Just as I was about to pack up from my home office and walk downstairs and go to bed last night, I happened to stray on the Twitter and find that Mandiant had released it's detailed report on the Chinese espionage group it is calling APT1. The excitement overwhelmed me and I wound up staying up for a few more hours to read the entire report, check some of the indicators against other indicators I had, and read some of the reaction on Twitter.

First of all, I have to tip my hat to Mandiant on a really well put together report. Before joining InGuardians, I spent several years of my career in the DoD, and have read a lot of intelligence reports. I've also had the pleasure (misfortune) to handle my fair share of chinese-related incidents. With that in mind, I can assert that the APT1 report is top notch. As an organization, and as individuals, Mandiant and its employees are exposing themselves to a great deal of risk by publishing this data, which I'm sure they aren't taking lightly.

The success of Mandiant in the creation of this intelligence product is evident, but as an industry, now is not the time to rest on our laurels and bask in the glory of exposing PLA Unit 61398. The information published in the report isn't very useful if it isn't made actionable. That said, if you are responsible for network security monitoring in your organization, how can you make use of these indicators?

Making Intelligence Actionable with the Intrusion Kill Chain

In order to effectively utilize indicators of compromise (IOCs), I turn to the framework provided by the Intrusion Kill Chain and US DOD JP 3-13 on Information Assurance. There has been a significant focus on the application of the intrusion kill chain in the past year or so, and while it's certainly not a silver bullet, it is a nice tool for determining how defensive technologies can be used, and how to choose where indicators should be deployed.

This framework focuses on specific defensive capabilities. I won't rehash them fully (you can read the docs for that, linked at the bottom of this post), but briefly, they are:

  • Detect: Can you see/find it?
  • Deny: Can you stop it from happening?
  • Disrupt: Can you stop it while it’s happening?
  • Degrade: Can you make it not worth it?
  • Deceive: Can you trick them [the adversary]?
  • Destroy: Can you blow it up?

The framework argues that the capabilities of detect, deny  disrupt, degrade, deceive, and destroy can be mapped to different phases of a network attack to form a course of actions matrix. The common phases of attack are recon, delivery, exploitation, installation, C2, and actions/objectives. Recognizing that different organizations use different models to represent the phases of a network attack, you can plug any model in here to generate actions from this framework. For instance, you could also use the attack phases mentioned in the APT1 report, which are initial recon, initial compromise, establish foothold, escalate privileges, internal recon, move laterally, and maintain presence.

The results of the course of actions matrix are a mapping of what defensive mechanisms you can use to employ indicators. Given any particular attack technique or piece of malware, you should be able to come up with something mirroring the following to determine what courses of action you have available to you, and where IOCs related to a particular technique or piece of malware can be deployed.


Table 1: Course of Actions Matrix

In this matrix, defensive capabilities are shown on the top horizontal axis, and phases of an attack are shown in the left vertical axis. At each point where a capability intersects with a phase, an action that can be used to apply the defensive capability to the attack phase is identified. For example, we see that in the recon phase, a firewall ACL could be used to deny the adversaries from completing his goal, which might be an attempting connection to a specific server. In another example, we see that a DEP solution could be used to disrupt the adversaries’ ability to complete their objective, which might be to exfiltrate data from the targeted network.

NOTE: Although the intrusion kill chain mentions the destroy capability, it has been left out of this post. The destroy capability falls beyond the scope of NSM, unless of course, you have your own fleet of Predator drones configured to act in harmony with your IDS alerts.

Keep in mind that the table above is meant to be an example that list a variety of different defensive technologies, some of which that can be used along with indicators. The course of actions matrix isn’t meant to be a solitary entity that defines the scope of every possible attack, but rather, a framework that can be used to assess what actions you can take to respond to various threats based upon the intelligence you have at hand. You will note that some areas have multiple actions available, and the actions you take will depend upon what tools and data you have at your disposal. In addition, there may be instances where no actions exist to address certain capabilities within the kill chain. Specifically, it’s very common to only be able to find detect or deny actions, without being able to develop anything to disrupt, degrade, or deceive. In a perfect world, everything would be denied and we would only employ detection mechanisms as a backup. You should always aim to satisfy the detect and deny capabilities first.


Ultimately, the value of an intelligence product isn't realized if no one takes action on it. If you are in an organization where you are concerned that you may be a target of APT1, then you should read the Mandiant report and use a framework like the intrusion kill chain to determine how you can best make use of the indicators they have provided. Actionable intelligence isn't the answer to the problem, it's merely a mechanism used to achieve a goal. In this case, that goal is protecting your network and the information assets within it.




“How do I find bad stuff on the network?”

The path to knowledge for the practice of NSM typically always begins with that question. It’s because of that question that we refer to NSM as a practice, and someone who is a paid professional in this field as a practitioner of NSM.

