Observability vs. Visibility: Key Reasons They Are Not the Same.

Author:Everson, Sean
 
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In today's increasingly complex cyber landscape, it is now more important than ever for organisations to be able to analyse contextual data in order to make informed decisions regarding their network security policy. This is not possible without network observability. Organisations can now see inside the whole network architecture to explore problems as they happen. Observability is a property of the network system and should not be confused with visibility which provides limited metrics for troubleshooting.

With observability, organisations can make the whole state of the network observable and those limitations no longer exist. Observability provides the contextual data operators need to analyse and gain new and deeper insights into the network. This enables teams to proactively make more informed decisions to improve network performance and to strengthen their overall security posture because context is now available to troubleshoot incidents and make policy changes in real-time.

Unfortunately, observability is often miscommunicated and misunderstood, as visibility is repackaged by some vendors and sold as observability, when the two are not the same. Visibility and monitoring have an important role to play but observability is different. Visibility and the metrics it provides limits troubleshooting, whereas observability provides rich contextual data to gain deeper insights and understanding based on the raw data collected from the network or system.

With research showing that the average lifecycle of a data breach is 279 days, it is clear that organisations are slowly putting observability into practice and adopting 'observability as a culture'. In the case of some well-known breaches, however, the timescales were much longer than that. The Marriott International breach, which was discovered in November 2018, saw hackers freely access the network since 2014. During this time, no unusual activity was detected and no alerts of the hacker's access were raised.

Additionally, in the British Airways data breach in 2018, data was compromised over a two-week period, affecting 500,000 customers. This resulted in the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) announcing that it intended to fine British Airways 183.39M [pounds sterling] for infringements of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

These two examples alone demonstrate how essential it is for organisations to begin to value the ability to...

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