What is Continuous Monitoring? (How To Get Started)
Nov 12, 2023
We’re all familiar with the phrase, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” In today’s world of cyber threats, this adage rings especially true. And a study by Accenture revealed that 43% of cyber attacks target small businesses, yet only 14% of them are ready to protect themselves.
In these challenging times, there’s a growing need for a flexible and self-reliant cybersecurity approach, and that’s where continuous compliance monitoring becomes crucial.
To protect your company’s data, you have to turn to continuous monitoring—a method of tracking changes in an environment so that you can take appropriate action if anything unexpected happens.
Keep reading to learn everything there is to know about setting up a robust system and enabling continuous monitoring.
What is Continuous Monitoring?
Continuous monitoring means your company needs to keep a constant watch on IT systems and sensitive networks to spot any unauthorized access or security threats. It also looks out for any rule violations or performance glitches.
The main aim is to catch any issues and address them promptly.
Constant monitoring can help you take proactive steps toward minimizing threats that could lead to disaster.
For example, a simple slip-up, like using an unsanctioned tool, can lead to a full-blown security breach that can take weeks, months, or even years to recover from.
Imagine losing all your valuable data or having sensitive information stolen, just because someone thought they were saving time by using an unapproved application.
That’s where continuous compliance monitoring comes in. It keeps a close eye on what’s happening on your network. You can quickly catch any unauthorized activities and put a stop to them before they cause serious damage.
Why is Continuous Monitoring Required?
Continuous monitoring system is required to detect and address any threats or vulnerabilities that may be present in an organization’s IT infrastructure. Moreover, the main goal is to provide the near immediate feedback across the network. And this action will help drive security and business performance.
Key components of continuous monitoring
Continuous compliance monitoring is extremely important, but creating a successful plan for it can be a bit complex. We’ve put together some key components you should think about when you build a continuous monitoring system. Here are the four key components of continuous monitoring:
1. Determine which data you need to safeguard more
Start by figuring out what data you need to keep safe. With limited time and resources for cybersecurity, you have to be selective. So, determine which data and systems are vital for your organization’s smooth operation. This early identification will make it easier to explain your continuous security monitoring plan.
It could be access management controls or change management controls.
2. Automated data collection
Automated data collection is a key part of continuous monitoring. It helps you gather data from many sources fast and efficiently. It also gives you a complete picture of their systems and processes.
3. Automated analysis
Automated analysis is super important because it helps your business find potential threats and weaknesses fast. It works similar to a security alarm that goes off when something’s wrong.
4. Automated reporting
Automated reporting then gives you the information you need to make smart decisions about your cybersecurity posture. This will help you plan your day and week better.
Types of Continuous Monitoring
Continuous Monitoring means you’re always checking and evaluating your security controls. And don’t forget that it is a vital part of your security program, helping you catch and fix problems quickly. There are three main types of constant monitoring: for your infrastructure, applications, and network that you should keep an eye on…
1. Infrastructure Monitoring
Infrastructure monitoring usually includes storage, hardware units, networks, servers, etc. A company relies heavily on these components to promptly deliver services and products.
When you implement infrastructure monitoring, it supervises the environment and makes your products more suitable for use.
So what does infrastructure monitoring usually do?
- Infrastructure monitoring tools will observe the attribute of a server and determine its capability to handle the server’s availability to manage tasks.
- Inefficient systems take more time to complete a task, which will hamper the setup’s performance. This is where infrastructure monitoring tools come in by tracking CPI and risk usage. It also provides feedback if any problems arise.
- Infrastructure monitoring tools track and monitor the system’s runtime performance.
- Mistakes are an unavoidable aspect of technology. Although we can minimize them, they cannot be eradicated. An infrastructure monitoring tool will help you detect the response time of a system when errors occur.
2. Application Monitoring
Monitoring an application’s performance can be like solving a complex puzzle- it may seem daunting at first, especially if you don’t know what information to look for.
