FINRA Protects American Investors With Splunk Cloud and AWS

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) needed a centralized solution to process and analyze their data, while protecting it from unexpected threats.

FINRA now relies on Splunk to ingest data from 170 applications, gain cost and operational efficiencies, and protect investors from fraud.

Market integrity is a key factor in fostering vibrant capital markets.

FINRA regulates one critical part of the securities industry — brokerage firms doing business with the public in the United States. FINRA processes and analyzes massive amounts of data, and one challenge is to protect that data against new and unexpected threats. FINRA’s security information and event management (SIEM) solution, despite high costs, was providing limited functionality.

Turning Data Into Outcomes
  • Ingests data from 170 different applications
  • Analyzes data from most U.S. stock and options market transactions
  • Gained cost and operational efficiencies with Splunk on AWS

Securing Market Integrity

Every day in the United States, as many as 100 billion securities market financial transactions take place, involving billions of investors’ dollars. A Congressionally authorized not-for-profit organization, FINRA oversees market integrity.

“We bring in tons of data — every order, quote and transaction in almost every equities and options market in the United States — and we look for abnormalities,” says Gary Mikula, senior director of cyber and information security at FINRA. “There were so many other logs we wanted, like badge information and different access logs, and our SIEM couldn’t ingest that data. Secondly, it didn’t provide a flexible user interface allowing us to query the data how we wanted.”

We are putting our crown jewels — our ability to take every transaction every day on almost every U.S. stock and options market and analyze that data in the cloud — and we are using Splunk to assure that it is secure. Splunk and AWS together give us an unparalleled ability to protect investors."
Gary Mikula
Senior Director, Cyber and Information Security, FINRA

Searching for a better solution, FINRA considered several SIEMs. The products could generate alerts, but they didn’t significantly improve data ingestion or analysis. Then Mikula attended SplunkLive! in Washington, D.C., and found what he was looking for — a means to capture, index and correlate big data from all of FINRA’s desired sources in real time, and customize queries through flexible dashboards.

“The competitors were playing catch-up to the capabilities that were already in Splunk®,” Mikula says. “We didn’t want to play that game.”

All in on Cloud

Already impressed by the capabilities of Splunk Enterprise and Splunk Enterprise Security (ES), FINRA learned that Splunk Cloud had just come on the market and decided to become its first big customer. The pay-per-use cloud model lets FINRA match its computing costs to demand fluctuations. And instead of spending months building out an environment, FINRA leveraged the mature data-collection agents within Splunk to start consuming data within days of signing the contract. Today, Splunk ingests logs from 170 different applications and AWS Services, including Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), Amazon CloudWatch, AWS Config and AWS CloudTrail. “No SIEM could match this,” Mikula says.

Powerhouse Design

Magnifying the power of FINRA’s Splunk Cloud solution is its integration with Amazon Web Services. AWS Lambda lets FINRA run code without provisioning or managing servers, paying only for the compute time consumed. Amazon Kinesis Data Firehose, a fully managed service, delivers real-time streaming data to Splunk. Mikula calls Amazon Kinesis Data Firehose an ideal solution for creating subscriptions filters to reliably, securely, quickly and cost-efficiently move AWS logs into the Splunk solution for analysis. This capability benefits developers and network staff as well as security specialists, bridging silos.

“It’s made a partnership between our security and operations teams,” Mikula says. “We have a common goal of wanting the same logs. Now we have a single place to ingest and consume them.”

Such efficiencies keep FINRA ahead of evolving threats by enabling teams to analyze data flexibly. FINRA is one of the biggest users of Amazon’s EMR Hadoop framework; deploying the Splunk agent onto this platform- as-a-service provides information that allows FINRA to optimize resource allocations. What’s more, FINRA sunset a dedicated third-party billing tool and replaced it with its own process for ingesting the data into Splunk. With Splunk Cloud, FINRA has better analytics and reporting, which has led to better project tracking of AWS Services and reduced costs.

Splunk Cloud
The flexible, secure and cost-effective data platform service

“We are more effectively managing our cloud costs using our Splunk solution and at less than five percent of the dedicated tools price tag,” Mikula says. In addition to its commitment to cloud computing, FINRA embraces open-source software development, sponsoring multiple open- source projects in big data, DevOps and quality assurance. Mikula’s team even built a tool to collect AWS CloudTrail logs and ingest them into Splunk

Pursuing such innovations as serverless computing in the cloud, FINRA finds that it must track logs more than ever. “You can never know what the next threat will be and what questions we’ll want to ask our data. Splunk allows us to easily collect all the data we want and query it ad hoc,” Mikula says. “What’s more, the insights from Splunk allow us to use more AWS services. We are putting our crown jewels — our ability to take every transaction every day on almost every U.S. stock and options market and analyze that data in the cloud — and we are using Splunk to assure that it is secure. Splunk and AWS together give us an unparalleled ability to protect investors.”

When we looked at what other companies were providing, they were playing catch-up to the capabilities that were already in Splunk."
— Gary Mikula, Senior Director, Cyber and Information Security, FINRA
Industry: Financial Services
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