From Alert Overload to Clarity: SOAR’s Role in Efficient Incident Management

Imagine for a moment an orchestra sitting on stage, instruments in hand, and ready to play Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.  Without a conductor, musicians might play at slightly different tempos, and instead of being treated to a magical and moving performance, the audience would experience musical chaos. Bringing a conductor onto the stage transforms mayhem into harmony. 

Now, picture the stage as your organization’s infrastructure; each musician is akin to a log source or a security tool, and every note played is a security event. The sheer number of alerts generated during just one song would overwhelm even a seasoned security team.  

In the cybersecurity world, the conductor is SOAR (Security Orchestration, Automation, and Response), and the role goes far beyond merely wielding a baton. SOAR systems orchestrate the multitude of security tools within an organization to bring order, not by silencing the tools but by ‘listening’ intently, identifying anomalies, and distinguishing false positives, low-level alerts, and critical alerts. With this filtering in place, security experts can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing they can focus on the alerts that matter and better protect their IT environment. 

Alert Overload: An Unmanageable Situation 

Security teams face a barrage of alerts from various sources, including firewalls, intrusion detection systems (IDS), endpoint security tools, security information and event management (SIEM) systems, and more. Many of these tools also generate unindicative alerts that do not provide context, rather simply mention an isolated and abstract alert such as “failed log-in attempt”.  

A Forrester study found that the average security team receives 11,000 alerts daily – and that was back in 2020 when attack surfaces were smaller. Data from Vectra’s 2023 State of Threat Detection qualitatively and quantitatively revealed that alert overload or fatigue leads to: 

Missed Threats: Analysts become desensitized to the constant stream of alerts, potentially overlooking crucial indicators of a cyberattack. 

  • 97% are concerned they’ll miss a critical alert because of a flood of alerts. 
  • 67% of daily alerts go unaddressed because analysts are so overwhelmed. 

Decreased Productivity: Time spent on low-level alerts is time taken away from investigating high-priority issues and initiating proactive security measures. 

  • 41% think security vendors trigger pointless alerts because they fear not flagging a breach. 
  • Analysts spend 3 – 4 hours daily manually triaging alerts, 83% of which are false positives.  

Burned-Out Staff: The constant pressure of a never-ending stream of alerts can lead to staff burnout and decreased morale. 

  • 67% are considering or actively leaving their jobs due to stress, lack of understanding from leadership, and low-quality alerts. 

Clearly, a more efficient incident management system is needed. Enter SOAR. 

What is SOAR?

SOAR was created to enhance the capabilities of SIEM systems, which excel at collecting and analyzing security data but struggle to handle massive amounts of data and automate threat responses. As the security domain progresses, organizations are increasingly developing security systems, such as SOAR, built-in to SIEMs, enabling tighter control and a custom fit. 

Here’s how SOAR works: 

Security Orchestration: SOAR integrates with security tools, including SIEMs, gathering information from devices, threat intelligence feeds, and incident management systems. Once the SIEM analyzes the data, it sends relevant alerts and information to the SOAR platform through bidirectional communication, ensuring real-time access to the latest security events. 

Alert Prioritization and Automation: SOAR prioritizes the alerts based on their severity and relevance. It then automates responses to these alerts, addressing low-level threats automatically while escalating critical alerts for manual review and action. 

Incident Response (IR): For high-priority alerts that require human intervention, SOAR guides security teams through the IR process, providing detailed information and recommended actions.  

SOAR and AI: A Power Couple

AI and ML play a pivotal role in SOAR platforms, transforming security operations. The technologies automate repetitive and time-consuming tasks, such as processing, normalization, and enrichment of data, streamline complex workflows, and enhance decision-making by providing contextualized insights that improve threat detection and IR.  

Continuous learning from data and feedback reduces false positives and negatives, resulting in improved performance and efficiency. Additionally, AI aids in the creation of playbooks by analyzing historical security incidents, suggesting customizable templates, and guaranteeing effective playbooks are available for different scenarios. 

SOAR in Action: Practical Applications

Let’s look at real-world examples of how SOAR streamlines alert management and reduces the risk of overlooked alerts: 

Triage of Low-Level Alerts: Low-priority alerts, such as failed login attempts on non-critical accounts, can be automatically investigated and resolved by SOAR using predefined rules. This frees up security analysts to focus on high-priority events. 

Prioritization Based on Threat Intelligence: SOAR integrates with threat intelligence feeds to identify alerts associated with known malware or attacker tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs). These alerts are automatically flagged for immediate investigation, ensuring critical threats aren’t overlooked. 

Faster Response Times: SOAR automates routine tasks within the IR process. For example, SOAR can automatically quarantine infected devices or block suspicious IP addresses, reducing the time it takes to contain a breach. 

Prioritization for Prompt Action: SOAR can quickly sort through a slew of network traffic alerts, automatically unearthing a few suspicious outbound connections to a known malicious IP address buried deep in a haystack of low-risk alerts about minor outbound connections to non-critical domains and harmless DNS queries. Finding that needle early on reduces the likelihood of an attack escalating due to delayed response. 

Greater Visibility: Since SOAR aggregates data from many security tools, it creates a more holistic view that allows security analysts to identify trends, understand attack vectors, and proactively address potential vulnerabilities before they are exploited. 

Conducting Your Security Symphony 

The last few years have revealed a simple truth: alerts will continue to rise as companies grow, expand their attack surface, and deploy more security tools. This trend underscores the importance of a robust and efficient security management system.  

Now is the time for organizations to take control of their security posture, and an AI-powered Managed Detection and Response (MDR) solution leveraged by SOAR is the key to achieving this goal. The harmony of the two solutions will enable your business to better protect itself, improve the work life and productivity of your security teams, and harden your defenses immediately, and over time, turning what could be an off-key noisy mess into a symphony of protected operations. 

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