Continuous Monitoring is Key for Robust Website Security

continuous monitoring

Introduction

Businesses across the health, retail, finance, and many other sectors now rely on online platforms and web applications to engage, serve, and retain their customers. Huge numbers of them have digitally transformed their services, but this mass adoption has been accompanied by a mass increase in cyberattacks. There are more now than ever, and they’re also growing in sophistication.

It goes without saying that every organization with an internet presence or that uses Internet-of-Things devices needs robust cybersecurity measures in place, but what counts as ‘robust’ these days? One of the latest approaches to cyber defense that qualifies for that label is continuous monitoring. It’s a proactive approach that involves real-time scrutiny of networks, systems, and applications, and if you haven’t already implemented a continuous monitoring solution in your organization, then read on to discover why you really should.

The Importance of Continuous Monitoring in Cybersecurity

Traditional cybersecurity measures often rely on periodic assessments and reactive responses to cyber threats, but this isn’t ideal as they become more sophisticated and dynamic. With these digital chameleons constantly changing their methods of attack, continuous monitoring emerges as a more effective gatekeeper. Here are some of its advantages:

Real-time Threat Detection:

Continuous monitoring allows organizations to detect and respond to cyber threats in real-time. This proactive approach helps to identify suspicious activities, potential vulnerabilities, and malicious behaviors as they occur, putting the brakes on them before they can do damage.

Adaptability to Evolving Threats:

Cyber threats are always changing because as soon as defenders close down one avenue of opportunity to attackers, they eagerly seek out the next. Bad actors are always working to improve their strategies in the hope of exploiting vulnerabilities in your systems, but continuous monitoring ensures that your defenses are agile enough to adapt to whatever new threats they can throw at them.

Reduced Time to Detect and Respond:

With continuous monitoring, the clue is in the name. Because it is continuous, it takes less time for an organization to detect and respond to any security incidents that affect its systems. This is important because there have been cases where breaches went undetected for months before being discovered, giving attackers more time to steal data, inject malicious payloads, or quietly surveil the victim.

Compliance and Regulatory Requirements:

Many industries with any kind of a digital footprint will be subject to the strict compliance and regulatory standards that govern the protection of sensitive data, including the EU’s GDPR and the CCPA in the U.S. Continuous monitoring helps healthcare providers meet HIPAA requirements, and if payment processing is part of the service, it helps them to meet PCI-DSS requirements too. Continuous monitoring ensures that security controls are consistently applied and that any deviations from permitted practices are promptly addressed.

Reflectiz: Enhancing Continuous Monitoring

Reflectiz is a cutting-edge cybersecurity solution that provides robust continuous monitoring and protects organizations from a wide range of web-based threats. Here’s how it contributes to an effective cybersecurity strategy:

Automated Web Application Security:

Reflectiz specializes in automated web application security, continuously scanning and analyzing web applications for potential vulnerabilities and threats. Its advanced algorithms identify anomalies, unauthorized access attempts, and other suspicious activities, which allows organizations to take immediate action as soon as they arise. With so many businesses now relying on dozens or even hundreds of connected third and fourth-party apps and open-source code, its ongoing behavioral assessments ensure that malicious activities will never go unnoticed.

Dynamic Risk Assessment:

Reflectiz uses a vast intelligence database that’s constantly being updated to provide dynamic risk assessments of all connected web applications. This enables your organization to stay ahead of emerging threats and implement preemptive security measures at the first sign of potential threats.

Comprehensive Visibility:

Continuous monitoring is all very well, but as with any technically sophisticated system, how easy is it for human beings to understand what it’s telling them? The user experience matters a lot when you’re dealing with so much information. If the user interface overwhelms security teams with information that’s difficult to make sense of, then they’re almost guaranteed to miss something important.

We designed Reflectiz to provide comprehensive visibility of all web dependencies without the information overload. The interface is intuitive, which is why the onboarding process and day-to-day use are both straightforward. Teams are able to identify and mitigate supply chain attacks as well as respond to other vulnerabilities in externally sourced components without feeling like they’re drowning.

Regulatory Compliance Assurance:

Reflectiz assists organizations in meeting regulatory compliance requirements by continuously monitoring web applications for adherence to security standards. This ensures that you maintain a strong security posture and avoid potential legal and financial consequences.

CTEM – Continuous Threat Exposure Management

Continuous monitoring has an important part to play in continuous threat exposure management. CTEM is a cybersecurity strategy that Gartner introduced in 2022. It involves using ongoing simulated attacks against an organization’s connected digital assets to uncover weaknesses and vulnerabilities. The idea is that if CTEM can expose these weaknesses, then the organization can strengthen them before attackers can exploit them.

There are five stages to CTEM, and one of them is ‘discovery.’ This involves actively seeking out and identifying potential vulnerabilities within the organization’s systems and assets, which is actually something that Reflectiz does during setup. It scans all of the organization’s connected assets to identify possible points of weakness, create an inventory of those assets, and set a baseline of acceptable behaviors for code. It then begins continuous monitoring, so it’s poised to flag all warnings that might arise from any of the simulated threats employed under a CTEM strategy, or the genuine ones supplied by hackers.

The New Threat From AI-Assisted Attacks

Every time a new technology comes along, you can guarantee that the criminal fraternity will be looking for ways to weaponize it, and artificial intelligence has been no exception. It entered the mainstream in 2023 and hackers have been quick to explore its potential.

