Leverage Automation Successfully as Part of a Broader SOAR Strategy

August 26, 2020
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3 min read

In a previous article, we explored common misconceptions about automation and the realities of using automation to improve security. This article discusses automation best practices as part of an overall Security Orchestration, Automation and Response (SOAR) strategy.

Being fully aware of the pitfalls of automation helps frame best practices and provide greater context. Recognizing that automation takes time, isn’t an “easy fix,” isn’t free, and won’t result in layoffs goes a long way in preparing an organization. Often the automation journey can feel like two steps forward and one step back, as you learn how to optimize it for your team, your processes, and your organization.

But automation’s benefits are well worth the effort. Reducing the average cost of a data breach is a tangible example of security automation’s effectiveness. According to a recent study by the Ponemon Institute, organizations with fully-deployed security automation experienced average cost savings for a data breach of $3.58 million compared to those without security automation. The impact of security automation has continued to increase over the past few years, proving its benefits.

Armed with the realities of automation and eager to reap its benefits, you may be ready to take the next step. Here are best practices based on years of working with customers that can be applied wherever you are in the automation journey.

Best Practices of Automation

As you start to think about implementing automation and incorporating it into your day-to-day operations, it is important to think holistically to maximize automation’s impact as part of a broader SOAR strategy that includes dynamic workflows, case management, threat intelligence and orchestration. It is the combination of these capabilities working together with automation that enables companies to fully benefit.

Automation is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s important to recognize from the onset that automation is a journey that requires investment in time and resources. For example, security teams are often tempted to pick a high-volume use case as an initial starting point with automation, although this can be overwhelming. Instead, experiment with a use case lower in volume so the team can learn more easily. This will help to clearly identify learnings and put a foundation in place for broader use cases.

Build in relationships between workflows. As the journey progresses and automation matures, security teams can start expanding automation across multiple workflows. For example, a malware workflow can be standalone, but it could also be part of a broader phishing incident response that embeds the malware workflow within a broader phishing workflow. Ransomware is similar in that it could be both a standalone workflow or part of a broader workflow. While it may be tempting to treat these workflows independently, combining them will help accelerate response times and maximize automation. Furthermore, once a workflow exists, changes can be made centrally, helping to simplify ongoing maintenance and reduce complexity.

Leverage automation across the organization. Automation is heavily used in IT and other parts of the organization. Security teams should leverage automation investments and integrations from their colleagues in IT and beyond. The automation could extend to networking, identity management, multiple clouds, and many other parts of the overall infrastructure. Security teams should avoid reinventing the wheel by reaching out to colleagues and repurposing these integrations. They are already tuned to your specific infrastructure and can help get the data needed during investigation and enrichment of an incident.

Develop a single view of metrics. Visibility into the performance of your incident response process is critical to understanding the current state of the program and where there are gaps and areas of improvement. For example, understanding trends in mean-time-to-respond (MTTR) can help indicate which teams may need assistance, and what parts of the processes may need to be improved. Furthermore, metrics provide a way to communicate the importance of security and its impact on the business. As a security team and its incident response processes mature, metrics can evolve and expand beyond technical metrics to those that convey the impact security has on the business. It is through these metrics that the best SOAR deployments can transform security’s relationship with the rest of the business, fostering greater understanding, trust, and usually investment.

A good example is TalkTalk, a U.K. telecom service provider, who leveraged a single view of metrics to communicate with stakeholders.

Approaching Automation Strategically 

It is easy to understand the lure of automation. Security teams may be bogged down by manual repetitive tasks, lack skilled staff and are racing against the clock to remediate security incidents. However, being aware of the realities of automation before embarking and following best practices will help ensure the success of automation. Furthermore, approaching automation strategically as part of a larger incident response strategy enabled by SOAR will go a long way in bringing efficiency to your security team, accelerate incident response, and minimize business risk.

To learn more about the benefits of automation, join the forthcoming webinar “SOAR Automation – How does it really work? Listen to the experts” at 11 am (EDT)  August 25, 2020 where best practices will be examined in more detail.

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Ted Julian
VP Product Management and Co-Founder of Resilient, IBM

Ted Julian is a well-known, highly regarded figure in the security and compliance markets. Over the last 12 years, he has conceived and launched multiple suc...
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