Scaling Security Operations with Automation

Security Operations with Automation

In an increasingly complex and fast-paced digital landscape, organizations strive to protect themselves from various security threats. However, limited resources often hinder security teams when combatting these threats, making it difficult to keep up with the growing number of security incidents and alerts. Implementing automation throughout security operations helps security teams alleviate these challenges by streamlining repetitive tasks, reducing the risk of human error, and allowing them to focus on higher-value initiatives.

While automation offers significant benefits, there is no foolproof method or process to guarantee success. Clear definitions, consistent implementation, and standardized processes are crucial for optimal results. Without guidelines, manual and time-consuming methods can undermine the effectiveness of automation.

This blog explores the challenges faced by security operations teams when implementing automation and the practical steps needed to build a strong foundation for successful implementation.

The Automation Challenge

Organizations often struggle with automation due to a lack of well-documented processes and limited resources. With constant alerts and fires to put out, security teams are often spread thin, and only have time to focus on the task in front of them. This leaves them little to no time for proper documentation of processes and procedures. This, along with other factors such as maturity and process monitorability, contributes to the challenges security teams face when implementing automation. Successful automation requires a pragmatic approach, where teams identify and prioritize processes that are feasible and provide the greatest impact on efficiency and risk reduction.

When considering the feasibility of automation, it becomes crucial to assess whether the processes and procedures in place can be seamlessly automated from start to finish. Not all tasks are suitable for complete end-to-end automation. The decision to automate certain processes should be based on factors like the organization’s maturity level, the available time and resources, and the ability to monitor and ensure the feasibility of the automation efforts. It requires careful evaluation to determine if automation makes sense and can effectively streamline security operations.

Identifying Automation Maturity

To reach effective security automation, organizations must assess their readiness and maturity level. A comprehensive assessment involves evaluating three critical investigation processes.

Evidence Gathering

This process involves querying information across the organization’s technology environment. Historically, the biggest problem with this process is that it has been manual. Organizations usually have a multitude of different technologies, all of which speak their own different languages, resulting in extensive amounts of time spent pivoting from tool to tool gathering data for any given investigation.

Automation can greatly enhance this stage by unifying and simplifying queries, thereby eliminating the complexities associated with different logging systems and query nomenclatures. A security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR) solution can prove to be extremely useful here. However, the main hurdle with implementing SOARs lies in integration, maintenance, and upkeep. If organizations are already facing resource constraints, attempting to set up a SOAR becomes even more challenging as they may not have sufficient people available to handle incidents effectively while also maintaining a SOAR.

Analysis

Once evidence is gathered, the analysis stage takes the output of evidence gathering and analyzes it against internal and external. Automation can help extract insights, identify patterns, and accelerate the detection of potential threats, but it is important to note that the analysis process often requires human intervention to ensure accuracy and effectiveness.

Depending on what is being analyzed, human involvement may be necessary. For instance, when dealing with critical assets, vulnerability scanning, or identifying all the root and admin accounts within a system, it’s essential to have internal human intelligence reviewing and verifying the information.

Remediation

This process involves responding effectively to true-positive alerts within an environment. Remediation greatly depends on the efficacy of everything built before that. It’s going to be extremely difficult to have confidence in your remediation process if you don’t have all the data, you need or if there are gaps in your internal or external intelligence.

Practical Automation Development

It’s crucial to understand what processes and procedures are in place when responding to threats. Depending on where an organization is in their maturity journey, it might be hard to know where to start with implementing automation. Building a solid foundation for automation involves following a systematic and iterative approach. Below are five steps organizations can use to better implement automation:

  1. Interview Security Teams: Engage with security teams about their existing processes and identify use cases suitable for automation.
  2. Identify Use Cases: Identify automation use case opportunities based on those interviews. Prioritize high-volume, repetitive tasks or those with significant human effort. Focus on one process at a time to avoid complications caused by rushing through multiple processes without proper understanding and development.
  3. Document Findings: During the documentation phase, analyze actions in consoles and compare them with the corresponding API endpoints. Changing technologies and unexpected variables can disrupt processes. To mitigate any disruptions, it’s crucial to have a solid understanding of the APIs being used and document the findings thoroughly. By integrating this documentation into the overall workflow, any deviations from the initial assumptions can be identified and addressed promptly.
  4. Develop a Feedback Loop: Incorporate the security operations team’s insights, suggestions, and expertise throughout the development process to ensure the automation solution aligns with the organization’s needs and enhances productivity.
  5. Measure and Assess: After implementing automation, measure its effectiveness and efficiency. Continuously assess the impact and gather feedback from the security team. Use these insights to fine-tune the automation techniques and address any emerging edge cases.

To have a successful automation foundation, it’s not enough to simply create and deploy automation solutions. It’s also important to integrate automation into existing security operations workflows. This process of operationalization ensures that automated processes and human decision-making can work together seamlessly.

Conclusion

Implementing automation is crucial for organizations to combat the increasing security threats in today’s digital landscape. It streamlines tasks, reduces human errors, and enables security teams to focus on higher-value initiatives. However, success in automation requires clear definitions, consistent implementation, and standardized processes. Organizations should assess feasibility, readiness, and maturity level, and follow a systematic approach for practical automation development. By integrating automation into existing workflows and identifying relevant use cases, security teams can maximize the benefits and leverage the expertise of professionals. A solid foundation for automation can reduce response times, improve accuracy, minimize errors, and enhance threat detection in various security processes for organizations.

Note: This article is expertly written and contributed by A.J. Ledwin, Research Scientist in the CTO Office at ReliaQuest.

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2023-12-06 10:14:00


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