Delivering Effective Security Automation in a Complex Cloud World

Today’s complex modern infrastructure has shown incredible value for organizations of all sizes, allowing for astounding convenience and innovation. However, malicious actors are taking advantage of newfound vulnerabilities with increasingly sophisticated security threats.

The result of innovation in cloud tools is causing an increasing number of security events, siloed security tools and environments to cover, with analysts struggling to keep up.

The bottom line: As the complexity of cloud environments increases, so do the security gaps and the tools needed to manage it all. And, the more tools you have to manage, the more complexity you add to your cloud environment. It can be a vicious cycle.

Modern security challenges: more environments, more tools, more problems

Now more than ever, security and IT teams face perplexing challenges. Take for example the move to cloud: organizations frequently struggle to create a uniform security posture across both new cloud resources and existing on-premises resources. Configuration inconsistencies often result in security gaps that need manual intervention. Even more challenging is the rapid adoption and scaling of cloud infrastructure—in some cases, with more than one provider (i.e., multi-cloud).

Another example is how engineering teams can use infrastructure as a service (IaaS), to easily—and independently—create instances for testing new production environments, allowing for quick releases of new apps with little support from IT and other tech departments.

Convenient? Yes! But, the convenience of autonomy has made ensuring consistent security policies across workloads and applications incredibly difficult to accomplish successfully.

Staying on top of alerts and processes, as well as proactively hardening systems, is a constant uphill battle. According to a study sponsored by security firm FireEye, nearly three-quarters of respondents reported they ignored security events/alerts due to the overwhelming volume and difficulty with keeping up.

That’s where automation comes into play.

Automation: the key to beating today’s cloud security challenges

Cloud security gaps are causing an intensifying amount of tedious and labor-intensive manual tasks. Consequently, the security operations center (SOC) is becoming a hub for alerts that are difficult to sift through and nearly impossible to prioritize. Organizations need ways to minimize human error and alleviate their IT teams from such time-consuming, repetitive tasks.

Employing a security automation solution can make that a reality.

Security automation consists of systemizing repetitive, manual security tasks without the need for human intervention. Many types of security processes can be automated, including monitoring, low-level alert investigation and user-permission management.

Some of the key benefits of security automation include:

  • Increased efficiency: Automation minimizes the need for manual processes, which allows analysts to use their time more efficiently and to focus on more complex issues, ultimately saving your organization money.
  • Minimizing human error: Unfortunately, it’s inevitable that people will make mistakes when analyzing data. Automation helps eliminate human error to produce more precise and reliable results.
  • Faster and better decision-making: Automation enables teams to gather, analyze and prioritize data in a matter of seconds, which improves early threat detection and mitigation while decreasing mean time to resolution (MTTR).

Alert overload, siloed tools and processes, and a lack of qualified analysts all make automation an important asset by enabling teams to respond faster and more accurately to events and alerts. Despite the growing complexity of environments, automation reduces risk and gives teams full visibility and manageability of their network services—all with no additional manpower.

A strategic approach to automation

While the need for automation is clear, effective automation requires careful implementation to ensure a successful installation process.

Often, organizations simply don’t know where to begin when setting up an automation tool and ultimately fail to implement it correctly. In other cases, the organization may choose to go with configuration tools that have steep learning curves, such as Chef or Puppet. These often require additional staff to help with the integration, but ultimately very little gets done and the automation tool is rarely fully integrated.

Another common problem occurs when teams add unnecessary complexity to the automation process through the use of numerous ad-hoc solutions.

An example of this is when a security team member writes an ad-hoc script to replace a specific manual task, such as patching a vulnerability or closing a firewall port. These are commonly written in the preferred language and format for the developer, meaning that from team member to team member, none of the scripts or tools being used look the same. With a constant revolving door of people and team members working on a project and little-to-no documentation throughout the process, the knowledge of how or why any of it was created and how to maintain it is easily lost, therefore leading to an unsupportable solution.

Too often, security automation initiatives add complexity instead of reducing it. Automation systems implemented without a clear and detailed strategy laid out in advance will be a waste of time, money and manpower. A strategic, well-planned and consolidated approach will allow you to gradually and confidently transform your IT security processes, one step at a time.

Achieving strategic automation 

So what steps can you take to achieve strategic automation?

1. Define your goals: Before you embark on implementing an effective automation strategy, consider what problems you want to solve. Are you trying to reduce analyst effort? Are you looking to cut down on MTTR? Are you determined to reduce human error? It’s OK to have more than one goal, but you should start the process with at least one primary, long-term goal in mind to help focus the rest of your efforts.

2. Identify repetitive, error-prone tasks: With your goal(s) in mind, it will be easier to identify the tasks you need to focus on in order to achieve them. For example, if you’re hoping to reduce analyst effort, you could automate the investigation of alerts, passing on to your analysts only those that require further investigation.

3. Examine your processes: Before automating your workflow, be sure to examine your processes thoroughly to identify and address issues that could hinder your progress.

4. Find the optimal tool: While figuring out which automation tool is right for your organization can be daunting, having defined goals makes it easier to determine which tools can help you achieve your desired end-state automized environment.

5. Ensure scalability: Ensure your chosen tool can accommodate company growth and fluctuation. Organizations are not immutable; they grow, merge and change over time. Your automated solution needs to be flexible enough to handle and adapt to these changes.

What to look for in an automation tool

With so many automation options available today, determining which features matter the most can be difficult. While most tools come with their own unique specifications, there are some fundamental features to consider when selecting the right one.

Your chosen tool should:

  • Be easy to learn: Look for a tool that is simple for everyone—from administration to developers to IT and security teams—to learn and maintain. Ideally, it shouldn’t require any special coding skills or job-specific training.
  • Minimize integration friction: Find a tool that requires minimal additional software installation and allows you to get up and running quickly.
  • Automate multiple IT tasks and use cases: Look for a flexible tool that can be used to create complex playbooks that both manage and control tasks, as well as orchestrate your entire application environment. It should also allow you to model all types of complex workflows and use cases.

Automation made easy

Security automation tools enable organizations to define security across their varied systems and implement consistent, scalable and reliable security infrastructure. Today’s automation technologies are designed and built to help IT and security teams better address the massive number of alerts and challenges they face each day.

Used by organizations across the globe, security automation helps businesses stay on top of patches, address network vulnerabilities, and oversee configuration, deployment, and orchestration tasks.

Automation platforms can bring together key security initiatives and advance security postures by improving efficiency, expanding visibility, enabling faster MTTR and implementing more effective controls.

Strategic security automation tames complexity risks

Although cloud and other IT innovations continue to offer major benefits to businesses, the added complexity has become a risky—and tricky—security challenge. And, considering the myriad of security challenges organizations face, automation is the key to positioning your business as a proactive and protected cloud security operation.

Any new security initiative requires forethought and careful planning for it to succeed. The same applies to automation: when properly planned and executed, automation can be a vital asset to your organization, enabling standardization, MTTR, and offering greater visibility of changes and issues within your environment.

Automation solutions empower organizations to address security incidents faster and more effectively, while ultimately sustaining their secure cloud and application environment.

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