The human brain is magnificent in its ability to process information. However, compared to advances in artificial intelligence and automation (which never sleep), it pales in its ability to keep up. The truth is, while some cybersecurity tasks must be performed by humans, there are some things that machines can accomplish that humans can't.
When used in the areas where it shines, automation can be a priceless tool in the effort to achieve effective cybersecurity. Utilized in specific processes, automation can improve threat detection capabilities, decrease incident response time, and reduce or eliminate errors. Furthermore, automated tools and systems can address many of the issues creating challenges for cybersecurity professionals in the current threat landscape.
Quality automated systems that are properly optimized to your network environment have the capability to alleviate the stress on short-staffed teams, reduce burnout, and address constant network growth. Now, more than ever before, cybersecurity professionals need cybersecurity tools and systems that decrease the workload while increasing accuracy.
How Is Automation Used in Cybersecurity?
Automation is used in different aspects of cybersecurity to complete tasks that are redundant, can't be effectively completed by humans, or can reduce human error. Automated cybersecurity solutions can complete time-consuming tasks that take up the time of cybersecurity professionals, allowing them to focus on high-value tasks. It can also improve speed and accuracy in specific tasks. Automation significantly improves the ability of cybersecurity teams to accurately detect and rapidly respond to active threats. These are some of the most effective ways automation is used in cybersecurity.
Log Collection and Monitoring
Any business network is made up of multiple devices that complete hundreds of tasks each day. For every action that takes place on your network, an event is logged. By monitoring these logs, your security team can learn about the activity that occurs on your network. However, the task of collecting mass amounts of data, parsing it into categories, and analyzing it for unusual activity is impossible for a single data analyst or even a large group of analysts.
An automated log monitoring system collects the data, parses it into categories, and normalizes the data so it is easily readable. From there, machine learning can be used to establish a baseline of normal behavior for each user. When activities occur that fall outside of this baseline, an alert is generated. This automated activity occurs in real-time, only taking seconds for each action to occur. Log monitoring is one of the most vital processes for effective cybersecurity. By automating the process, you can keep up with network activity in real-time and provide your data analysts with information relevant to the security of your business.
Intercept Phishing Attempts
Despite the fact that it's been a primary way for businesses to communicate for decades, 91% of all cyberattacks begin with an email. In 2021, 96% of organizations were targeted by an email-related phishing attempt. Unfortunately, human error is a major factor in successful email attacks. In fact, 85% of breaches include a human element, and 61% are related to stolen or misused credentials. Today's sophisticated phishing and business email compromise (BEC) attacks can generate fraudulent emails that are practically identical to legitimate brand or company emails. Automated interception actions are the best way to avoid becoming the victim of a phishing attack that provides a hacker with an entryway into your network.
An automated SOAR system begins protecting against phishing attempts at the log monitoring level with alerts based on IP addresses, URLs, attachments, or other fraud indicators. Since SOAR is designed to orchestrate security tasks into a consistent system, alerts can be used to launch a series of actions to intercept phishing emails before they reach their target.
Without automated response, an alert would be sent to data analysts for investigation. It would then be prioritized in a long list of other potential threats, ranked by level of danger and importance. Conversely, an automated SOAR system can be 'taught' to respond to phishing attempts in a specific way. As a result, phishing attempts are intercepted in real-time, and in many cases, never received.
Recognize Internal Threats
Traditional cybersecurity systems depended on protecting an organizational network perimeter with tools like firewalls and antivirus software. While keeping threats out of your network is always an important goal, today's sophisticated threats make it impossible to assume your organizational network will never be breached.
Internal threats are risks that are already lurking within your organization's network. While these threats can come from bad actors within your company, they often begin as external threats. Internal threats are always more difficult to detect because they mimic legitimate behavior.
An automated SOAR system that begins with log collection includes knowledge of normal behavior within your network. This knowledge, called user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA) is used to generate alerts when a seemingly legitimate network user performs activities that could represent a threat. Flagging and responding to these actions in real-time is critical to reducing the dwell time an attacker spends in your network. With the use of automation, an attacker can be recognized and the activity halted before the attacker reaches their objective.
Find and Address Vulnerabilities
Cyber attackers work tirelessly to find flaws in software or organizational processes that can be exploited to create a vulnerability that allows malicious entry. Thousands of types of software exist, and hundreds of various vulnerabilities are uncovered each month.
To effectively keep up with the speed of evolving threats manually, even a small business would require a team of experts dedicated to searching for vulnerabilities around the clock. Such a process would require analysts to spend countless hours examining complex data for indications of a vulnerability that could allow hackers to access your network. The task would be incredibly time-consuming and manual labor intensive. Considering the drudgery and repetitive nature of the task, the potential for human error is high, and increased dwell time is likely.
Conversely, automated scanning works in the background of your network in real-time reducing the potential for dwell time and eliminating human error. A vulnerability scan is a high-level automated test that searches for known vulnerabilities within your system and reports them. Some scans can identify as many as 50,000 known weaknesses that can be exploited by hackers.