Scientists are often referred to as practitioners because of the evolving state of the science. As recently as the mid 1900s, medical science believed that milk was a valid treatment for ulcers. As time progressed, it was found that ulcers were caused by bacteria called helicobacter pylori and that dairy products could actually further aggravate an ulcer. Perceived facts change because although we would like to believe most sciences are exact, they simply aren’t. All scientific knowledge is based upon educated guesses utilizing the best available data at the time. As more data becomes available over time, answers to old questions change, and this redefines things that were once considered facts. This is true for Doctors as practitioners of medical science, and it is true for us as practitioners of NSM.

Unfortunately, when I started practicing NSM there weren’t a lot of reference materials available on the topic. Quite honestly, there still aren’t.  Aside from the occasional blog postings of industry pioneers and a few select books, most individuals seeking to learn more about this field are left to their own devices. I feel that it is pertinent to clear up one very important misconception to eliminate potential confusion regarding my previous statement.  There are menageries of books available on the topics TCP/IP, packet analysis, and various intrusion detection systems. Although the concepts presented in those texts are important facets of NSM, they don’t constitute the practice of NSM as a whole. That would be like saying a book about wrenches teaches you how to diagnose a car that won’t start.

With that in mind, my co-authors and I are incredibly excited to announce our newest project, a book entitled "Applied Network Security Monitoring". This book is dedicated to the practice of NSM. This means that rather than simply providing an overview of the tools or individuals components of NSM, we will speak to the process of NSM and how those tools and components support the practice.


This book is intended to be a training manual on how to become an NSM analyst. If you’ve never performed NSM analysis, then this book is designed to provide the baseline skills necessary to begin performing these duties. If you are already a practicing analyst, then my hope is that this book will provide a foundation that will allow you to grow your analytic technique in such a way as to make you much more effective at the job you are already doing. We’ve worked with several good analysts who were able to become great analysts because they were able to enhance their effectiveness with some of the techniques presented here.

The effective practice of NSM requires a certain level of adeptness with a variety of tools. As such, the book will discuss several of these tools as well, including the Snort, Bro, and Suricata IDS tools, the SiLK and Argus netflow analysis tool sets, as well as other tools like Snorby, Security Onion, and more.

This book focuses almost entirely on free and open source tools. This is in an effort to appeal to a larger grouping of individuals who may not have the budget to purchase commercial analytic tools such as NetWitness or Arcsight, and also to demonstrate that effective NSM can be achieved without a large budget. Ultimately, talented individuals are what make an NSM program successful. In addition, these open source tools often provide more transparency in how they interact with data, which is also incredibly beneficial to the analyst when working with data at an intimate level.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Practice of Network Security Monitoring

The first chapter is devoted to defining network security monitoring and its relevance in the modern security landscape. It discusses a lot of the core terminology and assumptions that will be used and referenced throughout the book.

Part 1: Collection

Chapter 2: Driving Data Collection

The first chapter in the Collection section of ANSM provides an introduction to data collection and an overview of its importance. This chapter provides a framework for making decisions regarding what data should be collected using a risk-based approach.

Chapter 3: The Sensor Platform
This chapter introduces the most critical piece of hardware in an NSM deployment, the sensor. This includes a brief overview of the various NSM data types, and then discusses important considerations for purchasing and deploying sensors. Following, this chapter covers the placement of NSM sensors on the network, including a primer on creating network visibility maps for analyst use. This chapter also introduces Security Onion, which will be references throughout the book as our lab environment.

Chapter 4: Full Packet Capture Data
This section begins with an overview of the importance of full packet capture data. It will examine use cases that demonstrate its usefulness, and then demonstrate several methods of capturing and storing PCAP data with tool such as Netsniff-NG, Daemonlogger, and OpenFPC.

Chapter 5: Session Data
This chapter discusses the importance of session data, along with a detailed overview of Argus and the SiLK toolset for the collection and analysis of netflow data.

Chapter 6: Protocol Metadata
This chapter look at methods for generating metadata from other data sets, and the usefulness of integrating it into the NSM analytic process. This includes coverage of the packet string (PSTR) data format, as well as other tools used to create protocol metadata.

Chapter 7: Statistical Data
The final data type that will be examined is statistical data. This chapter will discuss use cases for the creation of this data type, and provide some effective methods for its creation and storage. Tools such as rwstats, treemap, and gnuplot will be used.

Part 2: Detection

Chapter 8: Indicators of Compromise
This chapter examines the importance of Indicators of Compromise (IOC), how they can be logically organized, and how they can be effectively managed for incorporation into an NSM program. This also includes a brief overview of the intelligence cycle, and threat intelligence.

Chapter 9: Target Based Detection
The first detection type that will be discussed is target based detection. This will include basic methods for detecting communication with certain hosts within the context of the previously discussed data types.

Chapter 10: Signature Based Detection with Snort
The most traditional form of intrusion detection is signature based. This chapter will provide a primer on this type of detection and discuss the usage of the Snort IDS. This will include the use of Snort, and a detailed discussion on the creation of Snort signatures. Several practical examples and case scenarios will be present in this chapter.

