Automating Cyber Security Incident Response: The Key to Stopping Breaches Before it is Too Late

The majority of data breaches occurring today are being executed by software, not human hackers.

Mitigating Financial Impact

In addition to solving operational efficiency challenges, automation provides the solution to another pressing problem keeping C-Suite executives up at night – that is, improving response times to security breaches in order to reduce business impact and mitigate financial damages. As the world learned from recent high-profile data breaches in the retail and health care fields, it’s not always possible to prevent attacks; but the faster your IT team can identify, isolate and remediate the breach, the less costly it will be for your organization. 

Take, for example, a company that was attempting to manage a rapidly-growing number of cyber security alerts with a staff of just three security analysts.  The team was spending the vast majority of its time responding to, validating, and remediating the underlying incidents that generated those alerts.  Due to its manual approach and limited resources, resolving a single cyber security incident could sometimes take days or even weeks.  The team felt that its process was not only extremely inefficient, but that with the rising number of incidents, they simply would not be able to scale up to keep pace with the growing number of attacks.  By leveraging automation in its security operations center, the team was able to reduce the time needed to respond, validate, and remediate cyber security incidents to hours and even minutes instead of days or weeks, saving the company from potentially significant financial impact. The team’s approach involved two steps:

  • Automating the data enrichment process, enabling much faster determination of whether an incident was a false positive or not.  That reduced “noise pollution” in the alert stream, so greater attention could be given to legitimate security breaches; and
  • Automating remediation of legitimate security breaches (i.e. ransomware infections, website defacement, unauthorized domain admin access, etc.) much more rapidly using automated playbooks, specifically configured for particular breach scenarios.

Using Automated Playbooks

One of the biggest arguments in favor of automation lies in the fact that the majority of data breaches occurring today are being executed by software, not human hackers. This means that targeted attacks can be launched relentlessly around the clock – simply overwhelming the ability of even the most skilled security professionals to deal with them. To combat these often automated threats, organizations must fight fire with fire.  In order to react quickly and effectively to the actions of an automated attack, organizations require an automated response.  Essentially, the battle for cyber security is evolving into machine vs. machine, technology vs. technology.  As a result, automation has become a game changer.

Today’s automation technology has made it possible to collect and analyze event data, and even make predictions based on the results, all without the need for human intervention. This provides the enterprise with a more streamlined, timely and efficient process for detecting and addressing critical threats. By shortening or even eliminating the lag-time of manual incident management and the subsequent delays in remediation, the potential for damages is dramatically reduced.

Surprisingly, automating these tasks doesn’t have to be particularly complex or even difficult. In fact, organizations across the globe are finding that the simplicity of automating their cyber security playbooks can quickly result in a dramatically increased level of protection.  These playbooks can cover everything from how to handle ransomware and malware infections to thwarting unauthorized system access or multiple simultaneous logins. Once the threat in question is identified, the automated playbook immediately executes a remediation workflow.  The workflow can be configured to include pauses for human decision making (i.e. asking whether or not to deactivate someone’s Active Directory ID), or the workflow can execute on “auto-pilot” without any human intervention.  Either way, cyber security incidents are remediated much faster.  And when it comes to cyber security, speed of response can make all the difference between an incident that’s easily resolved and one that isn’t, between incurring no damage and suffering serious financial consequences, between quietly thwarting an attack and having to publicly disclose the embarrassing failure to stop one.

Adopting Automation

For larger enterprises with substantial resources and existing IT staff, automation can alleviate threat-overload and enable security teams to apply their skills to other, more mission-critical tasks and projects. For smaller or mid-sized companies that have limited resources, fewer or inexperienced IT personnel, automation can help bridge the skills gap, providing a much better chance of remaining a step ahead of security breaches.

As the number, frequency, and complexity of security breaches continues to increase, it’s no longer a matter of if your organization will be targeted, but when and how. Companies of every shape, size and industry – even those with small budgets and limited resources – now have the option of using automation to strengthen and fortify their incident response strategies. By incorporating automation as part of a holistic cyber security defense strategy, the inevitable threats that everyone faces can be quickly detected and contained before they have a chance to wreak havoc on your business.


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