The Sky is No Longer the Limit: Thoughts from the Cloud

Kevin Nikkhoo

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Case Study

What Retailer BCBG Learned About Cloud Security

Succeeding with CloudAccess SIEM and log management managed from the cloud

There was a time the only security issues retailers needed to be concerned with was theft. Put a guard in the store and a couple of video cameras and prevent as much loss as possible. Those days are long gone.

The overall security of a retail organization has grown increasingly complex. The smash and grab has been supplanted by the hack and breach.   A retailer’s IT environment is at as much risk as the product on the retail shelf. Every year hundreds of retailers fall victim to electronic intrusion. Ask Raley’s, Zaxby’s, Mapco, Michaels’s and dozens of retailers about how their POS and other exposed systems were not only breached, but cost them untold millions of dollars in stolen customer credit cards, abused sensitive data, and reparations and fines.

But if you ask, most of the named companies and the hundreds and hundreds of others attest that they apply a variety of security measures to maintain the sanctity of customer information and secure the workings of their network. Industrial and regulatory compliance demands this.

This is obviously not enough.

But this is not a lesson on the failings of retailers. That would be unfair. The issue is considerably multifaceted, especially when trying to mitigate risk. For any company, including retailers, risk must be balanced between budget, available resources, recognized vulnerability and maintaining compliance. For each company the answer is unique, but there are certain realities any retailer should consider to better protect customer assets…and do so without compounding costs, burdening infrastructure resources and taxing manpower.

Here’s how one retailer overcame similar challenges by incorporating CloudAccess solutions.

Like most retailers of its size, BCBG (BCBGMAXAZRIA) was challenged with a variety of security issues; a great many devices across the country creating vast amounts of log data that overwhelmed existing IT resources. On top of that, there were questions about levels of POS exposure across a substantial distributed network (which necessitated the use of internet resources), regulating and monitoring online account access and internal threats.

According to CIO Nader Karimi they understood that firewall, malware detection, and weekly system-log reviews were generally enough to satisfy compliance (PCI DSS) audits, but because of unseen vulnerability gaps BCBG was still at risk from external breach and internal intrusion. They simply did not have enough visibility to see what was happening to their prolific network assets and not enough eyes to catch issues amongst a sea of data to find the problems quickly enough to solve them. This was not due to lack of talent or effort, but simply an issue of being stretched way too thin (like most other companies).

BCBG recognized they needed to address the issue:

We looked at different options including where we purchased appliances, put them in our data center and managed them ourselves. But with limited data center space and budget, we didn’t want to deal with all the hardware, redundancy and backup.  We also had limited manpower here internally; so we couldn’t keep up with all the security trends and fine-tune the rules on a daily basis,” said Karl Ma, BCBG’s Senior Manager of Global Information Security.

CloudAccess' cloud-based security offering solved several of their problems:

1. Institute real time monitoring 7/24/365
Continuous monitoring is a requirement dictated by most compliance agencies. However, the issue BCBG and other retailers face is that sys-log collection may be applied around the clock, but its review is primarily accomplished in hindsight. Weekly or infrequent reviews can only detect suspicious activity after the damage is potentially done. However combining SIEM (Security Incident and Event Management) and log management in the cloud provides a cost-effective means to speed up detection and response in real time. By deploying sensors across its enterprise BCBG was able to collect thousands of events per second, and quickly and decisively identify suspicious activity. Whether during traditional work hours or in the middle of the night, or during holidays, the SIEM/Log combination is actively collecting, reviewing, and when necessary alerting all data and activity on BCBG’s network and system footprint. Moreover, this approach to monitoring also allows an analyst to see potential problems before they necessitate alerts. As BCBG utilizes security-as-a-service analysis from the cloud, they gain additional expertise and nimbleness to employ preventive measures and reduce their risk even further.

2. Incorporate data from all POS and register devices

Knowing that POS systems come with inherent susceptibilities, BCBG proactively added a sensor to coordinate data from all of its POS devices.  This new ability to centralize information from thousands of devices (combined with automatic intelligent correlation) allows for a new level of analysis, and response. BCBG can now recognize anomalies that could lead to more significant problems. This includes noting excessive logins, lockouts, and invalid users looking to access the system. Earlier this year, BCBG analysts were able to pinpoint activity on a specific terminal in a specific store to determine who was accessing the system. All this promotes faster identification of potential issues and quicker responses.