For instance, they have been using AI tools to produce realistic voice impersonations and genuine-looking emails that purport to be from senior personnel, and the goal in both cases is to succeed with social engineering attacks. By impersonating senior officials, they hope to trick the recipients of such messages into carrying out unauthorized actions like carrying out fraudulent transactions on their behalf or handing over sensitive information.

Of course, continuous monitoring can also get a boost from AI assistance, and Reflectiz has been quick to adopt it. Our Smart Alerting system now benefits from AI-assisted insights, with AI LLM technology adding an extra layer to the platform’s traditional alerting tool. Now it can validate each alert by crosschecking it with Reflectiz’s extensive databases. It will then recommend what steps to take next, so the user knows whether to approve an alert or undertake further investigation, backing each decision with clear reasoning. This kind of assistance means quicker and more effective decisions for security teams.

Reflectiz Continuous Monitoring in Action

Reflectiz continuous monitoring is always alert to code changes, potentially malicious changes in application behaviors, and unauthorized attempts at data exfiltration. The platform has already proved its worth as a continuous monitoring tool for many clients in a variety of industries, and they’ve been the inspiration for some revealing case studies about how Reflectiz works in the wild:

Tracking Pixel Troubles

In this example, our tools helped a leading healthcare website avoid costly legal action and reputational damage following an inadvertent data breach. Although many of them do occur because of malicious attacks, on this occasion, it was just a case of human error. If you search for instances of breaches where human error was the culprit then estimates vary, but most are at least as high as Verizon’s figure of 82% in 2022. It’s well-known that social engineering attacks are rife because bad actors know that our tendency to click on things without thinking is often enough to give them the ‘in’ they want.

In this case, the healthcare provider (which we won’t name to spare their blushes) came close to disaster only because someone had forgotten about a marketing campaign. Four years earlier, the company had engaged an external marketing service provider that embedded tracking pixels on their healthcare website to track customer behaviors.

The marketers should’ve removed the pixels once the campaign had ended, but somehow this didn’t happen. In the intervening years, the website changed a lot, but the pixel remained, quietly doing its job of collecting sensitive patient information, although now it was doing this without permission.  

It was only when the healthcare provider started using Reflectiz that continuous monitoring noticed what the pixel was doing and raised an alert. It also identified the tag management system it was implemented with and gave the healthcare provider’s security team the information it needed to stop the data leak. It also made them aware of the need to control access privileges going forward so that similar tracking pixels would not be allowed to access sensitive personal data without permission again.

Digital transformation escalated the size and complexity of this health provider’s digital attack surface, but this case shows how continuous monitoring by Reflectiz can help any organization manage this kind of growth safely.

The Cookie Privacy Monster

This example involves cookies, the bite-sized data snippets stored on users’ devices that remember their preferences when they visit your website or track what they do there. The crucial thing with cookies is consent. Failing to obtain explicit user consent is a breach of GDPR and CCPA regulations and can lead to huge fines for businesses found to be in violation of them. For instance, Google was hit with separate fines in three jurisdictions of €150 Million, €100 Million, and $50 Million due to cookie consent violations.

Google is still doing fine, but not everyone has such deep pockets, and the global retail platform that engaged Reflectiz to strengthen its website security posture in this case certainly doesn’t. With hundreds of domains to monitor, the data journeys of its customers are numerous and diverse, but Reflectiz’s continuous monitoring spotted 37 domains that were injecting cookies without proper user consent due to a misconfigured cookie.

The retailer did have conventional security tools in place, but they failed to notice the issue due to constraints imposed by the VPN of a legitimate third-party advertiser. The cookies were being injected into iFrame components. iFrames are HTML components that display content from one source inside another, and things like embedded videos are an example of this technique. While they’re convenient, their use made it difficult for conventional security controls like WAF to monitor what they were doing.

Reflectiz’s continuous monitoring revealed the problem and allowed the company to address the problematic cookies straight away. This helped them to avoid the nightmare scenario of heavy fines and the reputational fallout that comes with them. It also made the retailer aware of the need to improve inter-departmental communications, particularly between its security and marketing teams.

Magecart Attacks

A Magecart attack involves injecting malicious code into e-commerce websites to steal credit card and other sensitive data from unsuspecting users. They’ve been around since 2015, but attackers have recently been trying a new range of sophisticated techniques to conceal their malicious activity, such as exploiting trusted CDNs, hiding code within a favicon image, and using obfuscation methods.

Reflectiz continuous monitoring detected a number of Magecart attacks on global e-commerce websites in April 2023. The platform immediately blocked malicious domains associated with the attacks and issued critical alerts so that security teams at the affected retailers could remove the malicious scripts before they could harvest any of its users’ personal identifying information.  

Conclusion

Continuous monitoring is one of the cornerstones of any effective cybersecurity strategy because it enables organizations to detect and respond to threats in real time. Reflectiz, with its advanced capabilities in automated web application security, plays a crucial role in enhancing your organization’s continuous monitoring efforts and strengthening its cybersecurity posture. Its always-on protection reduces the risk of data breaches and keeps your systems resilient in the face of ever-evolving cyber threats. As the digital landscape continues to change, investing in continuous monitoring solutions like Reflectiz is essential for safeguarding the integrity and security of your critical systems and data.

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