Chapter 11: Signature Based Detection with Suricata
This chapter will provide a primer on signature based detection with Suricata. This will include several practical examples and use cases.

Chapter 12: Anomaly Based Detection with Bro
Anomaly based identification is an area that has gotten quite a bit more attention in recent years. This chapter will cover Bro, one of the more popular anomaly based detection solutions. This will cover a detailed review of the Bro architecture, the Bro language, and several use cases.

Chapter 13: Early Warning AS&W with Canary Honeypots
Previously only used for research purposes, operational honeypots can be used as an effective means for attack sense and warning. This chapter will provide examples of how this can be done, complete with code samples and deployment case scenarios.

Part 3: Analysis

Chapter 14: Packet Analysis
The most critical skill in NSM is packet analysis. This chapter covers the analysis of packet data with Tcpdump and Wireshark. It also covers basic to advanced packet filtering.

Chapter 15: Friendly Intelligence
This chapter focuses on performing research related to friendly devices. This includes a framework for creating an asset model, and a friendly host characteristics database.

Chapter 16: Hostile Intelligence
This chapter focuses on performing research related to hostile devices. This includes strategies for performing open source intelligence (OSINT) research.

Chapter 17: Differential Diagnosis of NSM Events
This is the first chapter of the book that focuses on a diagnostic method of analysis. Using the same differential technique used by physicians, NSM analysts can be much more effective in the analysis process.

Chapter 18: Incident Morbidity and Mortality
Once again borrowing from the medical community, the concept of incident morbidity and mortality can be used to continually refine the analysis process. This chapter explains techniques for accomplishing this.

Chapter 19: Malware Analysis for NSM
This isn’t a malware analysis book by any stretch of the imagination, but this chapter focuses on methods an NSM analyst can use to determine whether or not a file is malicious.


Chris Sanders, Lead Author

Chris Sanders is an information security consultant, author, and researcher originally from Mayfield, Kentucky. That’s thirty miles southwest of a little town called Possum Trot, forty miles southeast of a hole in the wall named Monkey's Eyebrow, and just north of a bend in the road that really is named Podunk.

Chris is a Senior Security Analyst with InGuardians. He has as extensive experience supporting multiple government and military agencies, as well as several Fortune 500 companies. In multiple roles with the US Department of Defense, Chris significantly helped to further to role of the Computer Network Defense Service Provider (CNDSP) model, and helped to create several NSM and intelligence tools currently being used to defend the interests of the nation.

Chris has authored several books and articles, including the international best seller "Practical Packet Analysis" form No Starch Press, currently in its second edition. Chris currently holds several industry certifications, including the CISSP, GCIA, GPEN, GCIH, and GREM.

In 2008, Chris founded the Rural Technology Fund. The RTF is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization designed to provide scholarship opportunities to students form rural areas pursuing careers in computer technology. The organization also promotes technology advocacy in rural areas through various support programs.

When Chris isn't buried knee-deep in packets, he enjoys watching University of Kentucky Wildcat basketball, amateur drone building, BBQing, and spending time at the beach. Chris currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina.

Liam Randall, Co-Author

Liam Randall is a principal security consultant with Cincinnati, OH based GigaCo.  Originally, from Louisville, KY he worked his way through school as a sysadmin while getting his Bachelors in Computer Science at Xavier University.  He first got his start in high security writing device drivers and XFS based software for Automated Teller Machines.

Presently he consults on high volume security solutions for the Fortune 500, Research and Education Networks, various branches of the armed service, and other security focused groups.  As a contributor to the open source SecurityOnion distribution and the Berkeley based Bro-IDS network security package you can frequently find him speaking about cutting edge blue team tactics on the conference circuit.

A father and a husband, Liam spends his weekends fermenting wine, working in his garden, restoring gadgets, or making cheese.  With a love of the outdoors he and his wife enjoy competing in triathlons, long distance swimming and enjoying their community.

Jason Smith, Co-Author

Jason Smith is an intrusion detection analyst by day and junkyard engineer by night. Originally from Bowling Green, Kentucky, Jason started his career mining large data sets and performing finite element analysis as a budding physicist. By dumb luck, his love for data mining led him to information security and network security monitoring where he took up a fascination with data manipulation and automation.

Jason has a long history of assisting state and federal agencies with hardening their defensive perimeters and currently works as an Information Security Analyst with the Commonwealth of Kentucky. As part of his development work, he has created several open source projects, several of which have become "best-practice" tools for the DISA CNDSP program.

Jason regularly spends weekends in the garage building anything from arcade cabinets to open wheel racecars. Other hobbies include home automation, firearms, monopoly, playing guitar and eating. Jason has a profound love of rural America, a passion for driving, and an unrelenting desire to learn. Jason is currently living in Frankfort, Kentucky.

Release Date

The tentative release date for Applied NSM is during the third quarter of 2013.