Gamification — the process of applying game principles to real-life scenarios — is everywhere, from U.S. army recruitment to immersive cybersecurity training.

Employee satisfaction and motivation can be fickle. In a job that requires both repetition and razor-sharp focus to pinpoint anomalies, it can be difficult to maintain an edge. This can lead to burnout, low performance and high turnover. Gamification helps analysts stay sharp and offers a tangible way to understand how their contributions impact the organization’s security posture.

Red Light District

The classic example of gamification in the cybersecurity space is capture the flag, which pits our heroes, team blue, against red-team hackers in a mission to seize or defend a computer system. However, it is possible to apply this concept much more broadly. In a security operations center (SOC), for example, analysts might be awarded points based on incident response times and ranked accordingly. This feedback resonates with employees and encourages them to further develop their cybersecurity skills.

We worked on a recent security project with a client who had a light connected by application program interface (API) to a QRadar Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) deployment. The light turned red when the solution either detected a certain volume of security incidents or reached a specific threshold of criticality. As the SOC team remediated the risks, the red light gradually dimmed.

Strong API support is present in a huge array of modern IT products, from Internet of Things (IoT) devices to SIEM solutions and firewalls, meaning that applications are almost as limitless as your imagination. Of course, what works for one team may not work for another. Not all professionals find motivation in strobe lights and heavy metal beats during periods of high incident generation.

Circumventing the Cybersecurity Catch-22

Gamification can take many forms, including security incident simulation. Some tools, such as IBM Resilient, can simulate incidents already. The solution’s Security Module helps customers test their response plans, identify gaps and refine the response process. It offers a critical opportunity to run timed, competitive drills and conduct tailored training based on the most relevant scenarios.

Resilient also provides data on the effectiveness of response processes, which helps analysts circumvent the classic Catch-22 of security budgeting: Although their job depends on proactive breach prevention, analysts cannot demonstrate the value of incident response solutions if there is no actual incident to respond to.

Gamification in Action

Gamification is also employed at IBM’s X-Force Command Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where business owners can bring their teams to experience simulated security incidents in an airlocked cyber range. Participants are embedded into the heart of a fictional company and challenged to respond to security-related events throughout the day. Each decision they make will affect the trajectory of the mock attack.


IBM X-Force Command Center (Source: IBM)

Gamification is an engaging and effective way to get more from your security resources. In a world of skills shortages and escalating threat levels, this type of immersive training can go a long way toward improving an SOC team’s incident response capabilities.

Read the X-Force Report: The Role of CTF Exercises in Security Incident Response Planning

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