, gets access to one of your systems, but you quickly find them before they're able to look around - then you're still doing well. You see, the key to succeeding in a today's climate is keeping that time delta between infiltration and expulsion as small as possible.

The difficult part of this paradigm is measurement.

Without highly effective processes, optimized tools, and trained staff it's just not feasible to measure dwell time. So in the absence of a measurement, many revert back to the binary breach/no-breach. I can't stress how important it is to not run back to the old ways. The world has changed and we have two choices - embrace it or get swallowed up in its wake.

If your board isn't already asking for dwell time reporting, I can virtually guarantee you the questions are coming. If you don't have those answers you should probably start evaluating the tools, the processes, and the staff you have to see how you're going to come up with that data.

In future columns, I will walk you through some of the things you need to know, and what you should be doing. Having reliable, if not accurate, data on dwell time is important. Until you can measure, you won't be able to effect change.

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Rafal Los is an industry innovator, strategist, and personality. Currently Rafal is the Vice President of Security Strategy at Lightstream Managed Services where he is responsible for strategy and design of the security practice. His career spans 20+ years while working inside companies from the Fortune 10 to a firm of less than 10. Rafal's strengths include strategic leadership, developing and refining market strategies, business process optimization, and bringing people together to solve complex problems. Most recent achievements include assisting a company in its pivot from infrastructure provider to security-as-a-service by developing a pre-sales strategy and developing a professional services framework; implementing significant changes in business process that led to the company's ability to measure the impacts of various efforts on the sales cycle. Follow Rafal on Twitter: @Wh1t3rabbit.