Introduced decades ago by Rudolf Emil Kalman, observability is not a new concept. However, it has become a prominent buzzword in modern times because of the changing needs in the cybersecurity industry, especially when it comes to distributed systems.

Observability is not about being able to know everything happening in all components of a system. A system is regarded as observable when the team or point person overseeing it is able to determine the status of the system or its components based on the output generated or data about its output.

This concept is important when it comes to cybersecurity because of the rapidly broadening attack surfaces. With cloud and hybrid setups becoming the norm and more devices and users added to organizations, including remote ones, it becomes necessary to have the means to gauge the internal states of a system through the evaluation of outputs.

Expanding attack surfaces and the observability-security tandem

CTO and noted data scientist Adam Hunt says that the growth of attack surfaces in modern organizations can be attributed to several factors. These include cloud migration, the decentralization of workforces, rapid application iteration and deployment (DevOps and shifting left), and the expansion of 5G and IoT use. Threat actors discover more attack points and vulnerabilities to exploit, as organizations adopt new systems, technologies, and processes they are not yet that familiar with and proficient in securing.

The good news is that organizations and security providers are aware of the rapid expansion of attack surfaces, and they are doing something about it. Some may be out of the loop, but many are implementing changes and adopting new strategies to keep up with emerging threats. One common theme in these efforts to address widening attack surfaces is the converging of security and observability.

The security platform offered by Sternum IoT Security, for example, demonstrates the convergence of security and observability by bringing together autonomous real-time self-protection and self-monitoring features under a single solution. Instead of using a separate solution to ensure that all possible attack surfaces are accounted for and another to detect and respond to vulnerabilities and threats, a single unified platform seamlessly integrates different crucial functions. This results in more effective attack surface management, threat detection and response, remediation, analysis, and reporting.

Advanced security posture management strategies

The marrying of security and observability is also manifested in specialized security posture management platforms. Cloud security posture management (CSPM), which is set to grow into an $8.6 billion market in 2027 (from $4.2 billion in 2022, CAGR: 15.3 percent), has critical components that represent observability and different facets of security. The same goes with the emerging technology of extended security posture management (XSPM).

As ERP Today Technology Editor Adrian Bridgewater implies, cloud posture visibility in CSPM can be equated to observability. CSPM solutions come with continuous environment scanning to ensure that all IT assets and potential attack surfaces are properly accounted for. They are then monitored and analyzed to make sure that they do not have vulnerabilities, security policy violations, misconfigurations, and other issues that can result in weakened security. These processes or mechanisms are important, as the expansion of cloud environments creates complexities that come with the addition of more users, more apps, more resources, as well as more cloud providers.

Similarly, XSPM has components that perform the observability function. There are XSPM platforms that combine attack surface management, continuous automated red teaming, breach and attack simulation, and advanced purple teaming to thoroughly identify possible vulnerabilities and enact the appropriate and prompt responses. Extended security posture management emphasizes the importance of assessing the state of an organization’s security components to be able to properly plug holes and cracks, rationalize the security technologies put in place, and enhance operational effectiveness while preventing security drift.

A must in a digital-first world

Becoming digital-first is said to be an essential modern business mindset. It is not only about achieving full digital transformation; it entails the prioritization of doing things digitally and online. A restaurant, for example, should not stop at using digital equipment for operations and receiving orders online. It should be restructured to be able to emphasize its availability to customers that use digital technologies to avail of products and services.

The digital-first thrust has become inevitably crucial during the pandemic, as businesses realized that they can continue doing business if only they were prepared to find and accommodate customers online or through digital means. There is no escaping the fact that the world is moving towards digitalization and modern technologies make companies more agile and resilient in responding to harsh changes.  

This push for a digital-first mindset makes it necessary to acknowledge the importance of security and observability. Organizations encounter new security threats as they go online or embrace hybrid environments, add more devices to their networks, acclimatize with remote work arrangements, and use new or unfamiliar business software tools. Every new IoT device becomes an expansion of the cyberattack surface. The use of SaaS, IaaS, and other tools to operate online poses new risks, especially for organizations that lack proficient cybersecurity teams.

It is vital to have the right tools or solutions to move ahead with becoming digital-first without creating too many vulnerabilities or security weaknesses. Vulnerabilities are unavoidable during organizational changes, but there should not be too many of them that overwhelm an organization’s security posture. As such, observability and security should go hand in hand to have a clear grasp of how threats are likely to affect an organization and to be ready to stop the threats or mitigate and remediate them if they manage to penetrate.

In conclusion

The convergence of security and observability is not unexpected, given how to attack surface management has already been a staple of cybersecurity platforms for quite some time. However, this reality has become more pronounced with the growing convolution of networks, IT infrastructure, security policies, and other organizational IT arrangements. Add to this the complex interconnections of businesses operating in multiple sites worldwide with a multitude of employees and serving countless customers through interfaces that can become potential attack surfaces.

Organizations need to acknowledge these important changes and plan their security strategies with a keen understanding of observability and how it impacts the effectiveness of security solutions.