Automation in Cyber Resilient Organizations: Key Findings From 2019 Ponemon Study

In the Ponemon Institute’s fourth annual study on “The Cyber Resilient Organization,” cyber resilience is defined as the alignment of prevention, detection and response capabilities to manage, mitigate and move on from cyberattacks. Every organization strives for more cyber resilience. What the Ponemon study uncovered is that there is a set of habits or practices that the most cyber resilient organizations undertake to achieve greater states of cyber resilience. Rapid adoption of new technologies is one of those practices.

This year, automation adoption was the specific technology that improved cyber resilience in measured ways: 16 percent better prevention, 23 percent better detection, 15 percent better response and 25 percent more able to contain a cyberattack.

The most cyber resilient organizations, which identified as high performers and represent 26 percent of the respondents, had 18 percent higher levels of cyber resilience. These organizations also:

  • Are more likely to adopt new technologies such as automation;
  • Focus on investing in tools and processes;
  • Believe in security intelligence and threat sharing;
  • Communicate with senior executives and the board;
  • Prioritize and practice their cybersecurity incident response plans (CSIRP); and
  • Understand the need to align privacy and cybersecurity functions.

What Is Automation?

Automation is defined as enabling security technologies that augment or replace human intervention in the identification and containment of cyber exploits and breaches.

Among the Ponemon study’s key findings — specifically, analyzing responses from 23 percent of participants who self-reported that their organizations apply extensive use of automation — were six rather significant conclusions:

  1. Automation reduces the likelihood of a data breach and cybersecurity incident. More automated organizations experienced less disruption to their IT and business processes (7 percent fewer incidents that disrupted in the past two years).
  2. Automation reduces the frequency of data breaches and cybersecurity incidents. By preventing frequent occurrences of incidents, these organizations experienced fewer data breaches (6 percent less likely to have more than one cybersecurity incident in the past two years).
  3. Companies can achieve significant improvements in their cyber resilience with automation. These organizations feel confident in their ability to prevent, detect, respond to and contain a cyberattack (16 percent more confident to prevent, 23 percent more to detect, 15 percent more to respond, 25 percent more to contain).
  4. Automation increases awareness of the importance of having skilled cybersecurity professionals. These organizations recognize the importance of having cybersecurity professionals in their CSIRP (7 percent more recognize the importance).
  5. Organizations with the extensive use of automation are maximizing the benefits of threat sharing and advanced technologies. Perhaps most importantly, these organizations believe intelligence and threat sharing, DevOps and secure software development life cycle (SDLC) processes, analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI) are most effective in achieving cyber resilience (7 percent more intelligence and threat sharing, 10 percent more DevOps and SDLC processes, 12 percent more analytics, 12 percent more AI).
  6. Automation can reduce complexity in IT infrastructure. These organizations would say they have the right number of security solutions and technologies, which also tends to be fewer in number than companies that are less automated (10 percent more confident).

Automation Improves Cyber Resilience and the Ability to Prevent, Detect, Contain and Respond to a Cyberattack
From 1 = low to 10 = high, 7+ responses presented

High automation organizations versus overall survey population (Source: “The Fourth Annual Study on The Cyber Resilient Organization,” April 2019)

Acknowledging that automation works, the question for some organizations is, “How do I get there from here?” Most practitioners would say implementing automation is a crawl, walk, run exercise. No matter where you are in your cybersecurity maturity, my get-started advice is to pick a repetitive process that diverts your analysts’ attention from more critical tasks and target it for automation. Activities that don’t require a human’s critical thinking, such as the fundamental act of requesting information from other security systems to enrich a case, are ideal.

Automation and associated workflows have always had a role in business process management (BPM) and have historically worked best in environments with well-defined processes and a certain level of control. Unfortunately for IT security professionals, cyberattacks and the actors behind these campaigns don’t typically play by the same rules. Attackers expend tremendous effort to work against your protections and processes, and they themselves apply automation to wreak havoc and find weaknesses in your strategy.

That’s why we on the security side need to keep up the good fight and become more cyber resilient. Automation is an important tool at your disposal to achieve this objective, so use it effectively. The Ponemon Institute study showed that organizations that have confidence in their preparedness, leverage their skilled cybersecurity professionals and threat intelligence, and balance the coordination of activities both human and automated are better positioned to prevent security incidents and disruption to IT or their business.

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Chip Epps

IBM Resilient Product Marketing Lead

Chip is a CISSP who joined IBM Security in 2019, having led product marketing and product management activities at...