WHAT IS NETWORK TRAFFIC ANALYSIS?
Network Traffic Analysis (NTA) is the continuous cycle of detecting, storing, and both passively and actively analyzing network traffic trends to identify and troubleshoot network issues and security threats. NTA provides a comprehensive view of your network, helps correlate flow data from various sources to mitigate and prevent network slowdowns and monitor the network activity for identifying anomalies and thus improve network performance.
In 2019, the global NTA market size was USD 1.9 billion. It has exhibited a CAGR of 10.6% from 2019 to 2024. By 2024, it is expected to grow to USD 3.2 billion.
USE CASES FOR NETWORK TRAFFIC ANALYSIS
Detecting malware such as ransomware activity
Troubleshooting a slow network
Improving internal visibility and eliminating blind spots
Identify the total traffic usage along with the top talkers in the network.
Fix problems faster with conversation details.
Detecting the use of vulnerable ciphers and protocols
Detect any external or internal security threats in the network.
Collecting a real-time record of what’s happening on the network
Follow monthly traffic trends to know your bandwidth capacity.
Implementing an NTA solution that can continuously monitor network traffic gives you the insight you need to minimize your attack surface, optimize network performance, improve the management of your resources, and enhance security. However, simply knowing how to monitor network traffic is not enough. The data sources for the network monitoring tool are equally important- two of the most common are packet data (from SPAN, mirror ports, and network TAPs) and flow data (acquired from devices like routers).
How does an NTA solution work?
NTA solutions continuously analyze network flow records and telemetry. They use a combination of behavioral analytics and machine learning to generate a baseline of normal network behavior for the organization. This software alerts your security team to the potential threat when irregular network activities or abnormal traffic patterns are detected.
In addition to monitoring east-west communications by analyzing network traffic or flow records, NTA solutions monitor north-south traffic (e.g. network traffic flowing into and out of a data center) that crosses the enterprise perimeter.
A Classification Model for Network Traffic Analysis
Why do you need an NTA solution?
NTA solutions can analyze all the devices or entities in the network both managed and unmanaged. They analyze telemetry from multiple network devices like firewalls, routers, and switches to determine standard behavior for these devices and how/by whom parts of your network are being accessed.
The network is all-encompassing, so this visibility extends from branch offices to headquarters, including intelligent devices, data centers, and roaming users. NTA solutions critical context and visibility into network activity, whether in the cloud or on-premises.
How does NTA improve existing security solutions?
Once an NTA solution determines a baseline for normal behavior on your network, it can alert your organization in case of abnormal behavior. By alerting security teams early on to suspicious activity –whether the threat is coming from inside or outside your network–NTA solutions provide the added visibility required to mitigate the security incident as early as possible.
Network traffic analysis can pinpoint malicious behavior to a specific IP and determine how the threat has moved laterally within the organization through forensic analysis- allowing you to view the scope of device infections. This leads to a swift response which prevents significant business impact.
Benefits of Network Traffic Analysis
It can be challenging for security professionals to ensure maximum coverage of an organization’s attack surface, especially with today’s “it’s not if, it’s when” mindset regarding cyber-attacks. The network is a critical element of the attack surface; gaining visibility into their network data is crucial for detecting attacks and early mitigation.
NTA solutions provide:
Improved visibility into devices connected to your network ( healthcare visitors, IoT devices)- Because performance issues such as latency, packet loss can often occur in a small, isolated section of your network, examining how the network performs at every part of the network infrastructure helps security teams track performance issues wherever they are.
Respond to investigations faster with additional network context and richer detail – For example, if the regular download volume of a user connected to the network is 200 MB on weekdays, but there’s a sudden increase in volume to 20 GB, the NTA solution would immediately detect this anomaly and alert your security team to the potential breach along with the context.
Troubleshoot operational and security issues– For instance, malware can attempt to disable a connected device or request high amounts of data from your network, both of which can create severe dents on your network’s performance. Network traffic analysis solutions analyze the communications on your network to find evidence of security threat invasion. If it detects suspicious traffic, it alerts your team to the issue in real-time.
Meet compliance requirements
What kind of data do I need for an NTA Solution?
