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In April 2021, 451 Research, a part of S&P Global Market Intelligence, released the report, Practical Requirements for Responding to Cyberthreats with MDR, where it addressed one of the biggest questions facing companies of all sizes: “What is a cybersecurity automated response plan, and do you need one?” 

The report detailed surprising facts around cybersecurity and businesses’ ability to effectively plan a successful strategy: 

  • 50% of midsize/large organizations are expecting a data security breach this year 
  • 52% have already seen an increase in security incidents since the start of the global pandemic 
  • 57% believe they do not have the staff to properly respond to cybersecurity incidents 24/7 
  • Yet only 22% plan to add to their security team in 2021!  

Despite these surprising facts, more than a third see improving cybersecurity response as a strategic priority. So how do we rectify these conflicting statistics? The fact is, there is no time to waste for any organization, of any size, to start planning for preventing and responding to cyber threats. The blunt reality is you either must be ready to respond quickly before an incident occurs to minimize its impact, or contain the damage to your systems, information, and reputation after one occurs.  

With skilled IT talent in short supply, filling the knowledge gap won’t happen by simply hiring talent. You will need to allow months of training by experts before your team is fully functional. For mid-sized organizations, having your own security operations center (SOC) is also rare and expensive, with 25% of enterprises reporting they only staff theirs during business hours. Bad actors know this, which is why cybersecurity incidents and attacks frequently happen at night, weekends, and holidays, causing damage for days without anyone noticing. 

If you are like most organizations, you may also feel unprepared for the inevitable — a devastating breach. Improving your strategic response plan and automating security tasks should be your top security objective because speed is of the essence: having a plan and being prepared for security responses is one of the most cost-effective measures your enterprise can take. 

Strategic Approach to Response Maturity 

When asking how to create an automated response plan, it’s important to set expectations that an initiative as critical as this will not and should not happen overnight. The best approach is to think strategically about what is most important and will have the biggest impact if implemented first. Proceeding with a phased approach will get you up to speed with the quickest return by targeting the highest-value assets first.  

Automating responses should play an important part in your phased plan, however it’s not a silver bullet, nor is it necessary to automate everything. You must first ask what lies underneath that, and does it really need to be automated? By targeting the most important elements that require automation and determining your optimal desired outcomes, you better plan for a rapid response to the most critical of assets.  

To make it easier, group assets based on risk factors such as: 

  • Mission critical 
  • Internet facing 
  • Testing and development 
  • Cloud 

After grouping assets and ordering from most important to least, you can then focus on your phased plan approach based on a set strategy that aligns with your organization’s goals. Keeping flexibility in your plan can also aid in pivoting as needed over time as your priorities and capabilities change and mature.

Planning in Phases 

Strategic response can take three forms, depending on your needs, staffing, and capabilities: 

  • Manual  
  • Fully automated 
  • Human-guided automation 

Many organizations incorrectly believe the goal of effective incident planning is fully automated responses then abandon that objective when they realize the difficulty in achieving it. Yes, your response capabilities should enable a systematic adoption of automation as a vital key to rapid response, however, it’s not an all or nothing endeavor. The best response is most likely a blend of approaches. 

Figure 1. Each response approach ranks differently for speed and efficiency.

How do you then decide which approach is best for your organization?  

Manual Response

  • Human intervention and action for all incidents 
  • For unknown or complex threats that require a methodical approach 
  • Resource intensive and difficult to scale 

Fully Automated

  • No human intervention 
  • Effective for highly repetitive, time-intensive tasks and non-critical systems with well documented responses 
  • Provides fastest response  

Human-Guided Automated Response

  • IT/Security staff approve all actions to respond to threats 
  • Allows IT/Security teams to become more comfortable with automation for rapid and efficient response  
  • Even fully automated responses, especially regarding critical assets, can require expertise, intuition, and decision-making abilities only a human possesses 

Benefits of Increased Response Maturity 

The impact and benefits of rapid and efficient strategic response cannot be overstated: 

  • Free up resources to address other IT and Security challenges 
  • Higher efficiency and scale  
  • Reduced operational costs 
  • Lower risks through improved security posture 
  • Retained customer trust 

While it may be tempting for some organizations to build their own threat detection and response capabilities and SOCs, most will find that developing these capabilities and staffing for 24/7 operations is a significant, time-consuming, and costly challenge. Partnering with a managed detection and response provider like Alert Logic can enable you to quickly realize these outcomes and achieve security at scale across an increasingly diverse IT ecosystem with the most robust MDR solutions in the industry. 

To learn more about creating your own comprehensive cybersecurity automated response plan, watch the informative, on-demand webinar, Practical Requirements for Responding to Cyber Threats and read the 451 Pathfinder report. 

Rod Mercado
About the Author
Rod Mercado
Rod Mercado is a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Alert Logic where he drives strategy and enables sales and partner teams around Managed Detection and Response (MDR). In his 20-year career in the IT industry, he has held roles at Forcepoint, Dell Technologies, IBM, and Hewlett Packard. Based in Austin, Texas, Rod is passionate about technology and communicating Alert Logic’s value to current and prospective customers.

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