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Speeding MTTR: Accelerating the 4 Phases of Resolution

Dr. Vincent Berk
By | May 20, 2015


Every minute counts when it comes to resolving a security breach or data leak—that’s why mean time to resolution (MTTR) is a key performance indicator. Because time is money, having a plan for resolving these types of network attacks quickly is paramount to preserving a company’s reputation, customer relationships, and bottom line.

When it comes to identifying and resolving security issues, there are four key phases: awareness, root cause analysis, remediation, and testing. Expediting each phase can help significantly reduce MTTR. Here, we outline these key phases and provide you with insight into the types of tools and visibility required to accelerate them:

1. Awareness
You can’t solve a problem unless you know you have one. So recognizing that you have an issue—awareness—is the first step. It can sometimes take weeks, even months to detect a data breach or data leak, because these sorts of cybercrimes often fly under the radar until they are finally discovered. Imagine if Sony, Anthem, Home Depot and Target had identified their data leaks sooner. How could it have helped reduce the fallout?

While many intrusion detection tools can help flag DDoS attacks, brute-force attempts, botnets and other external threats, data breaches are much more difficult to identify. Because of this, network administrators need to look beyond their intrusion detection tools in order to pinpoint a larger, more severe problem like a data breach before too much damage has been done.

Network behavior intelligence tools provide visibility into your network that detection tools can’t. They enable you to understand normal traffic patterns so when anomalies do occur you can spot them. By analyzing network traffic flow records and recognizing both hosts initiating a connection and hosts receiving data outside of normal thresholds (or exhibiting unexpected network behavior patterns) you can flag potential data leaks in real time.

For example, maybe your organization has been receiving suspicious emails at unusual times, or your network is running really slowly, or confidential documents have appeared outside of your company firewalls. No matter how good your detection tools are, data exfiltration is more often revealed through these types of secondary indicators, which may point to lateral movement in your network making your organization an unknowing participant in an attack. But by providing a macro view of all aspects of your network infrastructure with network behavior intelligence tools, administrators can detect potential problems on the spot.

2. Root Cause Analysis
Once you recognize that your company is potentially under attack, you have to determine the source so you can immediately mitigate it. In the root cause analysis phase you quickly piece together what you know and draw a conclusion. To use an analogy: You m smell smoke in your house and your fire alarm goes off, but if you open the doors and windows to let the smoke out and take the battery out of the smoke alarm you’re just addressing the symptoms, you’re not solving the problem. You’re actually making it worse. In this case you know that a fire is the root cause of your problem and that you need to put it out, quickly (but you don’t know yet what started it—that investigation will be necessary later).

When it comes to performing a root cause analysis on a network breach you need to first determine which computers are leaking. Are they still leaking? Has the hardware failed? Is there a faulty router? And you need a quick fix to “put out the fire.” Afterwards you will need to go back and perform forensics to have a deeper understanding of what happened and how you can prevent it from happening again.

Identifying the root cause is the most challenging step to resolution because there is so much variability. In the case of a data breach, nothing is “broken” so you won’t be able to diagnose the problem with detection tools. But network visibility tools provide a window into your network, which enables you to correlate events, isolate specific suspicious IP addresses, and pinpoint the root cause of a leak much more quickly to speed MTTR. The tools and processes you have in place will determine how long this step will take and how much it will cost you.

3. Remediation
Once you’ve identified the root cause of the problem, you can fix it. This remediation phase is a quick fix to the problem to stop the leaking, but not a long-term solution. It’s more like addressing the symptom, not the problem.

Every network is different and remediation is going to be determined by your primary network function. It could involve shutting down computers, creating new firewalls, resetting passwords, and any number of other things to stop the leaking and get your network operational again. But remediation is not meant to be a long-term solution. You will need to take the time afterwards to go back and find out what caused the leak in the first place through forensics. It’s important to keep in mind that remediation is never a one-size-fits-all solution, it’s more of a many-to-many solution, but network visibility tools provide you with much more knowledge about how to find the problem and how to remediate it.

4. Testing
Once the problem has been remediated you need to test your solution. Look at historical tools, current traffic patterns and whether the data leakage is still occurring. If it is, you likely haven’t found the root cause—or maybe you have, but you haven’t effectively remediated it. You will need to repeat steps 1-3 until you can confidently determine that, after testing the solution, it’s working.

The unfortunate reality is, once people scramble to put the fire out, they often don’t spend a lot of time on the aftermath of the breach—that’s why it’s so important to go deeper through forensics and ensure that you’ve developed a more permanent solution to keep your network safe in the future.


At almost every organization, network downtime is inevitable. But while detection tools are important for flagging certain types of network security threats, when it comes to identifying data leaks and security breaches, you need network visibility tools. Instead of wasting time guessing what could have gone wrong, you can use network data to pinpoint the precise time that the problem first occurred. But not all network visibility tools are created equal:

Full packet capture solutions
Full packet capture solutions let you look deep inside the packets, and provide a granular view of data, but they do not provide a long enough history to be useful in an investigation, nor are they fast enough for real-time analysis. Full packet capture solutions cannot scale to the level or speed that’s required for root cause analysis or forensics and they cannot provide you with the network data you need beyond a few weeks. Without sufficient traffic history you won’t be able to answer questions such as: Where did the leak originate? Where was the data sent? And are you still leaking? You need full-fidelity tools for that.

Full-fidelity tools
After a data breach or security leak, you will need full network data recall that goes back far enough to stage a meaningful incident response and forensic investigation to understand what happened, how long it was happening and what other systems may have been affected. Full-fidelity network visibility tools are much more thorough and can help speed MTTR because of their fast detection, scalability, and access to complete historical data. This allows network administrators to analyze when the problem first occurred and trace it back to its source(s). If you want to protect your organization from the damage of a potential data leak, full-fidelity network visibility tools will be your best defense.


As perpetrators develop more sophisticated ways to steal sensitive data and breach our security systems, organizations must develop more sophisticated defenses. Understanding normal patterns of behavior on your network through full-fidelity network visibility tools is your best strategy so that when anomalies occur, you can spot them immediately, act fast and stop the leaking as quickly as possible.

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