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Security & Identity

How to overcome 5 common SecOps challenges

July 19, 2022
Dan Kaplan

Content Marketing, Google Cloud Security

Editor's note: This blog was originally published by Siemplify on April 12, 2022.

The success of the modern security operations center, despite the infusion of automation, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, remains heavily dependent on people. This is largely due to the vast amounts of data a security operations center must ingest—a product of an ever-expanding attack surface and the borderless enterprise brought on by the rapid rise of cloud adoption

All those alerts coming in mean proactive and reactive human decision making remains critical.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the information security analyst now ranks as No. 1 in U.S. News’ 100 Best Jobs Rankings, “determined by identifying careers with the largest projected number and percentage of openings through 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.” Security, and specifically detection and response, is not only a business imperative—it is arguably the top worry on the minds of CEOs.

However, the security analyst is also one of the most likely professionals to want to leave their jobs, according to a newly released “Voice of the SOC Analyst” study conducted by Tines. 

What gives? Turnover woes are attributable to several key SecOps challenges that never seem to budge.

1)  Alert fatigue and false positives: Have you ever received so much spam or junk mail that you end up ignoring your new messages entirely, leading you to miss an important one? The same can happen for alerts. Too much noise is unsustainable and can lead to the real threats being missed, especially as perimeters expand and cloud adoption increases.

2) Disparate tools: Already in the company of too many point-detection tools, security operations professionals are saying hello to a few more in the era of remote work and increased cloud demands. The latest count is north of 75 security tools that need to be managed by the average enterprise.

3) Manual processes: Use case procedures that result in inconsistent, unrepeatable processes can bottleneck response times and frustrate SecOps teams. Not everything in the SOC needs to—or should be—automated, but much can be, which then frees up analysts and engineers to concentrate on higher-order tasks and be able to more easily train new employees.

4) Talent shortage: Death, taxes, and the cybersecurity skills shortage. As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, so will the need for skilled individuals to wage the cybersecurity fight. But what happens when not enough talent is filling the seats? Teams must compensate to fill the gap.

5) Lack of visibility: Security operations metrics are critical for improving productivity and attracting executive buy-in and support, but SecOps success can be difficult to track, as reports can require a significant amount of work to pull together.

The caveat of course is that it would be rare to find a SecOps team working without the above challenges. As such, some of the immediate steps you can take to push back against these constraints focus on people-powered processes and technologies to remedy the issues.

According to a recent paper co-authored by Google Cloud and Deloitte: 

Humans are—and will be—needed to both perform final triage on the most obtuse security signals (similar to conventional SOC Level 3+) and to conduct a form of threat hunting (i.e. looking for what didn’t trigger that alert). 

Machines will be needed to deliver better data to humans, both in a more organized form (stories made of alerts) and in improved quality detections using rules and algorithms— all while covering more emerging IT environments.

Both humans and machines will need to work together on mixed manual and automated workflows.

So, what does this ultimately mean you must do to improve your security operations? Here are five practical suggestions:

Detect Threats More Efficiently

Efficiencies within the SOC can be realized from a SIEM solution that automatically detects threats in real-time and at scale. The right platform will support massive data ingestion and storage, relieve traditional cost and scaling limitations, and broaden the lens for anomaly and machine learning/AI-based detection. With data stored and analyzed in one place, security teams can investigate and detect threats more effectively.

Respond to Threats Automatically

SOAR can be a game-changer in terms of caseload reduction and faster (and smarter, especially when integrated with threat intelligence) response times. But before rushing headfirst into automation, you should consider your processes, review outcomes you are trying to achieve (such as reduced MTTD)–and then decide exactly what you want to automate (which can be a lot with SOAR). Once clear processes are determined where automation can contribute, SOC personnel are freed up to be more creative in their work.

Prioritize Logs

Many teams lack a strategy for collecting, analyzing and prioritizing logs, despite the fact that these sources of insight often hold the clues of an ongoing attack. To help, here are two cheat sheets featuring essential logs to monitor.

Outsource What You Can’t Do Yourself

Process improvements may help you compensate for perceived personnel shortages (for example, perhaps fixing a misconfigured monitoring tool will reduce alert noise). Of course, many organizations need additional human hands to help them perform tasks like round-the-clock monitoring and more specialized functions like threat hunting. Here is where a managed security services provider or managed detection provider can be helpful. Be realistic about your budget, however, as you may be able to introduce some solutions in-house. 

Institute Career Models

Lack of management support is cited as the fourth-biggest obstacle to a fully functioning SOC model, according to the 2022 SANS Security Operations Center Survey. To overcome this, SecOps leaders must help improve workflow processes, protect innovation, keep teams absorbed in inspiring and impactful work versus mundane tasks, remain flexible with staff, and endorse training and career development. Because at the end of the day, the SOC is still distinctly human–and that is who will be the difference maker between success and failure.

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