What is internal continuous monitoring?

Internal continuous monitoring is a strategy whereby businesses may more quickly and easily identify IT compliance issues and security risks within their organization.

This differs from vendor risk continuous monitoring which focuses on ongoing monitoring of third parties and suppliers.

For most modern organizations, the IT ecosystem is anything but static. Today’s IT environments are always growing and changing, constantly increasing in complexity and capability. Unfortunately, as advancing IT systems continue to push the frontier in terms of business functionality, they are also pushing back against IT departments’ capacity to mitigate evolving security threats. With new promises comes new risk, as well as new regulatory measures with which IT organizations must remain compliant. For many businesses, continuous monitoring is the solution.

As one of the essential parts of a risk management framework (RMF), internal continuous monitoring empowers organizations by allowing them to constantly review their IT security posture. Internal continuous monitoring helps determine whether the required, deployed, and planned security controls continue to be effective when faced with inevitable changes to company information systems. When correctly applied, this approach is effective for securing new—as well as inherited—security controls and assessing the potential impact of planned and unplanned changes to the IT hardware, software, and environment.

As a part of a complete risk management solution, continuous monitoring acts in concert with the other steps in the RMF life cycle.

Continuous authorization precedes continuous monitoring in the life cycle and considers factors such as organizational and operational risk and other contextual information to determine in real-time the level of risk in granting access to a specific user. If the risk is within acceptable limits, authorization is automatically granted.

Modern businesses rely heavily on their various IT systems, tools, and technologies. At times, this can create an all-eggs-in-one-basket situation, where a single security breach can completely hobble an entire company. As such, it’s more important than ever for businesses to keep a clear and steady eye on the status of their security controls. This goes well beyond the occasional security review. IT systems are constantly changing. And whether the changes are expected (such as incorporating a new tool into the ecosystem), or unexpected (such as a failure in the software), businesses need to be able to keep up with changes as they occur.

Continuous monitoring exists to provide IT organizations with real-time insights to inform immediate threat response. At any given time, organizations have a direct view into how their security controls are operating and whether their system is at risk. Top continuous monitoring solutions also provide flexibility, reliability, and response options to address any threats that might arise.

Overall, the goal of internal continuous monitoring is to ensure that all relevant IT assets are operating within established parameters of risk and compliance. More specifically, the objectives of continuous monitoring may be defined as follows:

Improve visibility into network activity

Continuous monitoring is essentially 24/7 surveillance for network activity. When suspicious, non-compliant, or otherwise unauthorized activity occurs, continuous monitoring provides optimal transparency and gives organizations a chance to respond.

Mitigate risks to cyber-security

As previously addressed, continuous monitoring goes hand in hand with risk management. A primary function of continuous monitoring is providing reliable data insights to help identify, respond to, and eliminate emergent threats.

Reduce threat response times

Built-in system alerts can help companies identify breaches and other threats immediately, allowing them to respond just as quickly to mitigate the risk before it can cause serious damage.

Monitor application performance

IT risk goes beyond data theft; underperforming applications and unexpected system downtime also pose a danger to IT organizations. Internal continuous monitoring helps detect performance issues and track them back to their root causes.

Tracking user experience

IT system changes don’t only affect businesses; they affect customers as well. Continuous monitoring of user behavior within the system provides valuable customer-experience feedback, so organizations can determine which updates are impacting which users.

In line with the objectives associated with continuous monitoring, there are several advantages that IT organizations may enjoy. These include the following:

Increased productivity

Backed by reliable security and compliance insights, and working within an effective risk management framework, businesses can automate essential authorizations, processes, and responses. This frees up valuable experts and resources for use in other essential tasks.

Improved decision making

Continuous monitoring is nothing less than continuous visibility. Controls, vulnerabilities, plans, risks, performance, and more are all fully up to date and on display, providing decision makers with the vital insights they need.

Faster time to value

Unanticipated risks, performance problems, and noncompliance issues can slow the growth of any business. Continuous monitoring makes these concerns a non-issue, and helps IT organizations enjoy better returns, more quickly.

Given the complexity of most IT ecosystems, some companies may have concerns about how best to get started with continuous implementation. To help simplify the process and make it more accessible, continuous monitoring can be broken down into five individual steps:

Define the scope of the solution

It may be easy to say that all information systems fall under the banner of a specific continuous monitoring deployment, but the reality is that there will likely be some gray areas in terms of what to include and what to exclude. With this in mind, the first step towards effective monitoring is clearly defining the scope and identifying the systems that will require continuous monitoring.

Graphic outlining the steps to implement continuous monitoring.

Perform risk assessments

Not all IT assets are created equal, and not all IT assets carry with them the same risks. As part of the continuous monitoring deployment, IT organizations must individually assess every asset to determine the types and levels of security controls each will need. Higher-risk assets will naturally require stricter security, while some no- or low-risk assets may not require much security at all.

Select security controls

After performing the asset risk assessments mentioned above, the organization must then act on this information, pairing each asset with the correct security controls tailored to individual risk levels. These controls can range from simple to advanced, and should provide a more-effective network security posture customized to each specific asset, as well as the system as a whole.

Configure software tools

With control applications firmly in place, the organization can finally begin configuring their continuous monitoring tool to collect relevant application data. Using log aggregation capabilities to capture log files from assets on the network, organizations create an ongoing, real-time record of everything that’s happening on the network. This information can then be used to detect emergent threats, identify areas of noncompliance, and measure performance against established metrics.

Establish ongoing assessment

Once the monitoring tool has been configured and deployed, the final step is for the organization to simply continue monitoring and assessing their network. When functioning correctly, continuous monitoring will produce potentially millions of data points; to ensure that these points aren’t overlooked, most businesses choose to incorporate big-data analytics, machine learning, and other technologies. This helps guarantee that when abnormal network activity occurs, it doesn’t slip past the security net.

As digital capabilities grow and businesses incorporate ever more expansive technological solutions, the need for continuous monitoring has never been greater. ServiceNow recognizes this need and provides the all-in-one solution that organizations have been waiting for.

Built on the award-winning Now Platform®, Continuous Authorization and Monitoring (CAM) modernizes and streamlines IT monitoring. Paired with ServiceNow's advanced Risk Management tool, CAM empowers organizations with complete, real-time visibility into their IT ecosystem, making it easy to pinpoint risks and compliance issues, identify and manage assets, automatically assign baseline controls, and generate system security plans based on customizable self-populating templates. With ServiceNow, you have the resources and support to track all your IT assets, all of the time.

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