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Version: Tenzir v4.5


At Tenzir, our vision is an open ecosystem of interoperable security solutions. Our goal is to break up security silos by decomposing monolith systems into modular building blocks that can be flexibly recomposed with a best-of-breed mindset. We call this "sustainable cybersecurity architecture" because it lays the foundation for accommodating future requirements in the ever-changing shape of organizations.

To achive this vision, we are building Tenzir as a modular building block for a data-first security operations architecture. We are fully committed to open, standardized interfaces at the core that prevent vendor lock-in, both for security content (e.g., the OASIS standards STIX, CACAO) and structured event data (e.g., Apache Arrow).

Our conviction is that this fundamentally different approach to security operations center (SOC) architecture is long overdue. Conceptually, we need to shift away from point-to-point product integrations built on top of narrow custom APIs to an open security data fabric as the central driver of event-drien use cases. This fabric abstracts away the complexity of the infrastructure and provides connectivity from cloud to distal on-premise locations, as well as modular functions that can easily be composed into use cases in the detection and response realm. Authorized parties join this fabric to announce their capabilities using and app framework, wrapping functionality with flexible adapters when needed. Based on a common ontological definition of relationships between the connected parties and their subordinate functions and capabilitis, operators merely have to connect applications to the fabric to yield an autonomously acting system.

The diagram below illustrates the core idea of this architectural shift, away from point-to-point towards one-to-many integrations:

The network of Tenzir nodes forms the fabric where communication takes place over a pluggable messaging backbone, such as Kafka, RabbitMQ, or MQTT. In this architecture, Tenzir assumes a mediator function, with a backbone-facing and local-facing side. On the backbone, Tenzir implements the security domain knowledge and analytical processing power to enable composable use cases, such as routing security content to detection engines, or executing security on top of the available telemetry. On the local side, Tenzir bi-directionally integrates security tools, infusing them with relevant data from the fabric and exposing their data and services to the fabric for other tools.

The primary communication pattern of the fabric is publish-subscribe, wrapping request-response-style communication where appropriate. An example scenario looks as follows: a network sensor publishes structured events to the fabric. A detector subscribes to this data stream and publishes alerts back to the fabric on another stream. A triaging engine subscribes to alerts and requests vulnerability information to create prioritized incidents in a case management tool.

OpenDXL Comparison

OpenDXL might appear similar in many ways. The key difference is that we do not want to prescribe MQTT as fixed backbone. While this may work for some scenarios, in many it does not. Large SOCs often use Kafka as their high-bandwidth messaging backbone, and every public cloud has its own streaming and event hub implementations. In addition, we do not want to burden operators with rolling out another message bus that abstracts the infrastructure complexity. Our position is bring your own bus. Tenzir uses what is available.

We demonstrated the concept of a pluggable backbone in Threat Bus, which onboards data to the fabric by converting it to STIX and then routing it via the backbone.

Now that you know our vision, let us level-set where we are today and describe our chartered course to make our vision real.

The SOC Architecture Maze

Today's SOC architecture is product-centric: SIEM harbors all data, SOAR executes workflows and calls APIs, TIP manages security content, EDR raises alerts from the endpoint, NDR from the network, and CDR from the cloud—all served with metadata where possible. When combined, voilà XDR:

General Issues

There are several general issues with this approach:

  1. Data Silos: many security products (especially SaaS) sit in the path of the data and capture activity telemetry in their own backend from where they drive analytics. However, you can often only see the distilled reports without having full access to their own data. Pre-canned analytics allow for some processing in a vendor-specific toolchain, and an "open" API may allow for selective, low-bandwidth access. But since egress is expensive, vendors are incentivised to shield this data from you. A classical silo.
  2. Vendor Lock-in: after stitching together dozens of different tools, you are finally in business, assuming that the strategic alliances programs between the vendors exactly implement your use cases. If not? Then you are at the mercy of your vendors. But even when you've settled with the existing integrations, SOC technology constantly evolves. You will want to integrate the next best-in-class solution, and hopefully it plays nicely with the existing ones. So how to avoid this gambling? There is always the big-vendor monolith security stack: the integrated solution for all your needs. Some can live with a fully externally dictated roadmap and cost ratchet, others switch from the frying pan to the fire.
  3. Compliance: public cloud solutions may support choice of geographic region for data storage, to meet coarse data residency requirements. This is a good start. For on-prem products there appears full control, but is it really enough for achieving compliance? How to guarantee that minimum/maximum retention spans are properly enforced? Is data anonymized, pseudonymized, and encrypted at the needed level of granularity? If the vendor doesn't provide sufficient controls, a roadblock lies ahead.

Aside from these general issues, there are also more specific ones with the above architecture. This concerns advanced security teams that strive for full control over their detections. These teams operate with a data-first mindset and bring their own tools for analytics. The SIEM functionality rarely suffices to perform the desired analysis, and needs to be ETL'ed into a dedicated analytics workbench, e.g., Spark, Hadoop, or Snowflake. This happens typically with recurring over-night jobs, on demand when something is missing, or fully upstream of the SIEM by putting an analytics-capable system in the path of the data. But since SIEM has all the parsers to onboard data sources, this now requires re-implementing data acquisition partially. Few SOCs have the required data engineering inhouse to scale this, which leads to buying a second SIEM-ish system capable of the analytics.

SIEM Offloading is a valid use case, but it's duct tape from an architectural perspective.

Security Data Fabric

We envision an alternative architecture to overcome these issues: a security data fabric with analytical processing capabilities built in. In other words, we decouple security data acquisition and content execution from any product and make it a modular function of the fabric nodes.

The diagram below outlines the abstraction of the fabric:

Key Benefits
  1. Standardized data access: unified access to security content, event logs, and other high-volume telemetry (e.g., network traffic) streamlines workflows across the board. Triaging accuracy and hunting efficiency increases because contextualization becomes easier. End-to-end detection engineering becomes faster because feature extraction, model validation, and generation of security-content uses a single data interface. Response becomes more targeted and possible to automate when more data for decision support is present.
  2. Improved collaboration: given the drastic talent shortage, productivity in the SOC is key. In particular, this means efficient collaboration between the central roles. When SOC Analyst, Detection Engineer, and Data Scientist can work with the same interface, their throughput improves across the board, reducing friction and improving all central MTT* metrics, e.g., mean-time-to-{triage,detect,investigate,respond}.
  3. Sustainable architecture: when the fabric facilitates the use cases, onboarding new security tools becomes a matter of telling the fabric how to expose itself. XDR is no longer a product but an outcome. Likewise, SIEM is a process rather than a monolith data silo. The byproduct of this indirection is linear incremental deployability rather than quadratic overhead, meaning, you only have to onboard a tool once to the fabric, and then all others can interact with it. This also makes for easier benchmarking of security tools under evaluation by feeding both the same data feed. For example, determining which tools have the lowest false-postive rate can greately inform your investment decision. It also simplifies switching from a legacy tool to a new one, as the new one can run ramp up in parallel before turning off the old one. Now we're back to best-of-breed with full control.
Security Data Lake

Related is the concept of a security data lake. The difference is that the fabric goes beyond analytic processing of security data and enables use cases across tools by providing a standardized communication medium. The fabric may leverage one or more lakes, but the primary focus is on providing unified access to federated security services.