That is why application monitoring tools are so helpful; they track everything from:
- API responses
- System responses
- Generate reports in the form of statistics and graphs that provide granular insights about how well the application functions.
Keeping track of these metrics ensures no hidden vulnerabilities, issues, or performance degradation occurs within your app.
Application monitoring takes care of the following:
- A service-level agreement (SLA) is a binding contract between vendor and purchaser that specifies the terms of services to be provided. Application monitoring tools must remain flexible in assessing SLA compliance.
- For effective error detection and analysis, these tools must be proficient at accurately computing the frequency of errors in an application.
- To guard user transactions, application monitoring tools should be on the lookout for pages that take a while to load, browser performance speed, and how rapidly external providers serve up their resources.
3. Network Monitoring
Network monitoring includes components like the evaluation of servers, virtual machines, routers, and firewalls. It helps optimize the performance and find flaws so the system can work without interruptions.
It performs the tasks like monitoring the bandwidth of the servers and tracking the flow of packets in a network.
How to Get Started with the Continuous Monitoring Process?
We know that implementing a continuous monitoring tool requires the right mix of tools and your attention from the get-go. However, this is a must given the scenario.
To get started with the constant monitoring process, here are the steps you need to follow:
1. System definition
When determining which systems should be subject to continuous monitoring, your company must first consider scope. Are you in charge of specific departments or strictly certain applications? Then it’s important to redefine what systems and data sources are within their purview.
Cost, usability, complexity, and relevance come into play when making these decisions. Once you’ve established which systems fall under this definition, you can move on to setting up the monitoring system to better secure your enterprise environment.
2. Select the right tools
Once you’ve defined your goals and scope, the next step is picking the right tools and technologies. Your choices should match your objectives and consider things like scalability, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness.
There are various tools and technologies available for continuous monitoring, such as network monitoring tools, log management tools, vulnerability scanners, and security information and event management (SIEM) systems.
For example, a network monitoring tool can help spot and tackle security issues related to networks, while a vulnerability scanner identifies potential weaknesses in software and IT systems.
One tool that can help with continuous monitoring is Sprinto, which conducts millions of daily checks to keep you updated on your security status. Sprinto also suggests which systems should be part of your internal controls list and supports manual-managed systems with role-based access controls to prevent cybersecurity incidents.
3. Create policies and procedures
After choosing the tools and technologies, the next step is to create monitoring policies and procedures. This means setting the rules for when alerts and reports should be triggered, deciding who’s in charge of monitoring, and planning how to handle incidents.
It’s essential to have clear and written policies and procedures so that everyone knows what they’re supposed to do.
For instance, a company might have a policy that says all security incidents must be reported to the IT security team within 30 minutes of being spotted. The policy might also outline what to do in really serious incidents, like getting senior management or law enforcement involved.
4. Assessing the risk
Risk assessment is an essential precaution in ensuring the safety of company assets. This assessment begins by categorizing each asset based on its risk and possible consequences of being breached.
While certain higher-risk items may require further security controls, other lower-risk assets can benefit from using a honeypot – a decoy system that hackers would target before breaching something important.
Luckily, properly utilizing risk assessments gives you a better chance at repurposing or intelligently allocating your resources to protect yourselves against malicious attackers.
How can Sprinto help?
Sprinto’s compliance program is designed for automation throughout. It uses an integrated risk assessment model to link tasks with the people in charge and alerts them when risks are found.
Plus, there’s a central dashboard for your company to see their compliance tasks in real-time. It also sends notifications to process owners if efficiency metrics aren’t where they should be.
4. Selecting and putting into action security control applications
Once the risk assessment is done, you must make important decisions about how they will protect your assets. The security controls you choose can make a huge difference in keeping your systems safe and secure.
Will you rely on a combination of usernames and passwords to authenticate users? Or you’ll add a layer of protection with sophisticated firewalls. How about installing an IDS or antivirus application that flags suspicious activity before it has time to cause damage?
