For security leaders, building a mature Security Operations Center is about establishing robust processes that bring teams and technology together for success. Yet many SOC teams are stuck fighting fires without the time, staff, resources, or visibility they need to operate effectively. This situation not only increases the chances of critical alerts being missed, but can quickly foster a stressful, unfulfilling environment that leaves staff burned out and looking for greener pastures.
Recent research indicates that 51 percent of SOC teams feel emotionally overwhelmed by the impossible volume of security alerts they must deal with, with the stress impacting their home lives.
Increasing the maturity of a SOC allows analysts to stop fighting fires and focus on higher value work. With careful planning and the right combination of automation and standardized processes, a mature, effective, and world-class SOC can be established.
The danger of alert overload
The cybersecurity landscape has become increasingly hostile, and teams must deal with an ever-increasing barrage of security alerts. Teams have reported spending nearly a third of their time simply dealing with false positives, and we have long since passed the tipping point where these numbers can be dealt with on a manual basis.
This is exacerbated by the fact that the on-going skills gap means recruiting and retaining a full team of analysts has become an increasingly costly proposition. Few firms can afford large teams, and even an army of analysts will not be able to comfortably tackle hundreds of alerts a day in addition to their other duties.
In addition to the sheer number of alerts they must deal with, SOC teams are hampered by inefficient processes. Many analysts end up using an ad-hoc suite of security solutions cobbled together from different providers and great deal of time can be wasted every day as analysts swap back and forth between different solutions. There is no easy way to compare data from different tools to identify trends and more complex threats. Uniting solutions under a single management system can help to win back lost time and establish a single view of threat data.
The impact of a burnt-out security team
In the short term, this alert overload means an increased potential for high-risk threats being missed as analysts attempt to slog through as many alerts as possible alongside their other duties.
Aside from the immediate security issues, this kind of environment poses some serious long-term problems. The frustrations of burnt-out teams can build to the point where analysts will decide to quit their job in search of less stressful positions. We have found that around half of security personnel are considering changing roles at any given time. Not only will they be taking their experience and skills with them, but the ongoing cyber shortage means finding a replacement may be a long and costly process.
A team that spends most of its time trudging through alerts and running to put out security fires will also have very little time left for any higher-level strategic activity. This might include undertaking in-depth risk analysis and establishing improved security strategies and processes. Without this activity, the organization will struggle to keep up with evolving cyber threats.
How effective automation helps
Automation is the key to getting out of this rut. The more time consuming and low-value manual activities that can be automated, the more time analysts will have for more strategic activity. However, automation must be implemented correctly for it to have a real impact. The underlying processes and activities must be well understood and mapped out before they can be automated properly.
Security teams need to be able to produce thorough documentation for all activities before they can begin automating them. Implementation is a gradual process, starting with the most important tasks that will generate the most value and make the biggest contribution to protecting the organization from cyber threats.
Investigating and responding to alerts is a particularly strong area to focus automation efforts on, as it will greatly improve the efficiency of the SOC team, enhancing both their ability to detect and close threats, and the quality of their work environment.
The importance of playbooks
To effectively automate their alert responses, SOC teams will need to create playbooks of their processes, based on their knowledge and experience of different threats. Processes can then be enhanced with automated tools, gradually reducing the level of manual work required and, in many cases, phasing it out altogether. Many low-level security alerts such as malicious emails can be investigated and closed without the need for any human intervention at all.
Taking things a step further, automated processes can be handled by a single focal point such as a Security Orchestration, Automation, and Response (SOAR) platform.
Playbooks will also help to increase a SOC’s efficiency and maturity outside of aiding in automation. For example, if an analyst must pass on an issue to a colleague as their shift has ended, thorough documentation will make this a quick and easy task without the need for lengthy and redundant discussions.
Creating playbooks for each threat an organization might face will also improve the team’s capabilities when a crisis occurs. Having a detailed set of processes will make it easier to tackle threats such as ransomware outbreaks or compromised user accounts and will also assist in automating as much of the process as possible.
While SOCs will continue to have to deal with an ever-increasing volume of incoming threats and a shortage and experienced staff, improving their maturity and efficiency will help them keep up the pace without burning out their staff. By developing detailed playbooks of scenarios and procedures, teams can implement more efficient, automated processes that will free staff from spending all their time sifting through alerts and enable them to better protect the organization.