Ransomware attacks rose by 92.7% in 2021 compared to 2020 levels, with 1,389 reported attacks in 2020 and 2,690 in 2021.(1) Malware, including ransomware, is typically introduced to business networks through seemingly innocuous methods of data sharing and business communications, like document sharing and email. To humans, these downloads appear safe. Technically, there is no way to manually ensure a file won't be malicious upon opening.
Automated anti-malware tools identify known and previously unseen malicious files or actions, then launch a series of response actions to prevent the files from being opened or downloaded. The process begins with a real-time analysis that automatically checks the file, plugin, or sample to see if it's a threat. If a threat is detected, an alert is sent out and the offending file is quarantined. Depending on the threat and the tools used for the process, the file then may be opened in a restricted environment like a sandbox.
Reduce Dwell Time
Some of the most common attacks used by hackers depend on discretion for success. Phishing, business email, compromise, and credential theft are some of the most common ways hackers access your network to move laterally within the systems and gain access to more power and sensitive data. These attacks mimic legitimate behavior in your network to allow hackers to stay hidden in your network.
Since modern sophisticated threats depend on discretion, they are by nature, difficult to detect by humans. Furthermore, it's impossible for humans to monitor massive amounts of network data in real-time.
An automated SOAR system monitors data in real-time and uses UEBA to detect suspicious behavior. Upon detection, an alert is sent out and a series of incident response actions is immediately launched. These actions can work to quarantine the threat, shut down affected devices or offer additional actions to mitigate the threat.
5 Reasons You Should Implement Security Automation Now
- Reduces Alert Fatigue
- Eliminates Burnout
- Improves Response Time
- Addresses Staff Shortages
- Reduces the Severity of an Attack
The cybersecurity landscape is more complex than ever before. The number of cyberattacks launched each year is growing exponentially. Cybercrime has become a global enterprise where criminals can buy and sell illegal products designed to successfully infiltrate business networks. Attackers can even utilize automation to carry out mass attacks against multiple institutions at once. As a result, threat actors with little to no experience can carry out successful attacks. This low barrier to entry for cybercrime allows more bad actors to participate. More attackers and more attacks have cybersecurity teams stretched thin and facing seemingly insurmountable challenges. Automation can help alleviate the extra strain placed on internal teams by addressing these pressing issues.
Reduces Alert Fatigue
Professionals in the cybersecurity industry are required to be on high alert at all times. The effects of the pandemic on the workforce introduced a plethora of new responsibilities into the field which increases the number of alerts coming at analysts from all angles. In a survey, 93% of respondents claimed they could not address all the alerts they receive in one day.(2) For short-staffed teams, a high volume of alerts is impossible to process and requires constant prioritization. Analysts spend as much as 75% of their time investigating false positives.(3) When the majority of alerts don't represent an actual threat, professionals grow numb to the alert process. This desensitization leads to missed or ignored alerts that can leave your network vulnerable to an attack. In fact, a recent report revealed that companies with 500-1,499 employees ignore or don't investigate 27% of all the alerts they receive.
While a large number of alerts plays a part in alert fatigue, it isn't the only culprit. In poorly optimized systems, alerts are typically very similar and offer little context of the potential danger to an organization. These undefined threats look practically identical and seem redundant. Even worse, when systems and tools are not integrated, many alerts actually are redundant.
When properly optimized, an automated cybersecurity solution can address all the contributors to alert fatigue. Automated SOAR begins with targeted log monitoring. that accurately detects suspicious behavior. Redundant alerts are eliminated, decreasing the sheer number of alerts. Context can be applied to alerts that clearly define why a specific event is a threat to your organization. Instead of a deluge of vague threats, analysts get automatically prioritized alerts with vital contextual information and response guidance.
Repetitive tasks and high-stress work environments are some of the leading causes of burnout. These factors are an ongoing part of working in cybersecurity. Pandemic pressures have increased pressures in the industry, with 80% of cybersecurity professionals feeling more stressed in their roles. This increased stress leads to increased burnout and increased turnover. Cybersecurity teams grow even smaller, leading to more burnout and creating a vicious cycle. With that knowledge in mind, it might seem like eliminating burnout in cybersecurity would be an impossibility. However, by tackling the direct causes of burnout, automation can help relieve the strain placed on cybersecurity professionals.
The causes of burnout in cybersecurity range from heavy workloads and long hours to poor processes and user pushback. By implementing automation in areas where AI-enabled software can outpace human performance, you can decrease workloads, improve efficiency, and free up professionals to concentrate on high-value tasks.
The process begins with automated SIEM that monitors network activity. UEBA establishes a baseline to define normal network behavior. These tools accurately detect threats and add contextual information to limit the number of alerts received by analysts. Automated security orchestration and response (SOAR) generates automatic incident response processes and remediation procedures to respond to low-level security events. Central threat intelligence (CTI) automatically updates threat feeds that protect organizational networks from known threats and vulnerabilities.
