Many organizations seem to be suffering from alert fatigue. In a recent EMA report, according to Infosecurity, 80% of organizations that receive 500 or more severe/critical alerts per day, happen to investigate less than 1% of them. A shocking number to say the least! But what are the obstacles organizations are facing that allows such neglect?

From the EMA report, we can conclude that organizations face four major issues when it comes down to their ability to tackle these severe/ critical alerts.

 

 

Issues Organizations Face

Alert Volume

Recent surveys from the EMA report indicate that 92% of organizations receive up to 500 alerts a day. From all the organizations that took part in the survey, 88% said they receive up to 500 “critical” or “severe” alerts per day. Yet, 93% of those respondents would rate their endpoint prevention program as “competent”, “strong”, or even as “very strong”. So there either seems to be a big gap between perception and reality or alerts that are considered to be “severe” or “critical” should not be categorized as such. Either way alert management does not seem to be representative.

Capacity

Even if organizations have detection systems in place that create massive alert volumes, what they often lack is human resources to manage the alerts. Organizations are clearly dealing with a large capacity gap. Of the surveyed organizations that receive 500 to 900 severe/critical alerts per day, 60% have only 3-5 FTE’s working on the alerts.

On top of that, 67% of those surveyed indicate that only 10 or fewer sever/critical alerts are investigated per day and 87% of the participants told that their teams have the capacity to only investigate 25 or fewer severe/critical events per day. For most of the participants the alert volumes are high, however, the resources at their disposal are critically low. As a result, less than 1% of the incidents end up being investigated.

Priority

The research assumes a need for prioritization and classification into severe/critical buckets, which is understandable given the traditional, manual approach to Incident Response.

“In truth, any prioritization is a compromise, and the act of classifying by priority is merely a justification to ignore alerts.”

However, in doing so, the numbers are even worse and new questions arise. If less than 1% of severe/critical alerts are ever investigated, what percent of all alerts are investigated? What percentage of alerts are incorrectly categorized and how many alerts are classified as benign and ignored completely, yet warrant follow-up?

In truth, any prioritization is a compromise, and the act of classifying by priority is merely a justification to ignore alerts.

Incident Response

The three prior problems seem to indicate a substandard, broken incident response process. If there are too many alerts to investigate, but not nearly enough people to follow-up and the need to classify all alerts is maintained. All of this just to be able to act on less than 1% of the total number of alerts. However, 92% of respondents indicated that their Incident Response programs for endpoint incidents were “competent” or better.

The only way this makes sense is if respondents felt that when their Incident Response teams were finally able to actually take action on the small percentage of alerts that get to this point and they were successful in addressing the issue.

 

 

Conclusions

  • Detailed analysis showed that in aggregate 80% of the organizations were only able to investigate 11 to 25 events per day, leaving them a huge, and frankly insurmountable, daily gap.
  • Either due to a lack of tools to collect data or a lack of tools with the ability to analyze data, this issue is created by a lack of high-fidelity security information.
  • Information isn’t the problem. This and similar surveys show the depth and breadth of the problem facing cybersecurity teams today. However, simply gathering more information to hand off to analysts isn’t the answer.

 

 

The Solution

Automation is a key aspect of creating an effective and mature security program. It improves productivity and, given the lack of staff and the abundance of incidents in most organizations, automation should be a priority in the evolution of prevention and detection.

“Automation is the answer!”

When asked about automation of tasks such as data capture and/or analysis as they related to prevention, detection, and response for both network and endpoint security programs, 85% of the respondents said it was either important or very important.

Thus the only viable approach to the increase in alerts and scarcity of capacity is to use security orchestration and automation tools to:

  • Automatically investigate every alert as an alternative to prioritizing alerts to match capacity, use a solution to investigate every alert.
  • Gather additional context from other systems by automating the collection of contextual information from other network detection systems, logs, etc.
  • Exonerate or incriminate threats by using both known threat information and by inspection, decide whether what was detected is benign or malicious.
  • Automate the remediation process, once a verdict has been made, automatically remediate (quarantine a file, kill a process, shut down a CNC connection, etc.).

While we’re biased, this approach is the only way.

Hexadite, the only agentless intelligent security orchestration and automation platform for Global 2000 companies also states that automation is the only real answer by saying “it is impossible for organizations to hire enough people to create an adequate context for the data – and thus provide high fidelity security information.”

 

 

 

References

  • “Less Than 1% of Severe/Critical Security Alerts Are Ever Investigated” By Tara Seals for InfoSecurityMagazine.com, Retrieved April 8, 2018.
  • “White Paper: EMA Report Summary: Achieving High-Fidelity Security” EMA Research, Retrieved April 8, 2018.