Chapter 5: Strategic Security Automation: Unveiling the Right Path Forward

In the rapidly evolving landscape of cybersecurity, the notion of autonomous security has emerged as a tantalizing concept, fueled by the allure of reducing human intervention in threat detection and response. Yet, as Heath Mullins, an experienced analyst at Forrester Research, wisely pointed out, this concept warrants a closer examination, and the reality is somewhat different.

The right approach to security automation isn’t implying the start of an era where human expertise becomes obsolete, but rather an era where the judicious automation of security tasks takes center stage.

Task-based Security Automation: A Pragmatic Shift

The allure of a fully autonomous security ecosystem is undeniable, akin to the idea of a self-driving car that navigates without human intervention. However, this comparison quickly reveals the nuances that differentiate the cybersecurity realm. Heath artfully explains that the heart of the matter lies in “making your SOC team more effective in their day-to-day operations as well as the defense of the network.” Rather than envisioning a complete removal of tasks, the focus is on streamlining the processes that consume excessive time and energy.

Now, imagine a car equipped with automated parking assistance or adaptive cruise control. These features enhance driving efficiency, but the driver’s expertise remains indispensable for complex maneuvers and nuanced decisions. Similarly, Heath’s perspective underscores that while routine tasks can be automated, complex decisions involving network disconnections or server access are best entrusted to skilled human analysts. The essence of automation in cybersecurity is not autonomy itself but an orchestrated symphony where technology augments human capability, freeing up valuable time for strategic initiatives.

The Path to Practical Security Automation: Optimizing Time, Not Eliminating Tasks

In the quest for efficient security operations, it’s not about eliminating tasks entirely, but rather optimizing the time invested in them.

This brings us to an essential point: the need for task-based automation. The concept is simple yet profound. Rather than aiming to replace analysts with automation, the goal is to automate specific tasks that often dominate their time. As Heath suggests, the value lies in “automating those processes that will allow the analysts to perform their function.”

By automating these baseline tasks, SOC teams can unlock a treasure trove of time and mental bandwidth. This surplus capacity isn’t meant to be squandered but channeled towards the tasks that demand human intuition, complex decision-making, and context-driven analysis. Picture a scenario where analysts have the luxury to dive deeper into intricate threat analysis, unburdened by the daily grind of routine tasks. This surge in focused expertise not only enhances the quality of threat detection and response but also positions SOC teams as strategic enablers of organizational security.

Deciding Which Security Tasks to Automate: A Thoughtful Approach

As organizations navigate the realm of task-based automation, a pivotal question arises: how to decide which tasks to automate? The enormity of automation’s potential is undeniable, but prudent decision-making is key. The yardstick for automation should be the tasks that significantly impact metrics such as meantime to detect (MTTD) and meantime to respond (MTTR). These are the tasks that, when streamlined through automation, unleash the true power of SOC teams.

In the next part of this chapter, we delve into the art of selecting the right tasks for automation. The path to harnessing automation’s potential is illuminated through insights that marry technology’s prowess with human discernment. As we explore this vital facet, it becomes evident that the journey from autonomous security dreams to pragmatic task-based automation is a transformational shift—one that ushers in a new era of efficacy, agility, and strategic empowerment for SOC teams.