Author: Bree-Anna Mustad | 3 minute read
Observability is in the spotlight when it comes to Information Technology (IT). Often mistaken as a rebranded word for system or application-level monitoring, observability is in fact an advancement to its predecessor, causing organizations to upgrade their approach to monitoring and visibility initiatives.
First, let us define Observability.
Observability is a measure that stems from a control theory in engineering on how well the internal states of a system can extrapolate data from external outputs. It leverages the concepts of visibility and monitoring by providing problem-identification and resolution from systems and applications in a fast and automated manner. The more observable a system is, the quicker you can remediate issues by identifying the root cause. Observability does not replace monitoring, but enables better monitoring.
Monitoring, Visibility, and the Challenges
It is important to think of visibility in network and cybersecurity not from a technology point of view, but rather as a detailed perception of the network infrastructure. Visibility is all about how transparent the information is from network communications and monitoring data as well as the team’s ability to act upon the information received. If the data from an environment is not easily digestible, inconsistent, or inaccessible, the quality of an organization’s network security can be jeopardized.
As network infrastructures become increasingly complex due to the advancement in applications and system dependencies, security teams are exponentially challenged with protecting users, servers, and the application systems from external threats. The increasing number of integrated layers within a given system makes it difficult for organizations to understand their network architecture, identify threats, and remediate them within SLAs.
Application performance management (APM) tools can be effective for troubleshooting and monitoring traditionally distributed applications, where new code and updates are released periodically and dependencies between applications and servers are visible and easy to trace. However, in today’s world of rapidly increasing technology, organizations are trying to keep up with modern systems and instant server communications where once-a-minute data sampling is no longer enough. The network traffic data and system logs that are available in an environment are often not properly utilized to make better decisions regarding how to secure the business.
The need for actionable insights has emerged. Something better than traditional monitoring solutions is necessary to understand, diagnose, and remediate threats and performance issues for business continuity. Enter Observability.
Observability and Cybersecurity
To manage these complex environments, Observability can bring a consistent layer of visibility across every facet of an environment to quickly see the root cause of security inconsistencies and potential areas of neglect. Observability can assist in tackling monitoring fatigue by adding a deeper layer of intelligence to what is being monitored.
Five main areas of focus when it comes to Observability solutions are:
- The ability to discover and address issues that you do not know exist: A primary limitation of monitoring solutions is that they only watch for “known unknowns.” Observability solutions allow security teams to discover conditions they may have never thought to look for, tracking relationships to other objects within a network.
- Dependency mapping in Observability solutions reveal how each application, system, server, and IP address is dependent on other components and resources: Dependency mapping is paramount for accurate security application and policy implementation. Without an interdependent map of every object on a network, administrators often neglect key areas that cyber intruders can leverage.
- Logs are detailed timestamps that provide complete and absolute records of events throughout network infrastructure: Observability solutions enhance data logs, providing the most granular level of time-based records, including milliseconds, that will be utilized as a playback for troubleshooting network issues and tracing unwanted communications.
- Behavior baselining and alert notifications provide an advancement to normal monitoring on a network: Observability solutions provide a baseline to what normal infrastructure and traffic flow patterns should look like to an environment. This can act as a metric to alerting behavior that deviates from the determined threshold.
- Predictive analysis is a popular concept when it comes to the intelligence of an organization’s strategy and infrastructure: The term, predictive analysis, in relation to Observability promotes a proactive approach to network vulnerabilities by identifying areas of risk prior to an incident. In cybersecurity, the Zero-Trust model is based on a predictive analysis of the network. This model of security assumes that all internal and external communications are threatened, thereby formulating policies around the analysis of that predictive hypothesis.
Observability is an advancement to monitoring, yet, it relies heavily upon the pillars of it. It is driven today by a very critical need for a consistent and granular level of visibility to complex environments so that businesses can keep up with new age deployments. This was always the intention of monitoring and automation tools, but now Observability answers the why and how that traditional tools previously could not.