What is Network Traffic Analysis? A Beginner’s Guide

Network traffic analysis for today’s top enterprises

Trustworthy businesses do everything they can to keep their customers’ information safe and their technology private. MixMode and others are continually developing new tools to equip and protect these enterprises. Network Traffic Analysis (NTA) is one of these newer advancements in cybersecurity. NTA allows the analysis of network traffic (hence the name) at a granular, packet-by-packet level.

Network traffic analysis enables deep visibility of your network. It effectively monitors and interprets network traffic at a deeper, faster level, so you can respond quickly and specifically to potential problems.

NTA is essential for network security teams to detect zero-day threats, attacks, and other anomalies that need to be addressed.

While NTA is a newly coined technology, it is already widely in use. ESG, an IT strategy firm, reports that 87% of organizations use network traffic analysis (NTA) tools for threat detection and response, and 43% say NTA is a “first line of defense” for detecting and responding to threats.

Gartner (a global IT advisory firm) defines NTA as “an emerging category of security product using network communications as the primary data source for threat detection and investigation within a network.” 

In this post we will help define network traffic analysis, some of the features you may find in NTA tools like MixMode, and explain why a network traffic analysis platform is necessary to round out your security posture.

A powerful lens to watch over your network

NTA can be compared to both the microscope and the scientist who interprets what is being seen. It uses both automated and manual processes to analyze the traffic log in real-time, so your professionals have a chance to respond to anomalies, threats, and attacks. 

Another important element of NTA is the interpretation of data. Machine learning is implemented so that the analysis is helpful and actionable, not more noise for your workforce to sort through. 

This powerful lens looks at all levels of communications, giving a comprehensive look at your network traffic and learning from the connections. 

Network traffic analysis solutions are focused on all communications, including 

·   traditional TCP/IP style packets, 

·   “virtual network traffic” crossing a virtual switch (or “vSwitch”), 

·   traffic from and within cloud workloads, and 

·   API calls to SaaS applications or serverless computing instances. 

These solutions enable unprecedented visibility of operational technology and Internet of Things (IoT) networks. Advanced NTA tools are even effective when network traffic is encrypted. 

Initial rounds of NTA development focused on comparing an IP’s behavior with its previous actions. For instance, if an IP suddenly began communicating with a server in China, the NTA tools would present an alert. However, in our global and constantly evolving economy, there can be very legitimate reasons for a company to initiate a new relationship with a Chinese customer or company. Advanced NTA tools can compare not just present with past behavior but also present behavior with that of other entities in the environment. This cuts down on noise and distraction.

Standard features of NTA 

Built-in analytics

The ability to simply see so much detail is, by itself, not helpful for network security teams. They also need tools that can assess the high volumes of data and provide meaningful alerts and analysis. 

Wide range of monitoring

Quality NTA is able to process a wide variety of inputs and information types, including IoT traffic, protocols, devices, etc. It’s system-wide and thorough — one might even say it’s obsessive — in its approach to network security. Cloud traffic monitoring is a newer and quickly advancing area of NTA.  

Machine learning baselines

To keep up with ever-changing IT environments, NTA solutions track behaviors that are unique to an entity in comparison with those in their environment. They also keep track of other entities with which the system is regularly interacting. These baselines, powered by machine learning, can, therefore, learn what does and does not constitute a threat, as the system inevitably changes these patterns for legitimate purposes. Ultimately, this means fewer false positives to distract your team.

Network Detection and Response (NDR)

Because NTA tools are able to “get to know” individual entities, they can establish a thorough context for detection and response workflows. This synthesizes data sources that security professionals formerly needed to sift through, such as DHCP and DNS logs, configuration management databases and directory service infrastructure. Instead, NTA enables the quick detection of anomalies and enables an informed and timely response.

Network security’s new best friend

The sophisticated level of hacking in today’s world is astonishing and can be frustrating. The threat of infiltration keeps network security professionals driving forward progress toward new technologies. NTA is one of the most helpful tools toward narrowing the space between what’s going on in your networks and what you’re able to be aware of. NTA enables you to be more creative and vigilant than the attackers you’re guarding against. 

It also makes possible complete surveillance of all forms of network traffic, as they become more intricate and harder to track: cloud computing, DevOps processes, and the IoT, to name a few.

Make sure your cybersecurity strategy includes NTA

Because NTA is a newer technology, it can’t be taken for granted that your network security tools are implementing these advancements. MixMode is on the frontlines of network traffic analysis. With it’s robust capabilities including Predictive Network Detection and Response (NDR), full packet capture, zero-day attack detection, and advanced Unsupervised Artificial Intelligence, MixMode gives your security team full network visibility and the tools to interpret what your new lenses enable you to see.

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