By implementing these highly effective automated cybersecurity systems, you can reduce the heavy workload placed on cybersecurity professionals. Automation and AI never sleep, which means your cybersecurity teams can. Long hours, excessive overtime, and always being on call generate unhealthy stress levels that lead to burnout. As automation addresses all of these concerns, burnout among cybersecurity professionals is reduced.
Improves Response Time
In the effort to eliminate threats from your network, detection is only half the battle. Your effective response is critical in limiting the amount of time that hackers have access to your network. According to the IBM Security Cost of a Data Breach Report, 2021, the average time to identify and contain a breach is 287 days.(4) Extended dwell times can significantly impact the severity of a successful cyberattack.
Successful incident response depends on several critical factors. Teams must have the capability to investigate data to determine the severity of an attack. Specific actions must take place instantaneously to contain the threat to avoid further damage. Remediation must take place as soon as possible to eliminate the expenses of downtime. Automated security orchestration and response systems work in multiple ways to address these requirements.
Security orchestration gathers information from multiple systems and connects the information to define a single incident. Low priority alerts trigger automated response actions to contain or eliminate the threat. Automated responses take the place of slower manual operations. Aggregated reports provide clear details for a seamless investigation that provides additional information about the threat environment. As a result, the mean time to detection and the mean time to respond are both reduced considerably, limiting the damage that can be done to your network.
Addresses Staff Shortages
In the US, 465,00 cybersecurity positions are currently unfilled. 67% of security professionals say they don't have enough talent on their team, and 17% say it feels like each person is doing the workload of three. Even with exemplary recruitment tactics and outstanding salary and benefits packages, successfully filling empty positions in cybersecurity is a challenge. Unfortunately, there is no immediate solution to fill the gap.
However, automated cybersecurity solutions can reduce the requirements placed on cybersecurity teams so the need isn't as great. It's true that automation will never replace trained human professionals in cybersecurity. However, when automation is combined with the skills of professionals, teams can accomplish more effective threat detection and response with less time and effort.
When properly optimized, automated systems provide security teams with more information about potential risks and vulnerabilities. Crowd-sourced data is automatically gathered by the system and used prompt actions (like updates and patch applications) that eliminate existing vulnerabilities. Automated log monitoring improves threat detection efforts by orchestrating data monitoring from multiple tools to eliminate redundant alerts and apply context to every alert.
As a result, the manual efforts required from cybersecurity experts are significantly reduced. When alerts are designed to automatically trigger specific response actions, an attack can be immediately contained, further reducing the manual tasks required by data analysts and engineers.
When automation is deployed to cybersecurity workflows, the requirements for cybersecurity professionals to spend time on manual and repetitive tasks are eliminated, allowing them to spend time on higher-level tasks. Automated tools and services reduce the workload for your existing cybersecurity team members, allowing them to accomplish more in less time.
Reduces the Severity of an Attack
At the end of the day, the severity of an attack makes all the difference between a minor incident and a catastrophic blow to your business. IBM's Cost of a Data Breach Report, 2022, revealed that the average cost of a data breach is at an all-time high.(5) Data breach average cost increased 2.6% from $4.24 million in 2021 to $4.35 million in 2022. The report also reveals that security AI had the biggest cost-mitigating effect on attacks, with the average breach costing up to $3.05 million less at organizations with it than those without it.
Cybersecurity automation offers improved detection, limits dwell time, and speeds response time. Each of these capabilities works to significantly decrease the severity of a potential attack on your business network. In the modern cyberthreat landscape, it's no longer enough to wait and hope that external protections are sufficient.
Effective cybersecurity depends on automated systems that can process data in real-time and provide complete visibility into the actions that are currently taking place in your network. Automated cybersecurity systems provide highly skilled cybersecurity professionals with the tools necessary to keep up with the pace of modern technology. As a result, cyberattacks can be detected and contained before damage is done to your network.
Implement Security Automation for a Secure Modern Network
Businesses depend on technology to improve production and performance. The average business network is continually growing to keep up with changing workforce requirements and consumer demand for convenience. Modern hackers utilize technology and automation to conduct advanced attacks on business networks with higher success rates and increased speed.
Security automation has evolved to provide cybersecurity professionals with the power to analyze data in real-time and detect sophisticated threats designed to discreetly infiltrate company networks. Automated orchestration and response capabilities improve the interaction of cybersecurity tools to provide automatic response and remediation actions at the speed attacks actually occur.
When your teams have these tools to detect and respond to the continual deluge of attack attempts, manual labor and redundant tasks are reduced, allowing cybersecurity professionals to use their education and experience to perform high-level tasks that eliminate vulnerabilities and reduce risk potential. The result is an overall improvement in cybersecurity posture and the ability to detect and eliminate threats.
If you're new to cybersecurity automation, the sheer number of tools available can make it difficult to determine how to make the most of your budget. Learn more about the implementation process by watching our on-demand webinar: Optimize Your Security Posture by Combining the Power of Automation With Human Intervention.