Your Comprehensive Guide to Continuous Security Monitoring Benefits and Strategies

Published/Updated May 20, 2022


For modern organizations, robust cyber and data security requires a balance between threat detection and threat mitigation. It’s vital to have tools that can respond to a security incident and address it before it causes damage.

That said, companies also need to adopt a more active and preventive cybersecurity approach. This is where continuous security monitoring (CSM) comes into the picture. CSM is a cybersecurity and threat intelligence approach that automates the monitoring of your organization’s security ecosystem and provides real-time visibility into your security posture.

CSM solutions constantly monitor security information, security controls, and infrastructure misconfiguration errors. They seek out cyber threats and exploitable vulnerabilities, support risk management processes, and strengthen the overall cybersecurity landscape. Despite the many benefits, however, too many organizations don’t leverage CSM because they aren’t well-informed about its advantages and best practices.

This guide aims to address these knowledge gaps. If your organization is looking for ways to strengthen its cybersecurity posture but is still unsure about adopting CSM, this guide is for you.

What Is Continuous Security Monitoring?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines information security continuous monitoring (ISCM) as “maintaining ongoing awareness of information security, vulnerabilities, and threats to support organizational risk management decisions.”

If implemented, maintained, and controlled well, an enterprise continuous security monitoring solution can:

  • Increase visibility into assets;
  • Improve awareness of cyber risks and vulnerabilities;
  • Enable data-driven control of cybersecurity;
  • Improve responsiveness to the dynamic threat and vulnerability landscape;
  • Increase organizational resilience.

Why Is Continuous Security Monitoring Important?

CSM is vital in modern-day enterprise settings for a range of reasons.

Costs of Cybercrime

In 2018, experts predicted that by 2021 cybercrime would cost the world $6 trillion annually by 2021 – double the cost in 2015, estimated at $3 trillion. To put the 2021 figure in perspective: if cybercrime were a country, it would have the third-largest GDP in the world, behind only the United States and China. By 2025, these costs are expected to jump to $10.5 trillion.

It’s not just the costs of incident response and remediation that organizations have to worry about. They have other costs too, such as:

  • Theft, damage, or destruction of intellectual property;
  • Restoration of compromised data or systems;
  • Stolen funds;
  • Fraud;
  • Operational disruptions and downtime;
  • Forensic investigations;
  • Regulatory fines and other damages;
  • Customer churn;
  • Reputational harm.

Organizations can avoid such costs by continuously monitoring potential risks.

Importance of Technology and Data

Today’s companies increasingly depend on technology and data to run day-to-day operations, maintain service delivery, and gain a competitive edge. Some of these technologies come with inherent security loopholes. Organizations that collect, process, or store sensitive data are also particularly attractive to data thieves.

Continuous monitoring of the threat landscape is a must-have to mitigate such risks.

Complex Supply Chains and Third-Party Risks

Many organizations now have complex supply chains and work with numerous third parties, such as independent contractors, suppliers, and service providers. These relationships increase an organization’s attack surface and the potential for cyberattacks and data breaches. Active monitoring is imperative to prevent these threats from becoming reality.

Shadow IT

Shadow IT is employees’ use of devices, software, applications, or services that are not authorized or tracked by the enterprise IT team. Shadow IT sometimes provides employees with creative productivity tools. Unfortunately, these same tools also create severe risks since they operate outside the purview of official security boundaries.

The increasing prevalence of shadow IT is a serious problem for organizations – and yet another reason for CSM.

Data Protection and Privacy Laws

Many governments have implemented data protection and consumer privacy laws that organizations must follow. These laws require organizations to implement security controls to protect their users’ or customers’ data.

Without complete visibility into the threat landscape, it’s impossible to implement such controls (much less improve their efficiency). Only CSM can provide sufficient visibility to enable companies to achieve regulatory compliance.

Traditional security controls such as firewalls, antivirus, and anti-malware software simply aren’t enough to meet the above needs. Modern organizations need CSM solutions to monitor the security landscape, actively find and address indicators of compromise, and stay safe from sophisticated attackers.

What Are the Benefits of Continuous Security Monitoring?

Increased Visibility into the Security Landscape

CSM solutions enable security professionals to gauge the enterprise security posture in real-time. They can do this by:

  • Assessing the effectiveness of existing security controls;
  • Improving ;awareness of all IT assets across the organization;
  • Understanding the various threats and threat activities affecting (or likely to affect) the organization;
  • Actively managing security risk;
  • Keeping track of and control over any changes to IT systems, environments, and assets;
  • Collecting, analyzing, and correlating security-related information.