3. Create alert process via correlation
With so much data streaming into system logs, it is often difficult to tell suspicious activity from white noise and false positives. Cloud SIEM’s powerful correlation engine, combined with BCBG’s unique process, makes it easier to determine what they consider actionable issues. It takes into consideration several factors and provides BCBG with situational awareness. For example, when someone accesses a BCBG online account with the right user name, but takes 3 times to enter the right password; is this an issue? Further investigation shows, they didn’t buy anything and only visited the My Account page. Again is this trouble? The visit happened at 2am local time. Cloud-based SIEM also shows that the IP address was from China. Individually these clues are generally harmless, yet when correlated and combined in real time, BCBG discovered a much different story. An alert was created and an immediate remediation process shut the user down. The result was BCBG prevented an unauthorized user from accessing its sensitive systems and possibly a customers’ personal data.

One of the chief benefits of using cloud-based security-as-a-service is it promotes analysis. This is accomplished not just by a machine, but by a security expert. Collecting data is one thing, sifting through it is another, but the true critical mass happens when that information can be properly analyzed—by someone who can read between the lines and connect the dots the correlated data provides. BCBG says it is like having an expert on staff without having to incur the payroll, benefits, vacation, and training.   It is part and parcel of a good cloud security service. The service is more than pushing buttons, it becomes the continuance of corporate knowledge.

4. Reduce costs, yet expand capability
BCBG discovered security developed, deployed and managed from the cloud provided additional enterprise-class functionality they NEVER HAD BEFORE. And because the cloud strategically changes the emphasis from limiting scope (let’s just do what we can with what we have!) to performance, BCBG was able to implement several best practices that not only kept assets more secure, but also tremendously reduced the monthly capital expenditures. This cloud security initiative exponentially expanded their visibility and enhanced their ability to immediately recognize issues and remediate. In short, they now know what they didn’t know before and could take decisive preventive action to keep their environment safe…for considerably less than they were funding before.

5. Streamline compliance reporting
Most retailers (and others beholden to compliance requirements) complain about the time and resources it takes to satisfy audits. Important as it is, it forces reprioritization against other core competency and revenue-generating projects. Through the automations built into the cloud-security initiative, BCBG has reduced the compilation (from multiple divisions, departments and information silos), review and building of compliance reports to a fraction of what it used to take: both person hours AND cost…and a return of the freedom allowing BCBG’s IT team to do what they do best-take care of the digital infrastructure of an international retail leader.

6. Transition to a proactive defense without adding resources

Security-as-a-service does all the heavy lifting…and it’s done at a fraction of on premise costs. But more importantly, it allows a company to become proactive against various threats. Moving from a reactive to proactive policy gets you ahead of the issue rather than chasing after it. BCBG provides a case in point. Within the first two hours of activating the service, cloud based monitoring captured 20 times the amount of activity that BCBG’s existing process was recording at the same time.  Certainly most of the logs showed harmless traffic, but the SIEM correlation discovered several troubling alerts that would have otherwise gone unnoticed and could have damaged not only the IP assets, but also BCBG’s online reputation.

Mr. Karl Ma added, “Initially I was a little bit skeptical putting our log data into someone else’s hands, but after talking to their engineers and overseeing some of their security processes, I felt much more comfortable. “

Risk is rising…especially for retailers. From every survey, report and anecdote, security issues are becoming a more significant and louder talking point.  Everything from the introduction of new technologies, the morphing of infrastructures beyond network perimeters, to threats of breach, shadow IT and other internal vulnerabilities indicates that managing a firewall and filtering email is not enough.  Security must be woven into the fabric of the modern retail enterprise. As retail moves to the cloud, so must retail security.  You can add every security solution to the internal network, but that will not stop threats that target e-commerce and other public facing resources. It isn't a local issue anymore, so security can’t be just local either.

And, security for retail is not simply for the protection of data and other proprietary assets, but the proliferation of trust and confidence that spans across the dependent connections and interactions among partners, vendors, customers and even employees.

And as BCBG discovered, through the cloud, compliance is easier, enhanced security best-practices are more than affordable (low TCO, high ROI), and security-as-a-service has proven to be considerably less intrusive on resources. According to Karimi, “BCBG is now more confident in protecting the personal and sensitive data entrusted to us by employees, partners, vendors, suppliers, and especially customers.”

More Stories By Kevin Nikkhoo

With more than 32 years of experience in information technology, and an extensive and successful entrepreneurial background, Kevin Nikkhoo is the CEO of the dynamic security-as-a-service startup Cloud Access. CloudAccess is at the forefront of the latest evolution of IT asset protection--the cloud.

Kevin holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering from McGill University, Master of Computer Engineering at California State University, Los Angeles, and an MBA from the University of Southern California with emphasis in entrepreneurial studies.