Adding strong encryption measures is possible so vital data remains safe from prying eyes. As your security needs evolve, so too should the types of applications you deploy for shielding your systems from cyber threats. This is where Sprinto comes in. The automated platform helps you monitor everything and track what is going astray all in one dashboard.
See how Sprinto organized a seamless multi-standard compliance program for Spendflo with minimal effort.
5. Define owners for each control and/or control family
Security controls are of paramount importance for your control monitoring process to work. They help safeguard your physical property and computer systems from security risks.
To kick off the control monitoring process, you need to assign owners for each control.
These owners play a key role because they’re in charge of fixing vulnerabilities within a set time frame. Having assigned owners makes sure that someone is responsible and takes care of the security controls promptly.
6. Software tool configuration
A continuous monitoring system comes with a handy little feature called log aggregation that enables collecting information from important applications – like security controls – into useful log files.
This intel includes all activity within the application, like any threats detected and related metrics. Putting these logs together offers helpful insights to help the company get a better handle on its security strategy.
7. Continuous assessment
It’s easy to be mesmerized by the amount of data that can be collected from an IT system. But managing it is just one step of the work required for security and operational maintenance.
Analyzing data to detect abnormal activity makes a difference in keeping everything running well.
Leveraging big data technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning allows you to track patterns and outliers in log data quickly and accurately without manually looking at every single entry.
8. Set up into existing systems
The last part of continuous monitoring is connecting it with your current systems and processes. This means making sure the tools and technologies play nice with what you already have, like your IT setup, software, and security rules. It’s essential that the monitoring doesn’t mess up your organization’s regular operations.
For example, let’s say you have a security information and event management (SIEM) system. You’d want to blend your continuous monitoring system with it. This might need some tweaking to make sure both systems cooperate smoothly.
This is where Sprinto comes in. Sprinto is a continuous monitoring platform that helps you stay compliant with different frameworks and maintain security controls as well.
Let’s say one of your employees forgot to take a security training, Sprinto will alert the admin of this anomaly and you can go ahead and address it promptly.
CTA: Get ahead of security incidents with Sprinto’s Continuous Threat Identification & Remediation
Benefits of Continuous Monitoring
The benefits of continuous monitoring in your IT operations can provide clear insight, allowing for more streamlined and effective incident responses.
With that being said, let’s dive deeper into the benefits of continuous monitoring:
1. Minimizes risks
Imagine a scenario where you are a pharmacy tasked with providing medications and vaccines to a large retail chain. Since the use of digital systems for temperature monitoring is rampant, all managers must be alerted if any issues arise.
Now, if something hampers the temperature, imagine the bad press and reputational damage it brings for mishandling the medications and vaccines. Now the cherry on top is the expense related to bad press and loss of customer support, regulatory fines, and damages from lawsuits.
This is where continuous monitoring comes in. It continuously monitors the digital system for any mishap and alerts all the managers for the minor changes.
2. Protects your investments
When a tech company loses hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of inventory due to a system failure, a large puzzle piece has been removed; their goals can’t be met without that essential item in place.
That’s why any savvy investor should take the steps necessary to protect their investment. Investing in insurance policies is always important, but they should also have continuous monitoring, which helps identify and stop potential hacks or interruptions before they occur.
Therefore, continuous monitoring is important for protecting investments against accidents and malicious intent from third parties. Taking that extra layer of protection can save money, time, and headaches in the long run.
3. Reduces system downtime
A downtime may include anything like human errors, the shutdown of a system for maintenance, hardware malfunctions, and environmental disasters. Therefore, consistent monitoring will help you raise appropriate warnings and increase system uptime.
4. Allows for quicker responses
Ensuring a secure IT system is now more critical than ever, and implementing an alert system to keep tabs on things 24/7 can make all the difference. Such systems become beacon-like sentinels, always vigilant to any disturbances in cyberspace that call for instant reactions or responses.
