Chapter 2. Network Sensors

A network sensor collects data directly from network traffic without the agency of an intermediary application, making them different from the host-based sensors discussed in Chapter 3. Examples include NetFlow sensors on a router and sensors that collect traffic using a sniffing tool such as tcpdump.

The challenge of network traffic is the challenge you face with all log data: actual security events are rare, and data costs time and storage space. Where available, log data is preferable because it’s clean (a high-level event is recorded in the log data) and compact. The same event in network traffic would have to be extracted from millions of packets, which can often be redundant, encrypted, or unreadable. At the same time, it is very easy for an attacker to manipulate network traffic and produce legitimate-looking but completely bogus sessions on the wire. An event summed up in a 300-byte log record could easily be megabytes of packet data, wherein only the first 10 packets have any analytic value.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that network traffic’s “protocol agnosticism,” for lack of a better term, means that it is also your best source for identifying blind spots in your auditing. Host-based collection systems require knowing that the host exists in the first place, and there are numerous cases where you’re likely not to know that a particular service is running until you see its traffic on the wire. Network traffic provides a view of the network ...

Get Network Security Through Data Analysis now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.