What Is Security Automation?
Types, Benefits & 5 Best Practices

March 1, 2023

Security Automation Definition

Security automation is the practice of using technology to perform recurring IT security tasks, such as endpoint scanning and incident response, with limited human intervention. In so doing, the organization is able to gain the general benefits of automation, such as reduced human error, improved efficiency and enhanced accuracy, while also decreasing overall risk, improving incident response time and building stronger defenses to protect the organization in the future.

What Is a Security Automation Platform?

A security automation platform is a software solution that unifies and automates security processes and activity across all aspects of the IT environment, including networks, endpoints, applications, cloud instances, containers and more.

Security automation platforms can also be integrated with other security tools, applications and systems, such as firewalls, antivirus, directory services and other assets, allowing the organization to monitor the entire IT environment via a single, centralized dashboard.

What Activity Can a Security Automation Platform Perform?

Automation tools can be used to manage a wide variety of security tasks and activities. These include:

  • Playbook Creation: The security automation platform is based on a playbook that is either created by the security team or based on an existing template. This playbook is used as a guide that defines the workflows that the system will follow in a variety of scenarios, as well as those that will be passed on to the security team for further evaluation.
  • Threat investigation: AI-enabled tools can monitor the network for anomalous behavior and alert the security team to high-risk or suspicious activity that needs to be investigated.
  • Incident response: Security tools are based on rules and algorithms that define how the system should respond based on the circumstances of the event. Responses may include isolating a device or application to prevent the spread of a breach, deleting suspicious files or blocking a malicious URL.
  • Endpoint protection: An endpoint protection platform (EPP) is a security tool that can automate device monitoring, as well as incident investigation and remediation.
  • Managing permissions: The platform can automate provisioning and deprovisioning of accounts, as well as moderating requests for modifications or new permissions.
  • Reporting and compliance: The security automation platform can also manage routine logging and reporting activity, as well as flagging instances where the organization may need to take additional steps to comply with relevant regulations.

Generally speaking, if a task is repeatable, then it can be automated. However, in this context it’s important to realize that automated does not mean autonomous. Many cyber activities can be managed via technology, but a team of human security professionals, such as threat analysts and incident responders, is still required to act on the data and alerts produced by the automated tool set.

The Need for Security Automation

In the past several years, cyberattacks have become more frequent, sophisticated and costly to resolve. In fact, many attackers leverage automation to carry out multiple attacks simultaneously to increase their chances of success.

At the same time, the IT environment has become more complex for many organizations — especially during the past three years, as many companies rapidly scaled up remote work capabilities to allow the business to continue to operate during the pandemic. This sprawling, perimeterless network, along with an influx of personal devices, has significantly increased risk and complexity for IT and security teams.

In order to minimize the risk of cyberattacks, as well as limit the damage in the case of a breach, organizations must dramatically increase incident detection, response and remediation times. This requires security automation.

With a security automation platform, the organization can leverage technology to conduct routine security tasks. This approach reduces human error and frees up IT staff to focus on higher value, higher-priority work; it also ensures security policies are enforced consistently and continuously.

Is Zero Trust the Answer?

Given the rising complexity of many IT environments, as well as the growing risk of cyberattacks, many organizations have turned to a Zero Trust model to strengthen their defenses.

Zero Trust is a security framework requiring all users, whether inside or outside the organization’s network, to be authenticated, authorized and continuously validated for security configuration and posture before being granted or keeping access to applications and data.

Zero Trust is a framework for securing infrastructure and data for today’s modern digital transformation. It uniquely addresses the modern challenges of today’s business, including securing remote workers, hybrid cloud environments and ransomware threats.

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To learn more about Zero Trust, please read our related post on How To Build a Zero Trust Strategy Read: How To Build a Zero Trust Strategy

Benefits of Security Automation

The benefits of security automation are similar to the benefits of any form of automation — specifically, that it allows teams to use technology to perform routine tasks more efficiently and with less chance of error. Within the context of the information security (infosec) teams, specifically, security automation offers the following advantages:

  • Improved Threat Detection: The use of advanced technology improves the speed and accuracy of threat detection, allowing the team to identify both indicators of compromise and indicators of attack more quickly.
  • Automated Containment and Mitigation: Algorithms can be trained to respond to specific security events outlined in the organization’s security playbook, enabling platform tools to contain or even resolve some attacks with minimal human intervention.
  • Faster Response Times: Because organizations can detect incidents more quickly and resolve some issues automatically, teams are able to respond with speed and precision to the events that require their attention.
  • Workforce Optimization: Automated tools manage routine, recurring security tasks, freeing up staff to focus on high-priority work. In addition, more precise and accurate monitoring and detection tooling reduces the number of security alerts which need to be investigated manually.
  • Consistent Enforcement of Security Policies: Automated tools ensure that security rules and policies are applied and enforced consistently and continuously.
  • Reduced costs: While the use of a security automation platform requires a tech investment by the organization, the platform generally reduces total operating costs for the business, as seen through direct savings such as reduced labor costs and other efficiency measures, as well as secondary metrics such as lower mean time to repair (MTTR) and other critical incident metrics.
  • Stronger compliance: Leveraging automation tools to manage reporting and compliance activity decreases regulatory complexity and risk.

3 Types of Security Automation

Security automation comes in many forms. Some of the most common security automation tools include:

1. Security Orchestration, Automation and Response (SOAR)

Security Orchestration, Automation and Response (SOAR) is a collection of software programs developed to bolster an organization’s cybersecurity posture. A SOAR platform enables a security analyst team to monitor security data from a variety of sources, including security information and management systems and threat intelligence platforms.

