Security Automation

What is security automation?

At a Glance:

Security automation is the process of connecting your tools to execute SecOps-related tasks without the need for human intervention. Between the security talent gap and the rapid proliferation of threats, staying ahead of attackers can be a challenge for organizations, and automation can be used to help strengthen your defense and response capabilities. Be careful not to confuse this with security orchestration, which is the connective layer between tools to create streamlined workflows. Instead, automation is the first step security professionals need to take to automatically handle a single task. This page breaks down the basics of security automation, including what it is, why you need it, how it can help you, and what it looks like in action.

Security automation explained

The concept of automation isn’t new—just take a look at your banking app, curated news feeds, or the backups happening on your computer as you read these words. Though you likely benefit from automation in a whole range of areas in your personal life, it is also often used alongside orchestration in many security tools today to streamline series of repetitive, manual tasks into cohesive and automated workflows.

Security processes require a long set of tasks, many of which require jumping from system to system to gather intel. This lengthy process can take hours (if not days) to complete, depending on the incident. However, with security automation and orchestration, each of your tools is connected, meaning designated tasks can be completed automatically. This removes a majority of the manual effort so your team can focus on bigger threats and more proactive security measures.

Automation spans various aspects of security. On the defensive side, it covers prevention, detection, response, and remediation. On the offensive side, red teams and attackers can utilize automation to perform vulnerability assessments or gain a leg up on their targets. Security monitoring, intrusion detection systems, and managed detection and response services all utilize a form of security automation to detect anomalies and aggregate data.


How security automation helps

Today’s security teams are overwhelmed, and they need solid solutions to help them tackle the complex threat landscape. A security automation tool helps solve some of these common problems:

1. Lack of security talent

Good security talent is hard to come by, and when you do find it, you want to optimize what your most talented people spend their time on. Employees will feel more engaged if they contribute more meaningfully and strategically to the organization and feel challenged. Automating rote tasks such as sifting through thousands of alerts means they can shift their attention toward more strategic, interesting, and valuable tasks, such as threat hunting, conducting deeper forensics, and strategic planning.

2. Error-prone manual workflows

People may be great at analysis and critical thinking, but can be error-prone when it comes to manually processing large volumes of data and making quick, accurate decisions. This is especially true if you have many different security systems that teams need to jump between in order to detect, analyze, and respond to incidents. When incident response time slows to a grinding halt, attackers have the upper hand, putting your company’s reputation and well-being at risk.

3. Alert fatigue

These days, teams have more threats to deal with, endpoints to consider, and tools that beep. If alerts have become the norm, they could overwhelm your team and lead to missed intrusions. You can fully optimize your resources by streamlining the alerting process with security automation. If the investigation, escalation, and response process of threats is automated, fewer alerts will come your way—and these will be the ones you need to take seriously.

4. Slow time to resolution

Disparate systems that don’t talk to each other or present data in an easy-to-digest format make it difficult to investigate incidents as quickly as possible. Automating routine investigatory tasks means you can apply human analysis where it matters and not have to dig through logs to pinpoint minute details.

5. Operational inefficiencies

Siloed systems make it tough to get a whole picture of your data, prioritize tasks, share information among teams, and access data quickly. With automation and orchestration, you can consolidate your security efforts into a central hub that gives you a quick look into potential threats and boosts the efficiency of your response. 


Where to start with security automation

If your team is spending a lot of time on repetitive, low-value tasks, there is a lack of integration among your tools, or you lack development resources to build integrations and automation, it could be time to see where security automation and orchestration could fit into your business.

As a starting point, consider introducing automation to the five following areas:

  1. Monitoring and detection: You want visibility into your IT environment, but involving someone for the entire process is tedious and takes precious time and effort. Security automation tools stay on the lookout for threats and notify you when you need to step in.
  2. Data enrichment: Automated systems can do the heavy lifting of investigating potential attacks after an alert comes in, which means your team can conduct deeper forensics, respond to threats, or develop better protections to avoid a repeat scenario.
  3. Incident response: When you realize you’re under attack, a fast response is crucial. Automating steps of your incident response plan means you can contain and remove malware, deactivate an IT service that’s under attack, or install security patches or upgrades as soon as an attack is confirmed. Learn more about how security orchestration and automation can fit into your incident response plan.
  4. User permissions: With automated provisioning or deprovisioning of a user, you can save time, effort, and resources in the event someone attempts to escalate their permissions as part of user account-related threats.
  5. Business continuity: Automation can help ensure your systems and data remain intact in the event of an attack by taking action the moment a threat is detected.


When to not use security automation

Though security automation offers plenty of benefits, it’s OK if you’re not comfortable automating everything. Human insight is needed when you have to piece together conclusions and make a rational judgement call. You may also want to avoid automation for tasks that are highly sensitive or require reason beyond what a machine can correlate.

For example, orchestration and automation can handle the process of collecting password failure data and alerts from security systems, but a human should decide whether the password failure attempts are from a brute-force attack or someone who forgot their password. He or she should also react accordingly by either blocking the IP or helping the user. Automation can also eliminate the tedious work of flagging potential phishing emails and triggering a response, but this should only occur after an actual person confirms the authenticity or inauthenticity of the email.

Security automation can alleviate many of today’s biggest security issues and offer your team operational efficiencies that can benefit you now and in the long run.