What is Network Traffic Analysis in Cybersecurity?

The practice of intercepting, recording, and analyzing network traffic communication patterns to discover and respond to security concerns is known as network traffic analysis (NTA). Gartner coined the word to describe an emerging security product sector.

Implementing a system that can continually monitor network traffic can provide you with the information you need to improve network performance, reduce your attack surface, boost security, and better manage your resources. Knowing how to monitor network traffic, though, isn't enough. It's also essential to think about the data sources for your network monitoring tool; 'flow data' (from devices like routers) and 'packet data' are two of the most common.

Flow data is ideal if you're seeking traffic volumes or tracking the course of a network packet from its origin to its destination. This kind of data can be useful for detecting illegal WAN traffic and maximizing network resources and performance. Still, it often lacks the extensive detail and context needed to investigate cybersecurity risks.

Attackers are constantly changing their strategies to evade detection. They commonly use valid credentials with trusted tools already installed in a network environment, making it difficult for enterprises to uncover key security threats in advance. Network traffic analysis technologies have evolved in response to attackers' incessant inventiveness, providing organizations with a viable road forward in combating clever attackers.

Benefits of Network Traffic Analysis

Ensuring you're gathering data from the correct sources is an important part of setting up NTA. Following are the major benefits of performing Network Traffic Analysis −

  • Better insight into the devices that connect to your network.
  • Comply with legal obligations.
  • Investigate and resolve operational and security issues.
  • With detailed detail and additional network context, you can respond to investigations faster.

What Makes Network Traffic Analysis Different?

Other network security tools such as firewalls and intrusion prevention system (IPS)/intrusion detection system (IDS) products actively monitor vertical traffic that crosses a network's perimeter, network traffic analysis solutions focus on all communications, including traditional TCP/IP style packets, 'virtual network traffic' crossing a virtual switch, and traffic from and within cloud workloads.

These solutions also target operational technology and Internet of Things (IoT) networks, which are typically inaccessible to security personnel. Even when network traffic is encrypted, advanced NTA techniques are effective. Advanced NTA tools are more intelligent since they compare current behavior to that of other entities in the environment.

Use Cases of NTA

Following are the use-cases of NTA −

  • Highlight and identify the source of network bandwidth peaks.
  • Real-time dashboards concentrating on network and user activity are provided.
  • For management and auditors, generate network activity reports for any time period.
  • Ransomware activity detection
  • Surveillance of data exfiltration and internet activities
  • File access on file servers and access to MSSQL databases should be checked.

What to Look for in an NTA?

Not all network traffic monitoring tools are created equal.

  • The data source − Flow and packet data come from separate places, and not every NTA tool collects both.

  • Full packet cost, capture, and complexity − Some DPI systems capture and keep all packets, resulting in costly equipment, higher storage expenses, and a high level of training/expertise to operate. Others do more of the 'hard work,' capturing entire packets but simply extracting each protocol's important information and metadata.

  • The points on the network − Consider whether the makes use of agent-based or agentfree software. Also, don't start monitoring too many data sources right away.

Network Traffic Analysis is a critical tool for monitoring network availability and activity to spot abnormalities, improve performance, and detect threats. Along with log aggregation, UEBA, and endpoint data, network traffic is a critical component of full visibility and security analysis that identifies and eliminates risks quickly.

Consider the present blind spots on your network, the data sources you require, and when choosing an NTA system, consider the critical locations on the network where they converge for efficient monitoring.