2. Security Information and Event Management (SIEM)

Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) is a set of tools and services that combine security events management (SEM) and security information management (SIM) capabilities that provide visibility into malicious activity by pulling data from every corner of an environment and aggregating it in a single centralized platform, where it can be used to qualify alerts, create reports and support incident response. The ability to analyze data from all network applications and hardware at any time helps organizations recognize potential security threats before they have a chance to disrupt business operations.

3. Extended Detection and Response (XDR)

Extended Detection and Response (XDR) collects threat data from previously siloed security tools across an organization’s technology stack for easier and faster investigation, threat hunting, and response. An XDR platform can collect security telemetry from endpoints, cloud workloads, network email, and more.

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Security Automation Common Use Cases

Establishing a First Line of Defense Within the Security Operations Center (SOC)

Mature SOCs use a combination of threat intelligence automation and human oversight to manage security. Typically, the threat monitoring and detection tools provide the first line of defense, identifying risks and prioritizing them. Relatively low-level threats can be addressed through automation, while more advanced risks require human intervention. By combining highly skilled security professionals with AI-enabled solutions, organizations can not only ensure the safety of their network and assets but also do so with the least amount of time, cost and effort.

Testing Code Generation Within the Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) Lifecycle

Security is an important — but often overlooked — aspect of the traditional CI/CD lifecycle. (This is mostly due to the fact that software engineers typically do not have a security background and prioritize other aspects of the development cycle.) DevOps teams can leverage automation to generate code for security testing, thus integrating security earlier in the development process, improving overall speed and efficiency.

Automating Endpoint Scans

As the number of endpoints connected to the network continues to grow, organizations must find ways to ensure no connected device poses a risk to the network. Traditional scans are slow and require oversight from humans, especially in the event of a breach or suspicious event. Intelligent automation can greatly reduce the IT burden of endpoint scans, as well as the follow up activity, such as device isolation or scans of other devices associated with a given user or location.

Security Processes that Cannot Be Automated

While security automation platforms support a wide range of activity, it is important to remember that even many established use cases require oversight from human security specialists.

In addition, there are some security tasks that should not be delegated to machines. These include:

  • Threat modeling: Threat modeling evaluates threats and risks to information systems, identifies the likelihood that each threat will succeed and assesses the organization’s ability to respond to each identified threat. While the model will ultimately be enforced via technology, a team of security specialists must oversee the development of the model itself.
  • Threat hunting: Threat hunting is the practice of proactively searching for cyber threats that are lurking undetected in a network. While machines are used heavily to monitor for threats, hunting leads are then analyzed by human threat hunters, who are skilled in identifying the signs of adversary activity.
  • Penetration testing: Penetration testing is the simulation of real-world cyberattacks in order to test an organization’s cybersecurity capabilities and expose vulnerabilities. While some aspects of this process can be automated, the most effective tests will leverage human security specialists or ethical hackers to carry out the test.
  • Red teaming/blue teaming: Modeled after military training exercises, a red team/blue team drill is a face-off between two teams of highly trained cybersecurity professionals: a red team that uses real-world adversary tradecraft in an attempt to compromise the environment, and a blue team that consists of incident responders who work within the security unit to identify, assess and respond to the intrusion. As with penetration testing, red teaming requires the involvement of human security personnel and/or ethical hackers.

5 Security Automation Best Practices

1. Set a Clear Strategy

Any technology investment should align to the organization’s broader IT and security goals. It is important for IT and security leaders to outline both their challenges and objectives, as well as how a given tool will help them achieve their goals. It is important to remember that every organization’s strategy is based on the needs of the business and the level of risk it faces. This is dictated by a variety of factors, including the organization’s industry, location, size, assets, history of events, etc.

2. Identify a Reputable Security Partner

As with any aspect of the cybersecurity agenda, working with a reputable security partner often makes the automation process easier and more efficient. Ideally, your organization will select a partner that has experience as it relates to your company’s industry, needs and objectives.

3. Define and Prioritize Automation Use Cases

While today’s technology can automate a great deal of day-to-day activity, it is important to prioritize use cases that will deliver a strong ROI. In many cases, the most logical use of automation will be to manage tasks that are relatively simple and occur frequently — though the organization could also opt to focus on tasks that drain finite resources or take the longest to resolve.

4. Establish Playbooks to Ensure Consistency

All automation is based on clearly defined rules and processes. In order to automate any task, the organization must develop a corresponding playbook that documents all information, steps and contingencies associated with the activity. This is the key to ensuring consistent application and enforcement of security policies.

5. Upskill Staff to Drive Functionality and ROI

While automation tools can be trained to perform tasks previously done by humans — humans also need to be trained to learn how to use these new tools. Without a proper change management and education program, the functionality and ROI of any automation tool could be negatively impacted.

Security Automation with CrowdStrike

CrowdStrike Falcon® Fusion is an integrated cloud-scale framework for IT and security workflow orchestration and automation.

The Falcon Fusion SOAR framework integrates with the industry-leading CrowdStrike Falcon® platform, allowing companies to collect contextually enriched data and automate security operations, threat intelligence and incident response — all in a single platform and through the same console — to mitigate cyberthreats and vulnerabilities.

Request a free trial to learn more about how CrowdStrike can help your organization:

  • Orchestrate and automate complex workflows
  • Simplify security operations
  • Accelerate incident triaging and real-time response
  • Cut costs and resources

Falcon Fusion Unified Cloud-Scale SOAR Framework

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