When is Security Automation and Orchestration a Must-Have Technology? – Addressing Gartner’s SOAR Question

Last week, Anton Chuvakin from Gartner announced that Augusto Barros and himself are planning to conduct research in Q4 2017 on the topic of Security Orchestration, Automation and Response (SOAR), or Security Automation and Orchestration, depending on which analyst firms’ market designation you follow. At DFLabs we are very excited that Gartner is finally showing our market space some love and will be helping end users to better assess and differentiate SAO offerings.

Anton provided many questions that he wanted SAO vendors to prepare for. The questions immediately piqued our interest, with one question, in particular, standing out to us.

1.When is SOAR a MUST have technology? What has to be true about the organization to truly require SOAR? Why your best customer acquired the tools?

Anton also said that he had one main problem with Security Automation and Orchestration. In his own words, “For now, my main problem with SOAR (however you call those security orchestration and automation tools…if you say SOAPA or SAO we won’t hate you much) is that I have never (NEVER!) met anybody who thought “my SOAR is a MUST HAVE.”

The question is not entirely unwarranted. During my own time at Gartner covering the SOAR space, I spoke to many clients who were seeking an SAO solution without knowing that they were. Typical comments were, “I have too many alerts and false positives to be able to deal with them all”, or “We are struggling to hire enough skilled people to be able to respond to all of the incidents that we have to manage”. Another common comment was, “I am struggling to report operational performance to my executives?”. Often, these comments were followed by the question, “Do you know of any technology that can help?”.

Typically, these organizations had a mature security monitoring program, usually built around a SIEM. They often had critical drivers, such as regulatory requirements, or held sensitive customer data. We hear the same buying drivers from our own customer base.

To sum up the most common drivers for someone asking about Security Automation and Orchestration:

  1.  A high volume of alerts and incidents and the challenge in managing them
  2.  A large portfolio of diverse 3rd party security detection products resulting in a large volume of alerts
  3.  Regulatory mandates for incident response and breach notification
  4.  An overstretched security operations team
  5.  Reporting risk and the operational performance of the CSIRT and SOC to an executive audience

One interesting thing is that when there is no external driver like regulatory compliance, deploying a Security Automation and Orchestration solution is often determined by maturity. Most organizations don’t realize that they will be unable to cope with the volume of alerts and the resulting alert fatigue until they have deployed a SIEM and a full advanced threat detection architecture.

The common misconception is that the SIEM can help to reduce the number of incoming alerts by applying correlation rules. This not entirely untrue, but correlation rules will only reduce a small percentage. They are essentially signature based. You need to know in advance what you want to correlate, and adding a correlation rule to cover all and every incoming alert is not a trivial task. Even with correlation rules, additional work will be required to qualify an incident. Gathering additional IoC’s, incident observables and context is still a very manual process. Lastly, detection is only one part of the entire incident response process – notifying stakeholders, gathering forensic evidence and threat containment will also have to be done manually. These are the areas where SAO solutions provide the greatest ROI – as a force multiplier.

Security Analytics and Operations – Leveraging People, Processes and Technology to Secure the Network and the Bottom Line

According to an October 2016 Fortune Tech article by Jonathan Vanian, entitled Here’s How Much Businesses Worldwide Will Spend on Cybersecurity by 2020, organizations will be spending approximately $73.3 billion in 2016 on network security with a projected 36% increase totaling $101.6 billion in 2020. Stake holders know all too well that the pennies you save today may equate to dollars in lost revenue and fines tomorrow following a significant breach or personal information leak. Finding the balance between risk and ROI is the type of thing that keeps CISO’s and CTO’s sleepless at nights.

This becomes even more critical for multinational corporations as we approach the May 25, 2018 General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) implementation date. Post GDPR implementation, failing to protect the data of EU citizens could result not only in lost reputation and accompanying revenue, but hefty fines totaling more than some information security budgets.

