What is cyber threat monitoring?
Cyber threat monitoring is a proactive approach to cybersecurity that seeks to detect and eliminate security threats before they cause damage. Rather than focusing on incident response, cyber threat monitoring solutions constantly scan the system for aberrant behavior or traces of intrusion, immediately bringing these anomalies to the attention of security teams.
How does cyber threat monitoring work?
Cyber threat monitoring works by analyzing large volumes of real-time system data to identify possible signs of a cyberattack, such as known threat actor activity patterns or sudden spikes in network traffic. Threat monitoring solutions don’t look at the data in isolation — to prevent slow-burn cybersecurity threats, these tools look at data trends over time and see if multiple anomalies are in fact part of a single large-scale attack.
Data is supplied to threat detection tools by sensors — devices or programs that continuously collect information about their system. While in theory sensors can forward every scrap of data they collect, in practice, system administrators set reporting thresholds to avoid overwhelming cybersecurity systems with white noise.
Effective threat detection is vital for any organization that values its data, but there’s a catch — non-stop vigilance for malicious activity is very resource-intensive. While software tools are capable of basic threat detection, difficult or ambiguous cases are usually left up to security analysts. To reduce costs, many businesses turn to third-party solutions instead of implementing their own infrastructure.
Why is cyber threat monitoring important?
Cyber threat monitoring is important because prevention is always much more effective than treatment — if a threat is identified early, you can stop it from becoming a problem. Reasons to use threat detection tools include:
- Preventing data breaches. Data breaches are costly. According to IBM data, corporations spent $4.45 million per data breach on average in 2023. And that’s just the basic costs of dealing with the fallout, such as fines and restitution — this number does not include opportunity costs or the damage done to consumer trust. Cyber threat monitoring helps organizations nip cyberattacks in the bud, avoiding costly complications down the road.
- Protecting your intellectual property. Corporate espionage is a regrettable reality of business. Hackers can penetrate an organization’s networks to steal confidential information, including cutting-edge research, product prototypes, or business plans. Even if this information is not disclosed to the public, it can confer an unfair competitive advantage to the organization’s rivals. Cyber threat monitoring seeks to identify intruders early on, before they can take advantage of lateral movement to get to critical files.
- Detecting insider threats. Many common cybersecurity solutions (like network firewalls and malware detection tools) are outward-facing, designed to protect your network from outside attacks. This approach can leave the organization vulnerable to insider threats — disgruntled employees or executives that abuse their access privileges to abscond with sensitive data. Proper cyber threat monitoring infrastructure helps mitigate these risks by catching any unusual activity, including actions taken by authorized users.
- Minimizing downtime. Even if you have redundancies in place, a successful cyberattack is likely to result in a period of decreased activity as the cybersecurity team investigates the incident. In the worst case scenario, the organization is paralyzed while each system is checked for possible infiltration or malware infection. By preventing the attack in the first place, cyber threat monitoring tools help the organization avoid costly downtime.
How can you monitor cyber threats?
To effectively monitor a system against potential threats, you need to cover the entirety of its cyberattack surface. Modern cyber threat monitoring solutions employ multiple tools to simultaneously keep track of subsystems, networks, and points of entry. There are many examples of threat monitoring, with some popular ones listed below.
Threat intelligence solutions analyze data on cyber threats to develop effective countermeasures. Threat intelligence can help analysts identify desirable targets, uncover critical weaknesses, establish cyberattack patterns, and determine hacker motivations. This allows the security team to focus on problem areas rather than spreading their resources thin.
Network traffic analysis
Network traffic analysis tools monitor network communications for hints of malicious or unauthorized activities. Network traffic analysis covers a wide spectrum of activities, from observing overall network flow trends to examining aberrant behavior captured by network sensors.
Intrusion detection systems
Intrusion detection systems (IDS) actively scan the network for known attack patterns or signatures. Many IDS tools rely on up-to-date threat databases to do their job, although more modern solutions may use artificial intelligence and machine learning to detect cyberattacks that do not follow previously established patterns.
Active threat mitigation
While full-scale cyber threat monitoring solutions are typically only used by businesses and enterprises, the proactive approach to threat mitigation has found its way to many household cybersecurity tools.
Many antiviruses and other consumer-level software now offer active protection from common online threats. For example, NordVPN’s own Threat Protection feature can scan files you’re downloading for malware and block access to websites that pose serious risks to the user.
Cyber threat maps
Cyber threat maps (also known as cyberattack maps) provide a visual overview of cyberattacks occurring in a region, including their source, intensity, and direction over time. These maps play an important role in cyber threat monitoring by providing security intelligence units with valuable metadata on cyberattacks.
How to use live cyber threat maps
Security analysts use cyber threat maps to observe real-time attack trends. By examining this data, the organization can uncover emerging threats, identify which threat actors pose a real danger, and narrow down the likely avenues of attack.
For example, a concentration of cyberattacks from a politically hostile nation may indicate state-sponsored cyber attacks and prompt the company to appeal to its own government for help. Knowing is half the battle — the collected information helps organizations update their threat detection tools, plan the appropriate incident response, and optimize their cybersecurity spending.