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The terms security automation and security orchestration are often used almost interchangeably nowadays in the IT ecosystem. But it’s very important to note that these terms have completely different meanings and purposes. The aim of this blog is to discuss the core differences by explaining what these terms mean exactly, what their functions are and how they can be used within an IT context.
When automation emerged in the security field, it became a crucial asset for security teams that were already exhausted from time-consuming, repetitive, low-level tasks. Orchestration was the next step for better time and resource management for teams, as it helped professionals respond to issues faster, and prioritize important tasks with defined and consistent processes and workflows.
When we speak about automation, it’s often wrongly assumed to mean automating an entire process, which is not always correct. The proper definition of security automation is setting a single security operations-related task to run on its own, without the need for human intervention (or a task could be semi-automated if some form of human decision is required).
On the other hand, orchestration, in essence, refers to making use of multiple automation tasks across one or more platforms. This means that automation tasks are part of the overall orchestration process, which covers larger, more complex scenarios and tasks. With this being said, we can say that orchestration means the automated coordination and management of systems, middleware, and services. Security orchestration uses multiple automated and semi-automated tasks to automatically execute a complex process or workflow, and these can consist of multiple automated tasks or systems.
Security Orchestration aims to streamline and optimize repeatable processes and ensure correct execution of tasks. Anytime a process becomes repeatable and tasks can be automated, orchestration can be used to optimize the process and eliminate redundancies.
Automation and orchestration can be best understood by differentiating between a single task and a complete process. Automation only handles a single task, while orchestration makes use of a more complex set of tasks and processes. When a task is automated, it speeds things up, especially when it comes to repeating basic tasks. But optimizing a process is not possible with simple automation, as it only handles a single task. A process is not limited to a single function, so optimization is only possible with orchestration. If done right, orchestration achieves the main goal of speeding up the entire process from start to finish.
By now, we believe you’re aware of the core difference of security automation vs security orchestration, but bare in mind that these two are not completely inseparable and are used in conjunction with each other. As we’ve been discussing so far, security orchestration is not possible without automation. Now let’s go through the main benefits of both orchestration and automation:
Automation makes many time-consuming tasks run smoothly without (or with little) human intervention, thus allowing organizations to take a more proactive approach in protecting their infrastructure from increasing volumes of security alerts and potential incidents, which would take far too many man-hours to be able to complete.
The primary goal of orchestration is to optimize a process. While security automation is limited to automating a particular task, orchestration goes way beyond this. With automation providing the necessary speed to the processes, orchestration, on the other hand, provides a streamlined approach and process optimization.
Orchestration and automation work together to empower security teams, allowing them to be more effective, and ultimately focus on incident analysis and important investigations, rather than on manual, time-consuming and repetitive tasks. Having all of the tools to hand within a centralized, single and intuitive orchestration platform can only benefit your security operations team. This ultimately means more time for analysts and incident respondents to focus on issues that require a level of human intervention for a higher level of investigation for mitigation and remediation.
Both of these concepts: security automation and security orchestration relate to each other, and it’s often very difficult to differentiate between them. As we discussed in detail regarding this confusion, one last piece of advice would be to look at these in their fundamental difference, which lies in their varying individual goals. Automation is all about codification and orchestration is all about systematization of processes. The adequate differentiation between these two principles will help you to achieve a streamlined and accurate execution of your incident response processes and tasks.
John Moran / 6 Nov 2018
If you’re playing buzzword bingo in 2018, Orchestration and Automation (O&A) are two words you want to see on your card. Learn the difference between Orchestration and Automation and Security Orchestration, Automation and Response (SOAR).
Heather Hixon / 1 Nov 2018
John Moran / 13 Sep 2018
See IncMan SOAR in Action.