An essential step to setting up NTA is ensuring suitable sources for collecting data. Flow data provides excellent insight into mapping the network packet journey from its origin to its destination traffic volumes and traffic flows. This can help utilize network resources and performance and detect unauthorized WAN traffic, but it can lack context to dig into cybersecurity issues and rich detail.
Packet data extracted from network packets can monitor for suspicious malware or other security incidents, help network managers understand how users are operating /implementing applications, and track usage on WAN links. Deep packet inspection (DPI) tools provide exhaustive visibility over the network by enabling security and network managers to dig down to the smallest detail and transforming the raw metadata into a readable format.
Important considerations for a network traffic monitoring and analysis solution
NTA solutions can be broken down into two types: deep packet inspection (DPI) tools and flow-based tools. You’ll have options for intrusion detection systems, software agents, and storing historical data within these.
Consider these five things when evaluating which solution is right for your organization:
The data source: Packet data and Flow data come from different sources, and not all NTA tools collect both. You must look through your network traffic, decide what data is required, and compare capabilities to ensure everything you need is covered.
Availability of flow-enabled devices: Network routers and switches do not require any exceptional support or modules, just traffic from a port mirror or SPAN from any managed switch. DPI tools are vendor-independent and accept raw traffic found on every network via any managed switch.
Historical data vs. Real-time data: Analyzing past events requires historical data, but some tools for monitoring network traffic don’t retain that data. Having a clear understanding of which information you care about most and checking whether the tool is priced based on the stored data amount is critical to finding the option best suited to your needs and budget.
The points on the network: You must consider whether the tool uses agent-free or agent-based software. Do not monitor too many data sources right away. Pick locations where data converge, such as VLANs associated with critical servers and internet gateways.
Full packet capture, complexity, and cost: Some DPI tools capture and retain all packets, resulting in training/expertise to operate because of expensive appliances and increased storage costs. The rest capture full packets but extract only the metadata and necessary detail for each protocol. This results in a considerable data reduction but still has actionable, readable detail that’s ideal for both security and network teams.
Features of excellent NTA Solutions
Context-driven unified visibility
Visibility helps your security team understand the entities connected to the network. Network Traffic Analysis should also provide proper context- which users are on your network, what kind of data they are sharing, where they are accessing the web, what devices they are interacting with etc. This kind of context-driven visibility is critical for security teams when developing mitigation steps and forming a risk management strategy, like implementing network segmentation for zero trust.
Solutions should monitor the entire digital enterprise from the private network to multiple cloud environments, especially with the increased transition to the cloud.
Advanced and Accurate threat detection
An NTA solution should immediately detect advanced threats that might have originated within the business or bypassed the perimeter using multiple analytical techniques like machine learning and behavioral modeling. It should also be combined with threat intelligence to map a local threat to a global campaign for efficient mitigation by security teams.
Network Traffic Analysis should be able to analyze encrypted traffic for threats. With over 70 percent of malware being encrypted and the recent rise in encrypted traffic, this also helps ensure organizations’ cryptographic compliance. Additionally, they detect threats such as DDoS attacks, command and control attacks, insider threats, illicit crypto mining, unknown malware, and ransomware.
Integrations for accelerated threat response
The advanced analytical techniques and combination of context-driven enterprise-wide visibility results in accelerated threat response. Every attack begins with early signs of suspicious activity, such as the use of restricted ports or protocols, unusual remote access, or port scanning.
Continuous network traffic analysis can detect this behavior and identify the target, where the threat has spread laterally, and where the threat originated. This allows security analysts to make immediate corrections. Lastly, NTA solutions should also integrate with existing security controls so that you can extend response and investigation across the applications, network, cloud, and endpoints.
Network traffic analysis is crucial for monitoring network activity and availability to detect attacks, maximize performance, and identify anomalies. Alongside endpoint data, log aggregation, and UEBA (User and Entity Behavior Analytics), network traffic is a core of the security analysis and comprehensive visibility to discover threats early and extinguish them fast. When choosing an NTA solution, consider the data sources you need information from, the critical points on the network where they converge, and current blind spots for efficient monitoring. As NTA complements your Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solution, you’ll gain greater visibility into your users and environment.