As soon as an appraisable IT event occurs, the necessary personnel will get an alert immediately to act quickly and precisely to resolve the issue. Without such lightning-fast warning networks, these security events could be unchecked for a long time, potentially causing severe damage before finally coming to notice.
Challenges of Continuous Monitoring
Setting up a CM solution can get pretty complicated, especially if you are a company with multiple networks and systems spread across different locations. This complexity arises because in big and intricate IT setups, CM should do more than just tell you what occurred (like when you analyze log files).
It should also give you the bigger picture of why it happened. This complexity introduces some challenges when it comes to implementing a CM solution.
Here are some important challenges we’ve outlined:
1. Tracking endpoint activity
Keeping track of endpoint activity has always been tricky, even before CM solutions came along, mainly due to their dynamic nature. People both inside and outside an organization can introduce new endpoints whenever they want, like by connecting to another company’s network.
Endpoints aren’t just limited to desktop computers; they can be Wi-Fi, printers or smartphones. If an organization’s CM solution can’t keep tabs on both new and existing endpoints all the time, it’s easy to miss out.
To solve this challenge, you should use a mix of continuous monitoring methods. Combining real-time passive monitoring with an always-on active scanner like Sprinto gives a clear view of vulnerable endpoints and spots newly added assets.
2. Frequency in meeting the compliance gaps
Now the question should be, how often should you fix the compliance gaps? Well, that depends on various factors. You should think about the size and complexity of your infrastructure first and whether you use manual or automated processes.
The frequency of CM could be once a week, a month, or even daily. But whatever you choose, you need to consider how it affects the people responsible for compliance in your company.
Managing compliance disruptions and shifting resources to deal with violations can be a lot to handle.
So if you are starting your continuous monitoring journey, it’s best to begin with a CM frequency that’s doable.
3. Identifying and classifying critical assets
Here, you need to talk to leaders in the company to understand its goals and challenges, reviewing previous security assessments, and figuring out which assets are high, medium, or low in terms of importance.
Once you’ve identified these key assets, have a policy in place that specifies how often you need to scan it and how long you should keep the data safe. This way, everyone in the company knows what’s important and how to handle it.
Sprinto’s Take on Continuous Monitoring
It’s clear that continuous monitoring is here to stay, but why not automate it?
When you automate evidence control and complete real-time visibility in a platform flexible enough to grow your business, you can track security and compliance efforts and always remain aware of the compliance status.
We have a detailed article written on how you can implement continuous control monitoring to your business in this article with Sprinto.
This is where Sprinto comes in. Sprinto allows you to maintain a single source of compliance truth, prove practice maturity, and report accurately. With Sprinto, you are always prepared—moments of surprise during audits become less frequent, leaving you with more time to focus on the long-term objectives.
Speak to our experts and harness the power of smart monitoring without impacting your workflow! Learn more here.
Why is continuous monitoring necessary?
Continuous monitoring is necessary because it provides cloud providers and opportunity to get near immediate feedback on any issues that my arise in the system.
What is a continuous monitoring example?
A continuous monitoring example is when an organization monitors the network and system to detect malicious threats or non-compliance issues.
What is the principle of continuous monitoring?
The principle of continuous monitoring is to provide immediate feedback and insight into performance issues across the network. This helps drive operational efficiency and security.
What is the first step in continuous monitoring?
The first step in continuous monitoring is to create a strategy and supporting program. The point is to focus on important controls first and check if the monitoring techniques are strong.
What are the objectives of continuous monitoring?
The main objective of continuous monitoring is to give constant alerts and feedback to your IT team and address it swiftly. This way, you can get started on a remediation plan as soon as an anomaly pops up.
Meeba, an ISC2-certified cybersecurity specialist, passionately decodes and delivers impactful content on compliance and complex digital security matters. Adept at transforming intricate concepts into accessible insights, she’s committed to enlightening readers. Off the clock, she can be found with her nose in the latest thriller novel or exploring new haunts in the city.
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