This brings into sharp focus the need to make the best use of the resources we have while ensuring that we invest in the strategies that provide us the best return. Striking a balance between technology and personnel allows us to leverage each one in a coordinated effort that makes each one a force multiplier for the other.

One of the true pleasures I get here at DFLabs is speaking to our customers, listening to their pain points and discussing how they are dealing with them both on a strategic and tactical level. It never ceases to amaze me how creative the solutions are and I’ve been blown away more than once by some truly outside of the box thinking on their part.

ESG Research recently published a whitepaper entitled Next Generation Cyber Security Analytics and Operations Survey where in one of the (many) takeaways is that the top 5 challenges for security analytics and operations consist of:

  1. Total cost of operations
  2. Volume of alerts don’t allow time for strategy and process improvement
  3. Time to remediate incidents
  4. Lack of tools and processes to operationalize threat intelligence
  5. Lack of staff and/or skill set to properly address each task associated with an alert

These 5 pain points come as no surprise and while there is certainly no “silver bullet” there are some steps we can take to lessen the severity and improve our cyber incident response position significantly.

Total Cost of Operations

Addressing the total cost of operations can be the biggest factor in building a solid security analytics and operations capability. The key here is to leverage the resources you currently possess to their maximum potential, be it personnel, processes or technological solutions. Automation and incident orchestration allows the blending of human to machine or machine to machine activities in a real-time incident response. This not only makes the best use of existing resources, but provides you the much-needed insight to determine where your funds are best spent going forward.

Volume of alerts don’t allow time for strategy and process improvement

In the whitepaper entitled Automation as a Force Multiplier in Cyber Incident Response I address the alert fatigue phenomenon and discuss ways to address it within your organization. The strategy discussed, including automatically addressing lesser priority or “nuisance” alerts will provide your operations team with additional time for strategizing and process evaluation.

Time to Remediate Incidents

We are certainly familiar with the term dwell time as it applies to InfoSec. One of the 5 focus areas outlined in Joshua Douglas’ paper entitled Cyber Dwell Time and Lateral Movement is granulated visibility and correlated intelligence. This requires a centralized orchestration platform for incident review and processing that provides not only automated response, but the ability to leverage intelligence feeds to orchestrate that response. Given this capability, that single pane of glass now becomes a fully functional orchestration and automation platform. Now we can see correlated data across multiple systems incidents providing us the capability to locate, contain and remediate incidents faster than we thought possible and reduce dwell time exponentially.

Lack of tools and processes to operationalize threat intelligence

The ability to integrate threat intelligence feeds into existing incidents to enrich the data or alternately to create incidents based on threat intelligence to proactively seek out these threats is integral to your security analytics and operations capabilities. This could be a centralized mechanism in your strategic response and an integral part of your orchestration and automation platform. The ability to coordinate this activity is referred to as Supervised Active Intelligence (SAI)™ and provides the ability to scale the response using the most appropriate methods based on fact-based and intelligence driven data. This coordination should enhance your existing infrastructure making use of your current (and future) security tools.

Lack of staff and/or skillset to properly address each task associated with an alert

Of all the pain points in security analytics and operations, this is the one I hear about most frequently. The ability to leverage the knowledge veterans possess to help grow less experienced team members is an age-old issue. Fortunately, this may be the easiest to solve given the capabilities and amount of data we have available and the process by which we can communicate these practices. Orchestration and automation platforms must include not only a Knowledge Base capable of educating new team members of the latest in IR techniques, but incident workflows (commonly called “Playbooks”) that provide the incident responder on his first day the same structured response utilized by the organizations veterans. This workflow doesn’t require the veteran to be present as the tactics, techniques and procedures have already been laid out to guide less experienced employees.

We’ve seen that there are some significant pain points when developing a structured security analytics and operations capability. However I hope you’ve also seen that each of those points can be addressed via orchestration and automation directed toward prioritizing the improvement of your existing resources, with an eye toward the future.