With CSM, security personnel can identify vulnerabilities and possible attacks. Such visibility is the first step to addressing threats and mitigating their impact.

Compare Risks to Threat Tolerance

With CSM, enterprises can better understand and evaluate their risk appetite and risk tolerance. They can compare those parameters to the risks affecting their organization, and then make decisions around:

  • What constitutes a risk;
  • How to set priorities to address risks;
  • How to manage risk consistently throughout the organization;
  • What actions to take to mitigate the impact of risk on business continuity and operational resilience.

Communicate Information about Threats, Vulnerabilities, and Risks

By implementing CSM, organizations can respond vigorously and quickly to threats and compromises. These threats include:

  • External attacks. These usually come from external attackers or hackers who may be malicious or motivated purely by financial considerations (e.g., ransom).
  • Internal attacks. These may be due to malicious or negligent employees or third parties.
  • Supply chain attacks. Such attacks usually happen due to third-party vendors exposing an organization’s business-critical systems or data because they lack proper controls for intrusion detection and incident response planning.

CSM systems can also detect unauthorized devices or users as soon as they try to connect to the enterprise network. This lets you respond to cyber threats before they turn into catastrophes.

Equally important, CSM metrics provide meaningful indications of security status and threats throughout the organization; this makes it easier to communicate security risks to top management and the board. Such timely communication helps to improve security-related decision-making, especially around new investments in cybersecurity tools and programs.

Understand and Address Third-party Risk

According to one recent survey, 44 percent of businesses have suffered a data breach caused by a third party. Another survey found that 65 percent of companies running old software (and plenty of companies do) suffered breaches.

As organizations work with third-party vendors or use third-party software, they are vulnerable to supply chain attacks, third-party risk, and fourth-party risk. These risks are far-reaching, including:

  • Financial;
  • Reputational;
  • Credit-related;
  • Compliance-related;
  • Transactional or operational;
  • Cybersecurity.

With the help of CSM, companies can assess vendors and third parties to assign security ratings. Security ratings allow companies to measure third-party and fourth-party risk, evaluate business partner relationships, identify supply chain security gaps, and improve vendor risk management programs.

Meet Compliance Requirements

Enterprise IT teams must continually verify whether the company complies with internal information security policies to ensure that existing risks or threats have not gone unaddressed. They must also check compliance with:

  • Federal, state, and local legislation;
  • Legal regulations and policies;
  • Industry directives, standards, guidelines, and best practices.

Reliable and robust CSM solutions provide real-time and detailed analytics and reports, so companies can self-assess their compliance posture and take steps to close regulatory and legal gaps.

Provide Assurance to Customers

Implementing CSM shows customers that the organization is serious about looking for security threats and vulnerabilities. Customers want to rest assured that their sensitive data and systems are protected from threats such as data breaches, malware, ransomware, and endpoint attacks.

Which Assets Should be Continuously Monitored?

Most CSM solutions are versatile enough to monitor all kinds of devices and assets in the enterprise IT ecosystem. This includes:

  • Hardware, IoT, and other endpoints: desktops, laptops, mobile devices, servers, and so forth;
  • Software, applications, services, and APIs, both on-premises and online;
  • Mobile apps;
  • Email servers;
  • Cloud assets: infrastructure, files, data, containers, and the like;
  • Domain names;
  • SSL certificates;
  • IP addresses;
  • Public code repositories used in the organization;
  • Open ports.

Today security threats can come from anywhere, so it’s essential to monitor all assets continuously.

Moreover, it doesn’t matter whether the enterprise data resides on premises, in a data center, a virtual environment, or the cloud. With CSM, security personnel can monitor all devices and users when connecting to the enterprise network. They can also continuously monitor the attack surface and verify security and compliance requirements.

Continuous Security Monitoring and Security Risks

The best CSM solutions integrate with the existing infrastructure to assure that there are no adoption problems or monitoring gaps that might leave threats undetected. They can also detect changes to the infrastructure, such as new devices or software, as soon as they are added to the IT ecosystem.

CSM solutions enable security teams to prioritize threat mitigation and response activities by classifying each asset. Assets should be classified based on the data they process, the underlying operating system version, IP address, vendor, and other factors identified by the security team.

