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BACK TO BASICS: What is security automation? | Siemplify

Nimmy ReichenbergMarch 12, 2018

Security automation back to basicsCybersecurity is full of terms, concepts, buzzwords and jargon that often get misused, overstated or muddled. That’s why, every now and again, we want to help you reground yourself in the true meaning of some of the most prevalent security terminology. 


It's getting harder to find things that can't be automated. We can already automate our homes, we are on the precipice of driverless cars becoming mainstream and last year, a man in China built and married a robot. With that in mind, it would seem that the automated cybersecurity industry is actually late to the party in adopting automation in a meaningful way.

In this digital era where hacker sophistication is rapidly on the rise, it has never been more important to ensure that your organization is sufficiently fortified against a wide range of cyberthreats and vulnerabilities. Conventional SIEM security platforms typically record tons of information and alerts which your SOC team is expected to chase down and investigate.

This challenge has consequently led to a shortage in resources and expertise required to respond to these incidents. SOC teams are overwhelmed with repetitive processes and needless investigations. Most importantly, there isn’t enough expertise available to respond to the rapidly increasing cyberthreats.

It is this ever-changing challenge that births the need for security automation. But, like any hot technology, the term gets thrown around a lot and used in variety of ways. So let's take a deeper look.

What is Security Automation?

In the past, Security Automation literally implied the automation of cybersecurity controls but times have changed. This definition is now somewhat limited and no longer represents the scope of today’s cyber world for enterprises.

A more robust definition of security automation refers to the use of automatic systems to detect and prevent cyberthreats, while contributing to the overall threat intelligence of an organization in order to plan and defend against future attacks.

Security automation essentially aims to reduce human intervention when addressing security operations. When applied effectively, repetitive, time-consuming actions that would have been handled by a security analyst are handled automatically, thereby allowing security analysts to focus on other, more valuable tasks.

Furthermore, it’s important to note that although security automation and security orchestration are often discussed in the same circles and even used interchangeably, they are certainly not the same. You can learn more about security orchestration in our previous Back to Basics blog. 

businessman hand using tablet computer and server room backgroundHow does security automation work?

From security monitoring to intrusion detection systems and even some aspects of SIEM, the practical scope of security automation is literally unlimited. The following breaks down the typical steps or processes involved in security automation.

It copies the investigative steps a security analyst would have taken

Without automation, when detection systems find possible threats, analysts are notified with alerts. These security analysts then have to compare the threats against their existing threat intel to ascertain their nature. Security automation ensures that key parts of the cyberthreat analysis are carried out automatically, reducing man hours and improving efficiency.

Determines whether an action is required for specific threats

In the absence of security automation, once a security analyst has investigated the alert, they’ll need to ascertain what action needs to be taken depending on the type of alert. The alerts could either be a known good, known bad or unknown. The challenge here is that these alerts are very repetitive and may lead to alert fatigue for the analysts involved. Automation takes away the burden of repetition by automatically using rules based on prior experiences to determine whether an action is required.

Carries out remediation actions

When an analyst deems a cyberthreat to be malicious, they have to manually investigate what action is required. With regards to phishing for instance, an analyst has to investigate all email attachments, all recipients, whether the attachments were opened, scan for infections and a host of other actions. This can be a lengthy manual process but with security automation in place, these actions can occur quickly, seamlessly and consistently.

Decides whether additional investigation is required

SOC teams can reduce false positives and readily address known bad alerts using automation. Because the actions related to addressing those alerts are taken care of automatically, the alerts that bubble up to an analyst are those that truly need their attention. In this way, a security automation solution can help illuminate which alerts require additional investigation and analyst attention.

The role of ML and AI in security automation

While we are addressing buzzwords, machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) often come up in discussions about security automation.  Although it’s still early days, experts are already predicting that AI and ML will dominate security automation and cybersecurity in the future.

Machine learning and AI will ultimately act as an enabler for security automation, improving the ability of automated cybersecurity systems to provide clearer analysis, recognize patterns, understand behaviors and solve problems. As a practical example - ML and AI could take the human effort out of building and maintaining the playbooks needed to automate the response to threats. 

It’s important to understand that the potential of AI and ML in security automation platforms is still very much untapped, and it is worth asking deeper questions of providers who make claims around machine learning.

Why do organizations adopt automated cyber security automation?

Four issues are the most typical triggers for organizations to begin a journey to security automation.

The SOC is struggling with response times

Organizations are receiving around 500 threat alerts daily and considerably more for larger enterprises. Security analysts are unfortunately only able to investigate 5-10 of these threats daily, making it impossible respond in real time. Security automation allows SecOps to benefit from real-time monitoring and investigations.

There's been a breach

Whether a recent breach was the result of a phishing-related malware attack or system vulnerabilities, organizations that continue doing the same thing with their security operations are likely to experience another significant breach. Security Automation will help your SOC Team identify real threats and reduce false positives.

False positives are overwhelming SecOps

If you currently use a SIEM platform then you’ll understand the repetitive nature of threat alerts and how overwhelming this can be for your SOC Team. These false positives are time consuming as an analyst always has to check them out and investigate. Security automation can drastically reduce the number of false positives that even make it to an analyst.

Security budget is tight

One of the quickest ways you can cut down on your security budget is make he man hours of your SOC team more efficient and effective. By implementing security automation across your SecOps, you can successfully reduce false positive alerts and redirect your security analysts to more valuable tasks.

Despite the consistent increases in security staffing and budgets, cyber attacks have persistently been on the rise. Conventional monitoring and detection methods are no longer enough and SOC teams must be vigilant on a 24/7 basis. Security automation is proving to be a necessity for SOC teams in modern day enterprises mostly because it provides speedy and reliable detection of cyberthreats with less human error, improves response times and, most importantly, streamlines processes for cybersecurity teams.

So, if you've already got your Tesla on order and rely on Alexa to help you run things at home, what's keeping you from automating your security operations?

 

Topics: Security Operations, Security Automation

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