Security automation is the machine-based execution of security actions, which can detect, investigate and remediate cyber threats with or without human intervention. Security automation has the potential to identify incoming threats, triage and prioritize alerts as they emerge, and perform automated incident response.
Activities performed by security automation tools include:
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Zero trust is a security concept that helps manage the growing number and sophistication of cybersecurity threats. It requires granular approval and denial of access requests based on role-based access control (RBAC) policies, eliminating implicit trust within the protected network.
However, this granular security produces overhead, making security automation essential for creating a scalable and secure zero-trust strategy. Security automation helps alleviate various pressures on security teams.
Most notably, you can automate mundane, repetitive security tasks to reduce the burden on internal cybersecurity experts. This can accelerate projects and streamline security so the team can focus on high-priority threats. Automation also helps ensure confidence in your security posture because it reduces the likelihood of missing potential threats due to human error.
Another important reason to automate security tasks is to ensure compliance with cybersecurity regulations and industry standards. Managing security compliance requirements and individual certifications is a complex process, especially given the changing industry and legal requirements. Automation makes it easier to maintain compliance and certification levels.
Security automation can have significant advantages in the security operations center (SOC):
Performing endpoint scans is a best practice when potential security incidents arise. These scans probe the affected endpoints to determine the presence and extent of a breach. The team can then isolate any compromised hosts from the rest of the network. However, traditional scanning is slow and requires the input of multiple stakeholders.
Automation makes endpoint scanning more efficient, especially across multiple hosts, which can be challenging to scan using traditional manual methods. It cuts down the manual effort required to perform scans individually. Automated scanners also eliminate the need to write the code that tells the scanning tools when to run scans.
Automatically configuring and triggering scans allows teams to find endpoint security issues much faster. For example, suppose the team suspects malware on a specific user’s machine. In that case, they can request automatic scans of that user’s endpoints instead of relying on the development team to configure scans.
The testing phase in a traditional CI/CD pipeline usually focuses on application reliability and performance testing, not security. This is not because software engineers don’t care about security but because the engineering team rarely has experienced security engineers. Authoring the code that automates security testing before deployment is time-consuming and often less urgent than performance testing.
In this context, automatically generating code for security tests helps integrate security into the CI/CD process, reducing the complexity of creating security testing code. The test engineering team can specify the security risks the tests should cover, such as injection vulnerabilities. They can then use the automatically generated code to run these tests, making CI/CD security testing significantly easier.
Your organization might already have configurations for security rules, which you would need to rewrite when moving to a new environment (i.e., from one cloud provider to another or from virtual machines to containers). Usually, developers and security analysts must collaborate to update security automation rules for the new environment – a tedious, complicated process.
Alternatively, you can use a security automation tool that automatically generates security code, reducing the need to write code manually. The team might still need to tweak the code, but the automated code updates should handle most of the heavy lifting to secure the new setup.
The following are three categories of tools that can help automate security processes.
RPA technology can automate low-level processes that do not require intelligent analysis. RPA services typically use the concept of a software “robot” that uses mouse and keyboard commands to automate operations on a virtualized computer system.
Here are a few examples of security tasks that can be performed by RPA:
The downside of RPA is that it performs only rudimentary tasks. It does not integrate with security tools and cannot apply complex reasoning or analysis to guide its actions.
SOAR systems are a stack of solutions that enable organizations to collect data about security threats and respond to security incidents without human assistance. The category was defined by Gartner, and applies to any tool that can help define, prioritize, standardize, and automate incident response functions.
SOAR platforms are able to orchestrate operations across multiple security tools. They support automated security workflows, policy execution, and report automation, and are commonly used for automated vulnerability management and remediation.
eXtended Detection and Response (XDR) solutions are the evolution of endpoint detection and response (EDR) and network detection and response (NDR). They consolidate data from across the security environment, including endpoints, networks, and cloud systems, allowing it to identify evasive attacks that hide between security layers and silos.
XDR can automatically compile telemetry data into an attack story, giving analysts everything they need to investigate and respond to the incident. It can also directly integrate with security tools to execute automated responses, making it a comprehensive automation platform for incident investigation and response.
XDR automation capabilities include:
While different security tools operate in different ways, here is a typical process followed by an automated security system. In many cases, an automated security system will perform only one or more of these steps, and the rest will be carried out by a human analyst:
Related content: read our guide to the incident response process
As you prepare to implement security automation technology in your organization, here are a few best practices that can help you make the most of it.
Identify the security events that occur most often, and those that take the longest time to investigate and resolve. Then define use cases and create a list of how security automation can help, based on organizational goals.
Start with manual playbooks
Start with manual playbooks documenting the steps, processes, and best practices your teams use today to effectively address an incident. Ensure teams follow a consistent and repeatable process whenever an incident occurs. Then, identify the most time-consuming, repetitive processes and use them to define your first automated playbooks.
Related content: read our guide to incident response playbooks
Adopt automation gradually
Once you identify all the security tasks you can automate, recognize you can’t automate all of them at once. Start where automation makes the most sense, has high chances of succeeding, or can bring immediate value. Adopting small scale automation, you can monitor your progress, view the results and make adjustments as needed.
Invest in training
You’ll need to educate staff how to use automation tools effectively. Training should not only focus on how to set up and operate automated processes. Define which types of processes and activities should be handled by human operators, and how to escalate smoothly to a human analyst when needed. Ensure that analysts know how to receive tasks from automated security systems, understand the data they receive, and can smoothly continue handling the incident.
Cynet 360 is the world’s first Autonomous Breach Protection platform that natively integrates the endpoint, network and user attack prevention & detection of XDR with the automated investigation and remediation capabilities of SOAR, backed by a 24/7 world-class MDR service. End to end, fully automated breach protection is now within reach of any organization, regardless of security team size and skill level.
Cynet 360 can be deployed across thousands of endpoints in less than two hours. It can be immediately used to uncover advanced threats and then perform automatic or manual remediation, disrupt malicious activity and minimize damage caused by attacks.
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