CSM systems provide notifications of potential security threats by mapping assets into four key categories: known assets, unknown assets, rogue assets, and vendor assets.

Known Assets

The CMS solution can create an inventory of all known assets and any dependencies running on them. These include:

  • Hardware devices and endpoints;
  • Security tools;
  • Software;
  • Applications;
  • Operating systems;
  • Corporate website(s);
  • Mobile devices;
  • Removable devices.

CSM also assures that the inventory is up-to-date to account for changes and any vulnerabilities or threats that may be introduced due to these changes.

Unknown Assets

CSM can help minimize the security problems associated with shadow IT and any orphaned or forgotten IT infrastructure elements, including devices and websites. These IT elements often fall outside the purview of security teams. As a result, they are not protected adequately, which increases the risk of cyberattacks.

Rogue Assets

Threat actors often use malicious assets, such as:

  • Malware, including spyware, adware, scareware, or ransomware;
  • Viruses;
  • Rootkits;
  • Software code;
  • Trojans or worms;
  • Typosquatted domains;
  • Switches or routers;
  • VoIP devices.

Such assets are not part of the security management framework, so they are not included in any security standards, policies, controls, or patch updates. As a result, they can harm the enterprise network, steal data, and disrupt ongoing operations.

To mitigate threats from these sources, visibility is crucial. Appropriate action must be taken immediately to remove the rogue asset or convert it into a managed client. Active inventory management is vital.

Vendor Assets

Insecure assets belonging to vendors and other third parties can also create security gaps. A CSM solution can assess such assets and raise alerts if it finds any serious issues that may compromise the organization’s security.

How to Implement Continuous Security Monitoring in Your Organization

CSM tools automate threat detection, provide real-time updates on overall security posture, and leverage threat intelligence to protect enterprise assets from existing and emerging threats.

Here are five ways to effectively incorporate CSM into your cybersecurity plan.

  1. Identify Which Assets and Data You (Most) Want to Protect

    No organization has an unlimited cybersecurity budget or resources. To better articulate your monitoring strategy and get the best possible returns from your CSM investment, determine which assets and data you want to prioritize and protect. Think about which infrastructure is business-critical and whose downtime can harm the organization’s ongoing operations.

  2. Choose the Right Tools

    There are many CSM tools you can deploy. At the very least, you should deploy tools to monitor:

    • System configurations;
    • Networking configurations;
    • Authenticated vulnerability scans;
    • Third-party systems.

    Ensure that these tools include capabilities for security information and event management (SIEM) and governance, risk, and compliance (GRC). CSM tools can also provide security ratings for vendors, so you can see when a vendor’s security posture changes for the worse and take action accordingly.

  3. Determine Which Threats to Prioritize

    Not all threats are the same. Moreover, CSM is resource-intensive. For both these reasons, it’s essential to determine which threats to prioritize. Prioritize threats by assigning risk levels to each one based on the likelihood of occurrence and potential impact.

  4. Create a Patch Schedule

    It’s not enough simply to monitor your IT ecosystem. If the CSM solution raises alerts about existing vulnerabilities, it’s crucial to patch them as soon as possible.

    After you take inventory of all the assets used across the organization, identify which assets need to be patched and assign risk levels to each patch. Stay updated on your current security posture, so you can quickly patch vulnerabilities when they occur.

  5. Keep an Eye on Human Users

    Leverage CSM tools to police against potential insider threats. Set a baseline to determine what constitutes “standard user behavior” across the organization. Assure that the tool understands this baseline and can identify any behavioral changes that may indicate a potential security threat.

    Train employees on cybersecurity best practices and how to identify potential vulnerabilities. Cyber-aware employees can further bolster the monitoring capabilities of your CSM program and tools.

Use Reciprocity ROAR for Your Continuous Security Monitoring Plan

Continuous security monitoring is all about increased visibility into your threat landscape, as well as proactive threat mitigation. Reinforce your CSM plan with Reciprocity ROAR, a world-class risk observation, assessment and remediation platform.

Reciprocity ROAR provides a single source of truth so that you can identify and assess the threats affecting your organization. Take advantage of its risk heat maps, automated vendor questionnaires, and control designs to strengthen your cybersecurity and risk management program.

With Reciprocity ROAR, you can understand your risk landscape better, power your CSM activities, and implement the best strategies to address threats, risks, and vulnerabilities.

Schedule a demo to see how Reciprocity ROAR can fit into your business and CSM plan.