4 Reasons Why Alert Fatigue is Making Your SOC Team Less Efficient – And How to Help
Alert fatigue is one of the biggest challenges facing the modern security operations center (SOC).
Most security teams receive more security alerts than they can possibly investigate and address, and many of these alerts are false positives that point to non-existent threats.
High alert volumes and time wasted on false-positive alerts contribute to alert fatigue among SOC analysts. This alert fatigue results in missed detections and analyst burnout, increasing an organization’s exposure to cyber risk.
Why Is Alert Fatigue a Problem for SOC Teams?
Humans may be slowed down by performing repetitive tasks. We get bored, become complacent, and start looking for workarounds to simplify and expedite the process. The problem is exacerbated if there is no sense of accomplishment or hope of actually completing the task. Many security professionals experience this challenge every day.
Why? The average organization is using 76 security solutions, and all of these solutions are designed to produce alerts if they detect an anomaly or event that could indicate a security incident. This results in the average SOC receiving 11,000 security alerts every day.
Triaging, investigating, and responding to these alerts is part of the role of a SOC analyst—and it can be a very mundane and repetitive process that slows down the efficacy of your cyber team. Investigating large volumes of alerts, many of which are false positives, and barely making an impact on alert volumes causes analysts frustration and results in them making mistakes.
Alert fatigue can have a significant impact on a SOC team’s operations and the organization’s cybersecurity. Some common impacts include:
- Analyst Burnout: Security alert triage and analysis is a repetitive and high-stress job. As a result, analysts become stressed and burned out, which can degrade their performance and result in an organization losing valuable personnel.
- Misclassified Alerts: Security alert analysis is a tradeoff between performing a deep dive on a very few alerts or shallowly investigating a greater number. High alert volumes mean that analysts have little time to spend on investigation, potentially resulting in true threats being misclassified as false positives.
- Ignored Alerts: SOCs face many more alerts than they can effectively analyze. As a result, 35% of SOC analysts admit to ignoring or disabling alerts simply to cut down on the volume of alerts that they receive.
Alert fatigue means that analysts aren’t analyzing all alerts and may be misclassifying the ones that they do. Both of these factors can result in true cyberattacks going undetected, incurring costs and damage to the organization. At the same time, the process of managing these alerts causes analyst burnout, making it difficult for the SOC to sustain operations.
What Issues Arise Due to Alert Fatigue?
What happens when analysts feel overwhelmed by high numbers of alerts? The effects on an organization can be far-reaching.
Lack of Attention to True Threats
SOC teams face a high volume of alerts composed of a mix of true positive and false-positive alerts. Differentiating between these two types of alerts requires investigation by a human analyst.
The average security alert takes at least ten minutes for a SOC analyst to investigate. With the average SOC receiving 11,000 security alerts per day, analyzing all of a day’s alerts would take a minimum of 1,833 hours or 229 full-time security analysts dedicated solely to alert investigation and triage.
Very few organizations have the resources required to staff a SOC with over 230 security analysts, and these organizations have larger networks that receive even more security alerts each day. In fact, the average SOC has ten employees. As a result, many SOCs only have personnel required to investigate less than 5% of the alerts received, assuming that SOC personnel do nothing else.
The only way to determine if a threat is genuine is through investigation, so it’s common for security professionals to spend time assessing false positives and missing signs of real threats. In fact, analysts state that at least 50% of the alerts that they investigate are false positives, meaning that this investigation time is wasted.
Whether analysts spend time investigating false positives or simply turn off alerts when alert volumes become overwhelming, they are distracted from spending more time on true threats. As a result, the organization is at greater risk of a successful cyberattack.
Slower Response Times
Rapid response to cyber threats is essential to minimize their effects on the organization. The longer that attackers have access to an organization’s network and systems, the more opportunity that they have to steal data, plant malware, deploy persistence mechanisms, and take other malicious actions.
However, the high alert volume and number of false-positive alerts delay an organization’s response to incidents. If an organization attempts to investigate as many alerts as possible, then responses to true threats are often delayed by the investigation of false-positive alerts. If alerts are missed or ignored due to overwhelming volume, then security incidents will only be detected and responded to when they have a visible impact on the organization, such as a data breach or the triggering of ransomware on corporate systems.
A report on the costs of data breaches released by IBM and Ponemon underscores the massive delays that organizations face in detecting and responding to security incidents. In 2021, the average organization took 287 days to detect and respond to a data breach. Often, the signs of a data breach appear in alerts on day one, but the overwhelming volume of security data means that it can take over seven months—and potentially notification by an external organization—for a company to find and fix the problem.
Problems with Retention and Recruiting
The corporate SOC is responsible for protecting the organization against cyber threats, and its responsibilities are steadily growing as corporate environments expand and cyber threats grow more sophisticated. This is a high-stress position, and SOC analysts are feeling the pressure.
In fact, 70% of SOC analysts say that their high-pressure work environment affects their home life, and 96% of analysts feel a significant personal impact after a security incident. On average, a SOC analyst stays in a job 26 months before leaving for a new position.
For most SOC analysts, the large volume of security alerts that a SOC faces is a significant contributor to this burnout. Triaging and analyzing security alerts is a tedious and high-risk task where an overlooked false positive can result in a data breach or other major incident. Over half of security analysts claim that their organization is overwhelmed by security alerts and that they are not confident in their ability to prioritize and respond to alerts appropriately.
Managing security alerts is a crucial part of a SOC analyst’s job and essential to protecting the organization against cyber threats. However, it is a tedious and stressful task that commonly leads to analysts burning out. Even in the best of times, analysts can only make a small dent in the volume of alerts. As a result, companies commonly struggle to attract new SOC analysts and keep them long enough to gain useful knowledge and experience.
Higher Costs of Security
Companies face massive amounts of security alerts. But in the end, all of these alerts are just data. If an organization wants to extract value from this data, it needs to be transmitted to a central location, stored once it gets there, and analyzed to extract valuable intelligence.
With thousands, millions, or potentially billions of alerts per day, security alerts represent a significant amount of data. Additionally, the actual alert may only represent the tip of the iceberg since investigating and using these alerts requires access to log files and other data sources.
With slow incident detection and response times, companies need to store this data so that historical data is available when they actually detect and investigate a data breach or other security incident. However, this represents a massive volume of data that an organization needs to store and analyze.
Data storage and processing for a large number of alerts can represent a high cost for an organization. Whether on-prem or in the cloud, storing large volumes of data costs money.
Additionally, the ability to search through this data to identify events of interest during an investigation requires processing power, which increases the resource requirements and cost of security.
How to Mitigate the Problem of Alert Fatigue
SOCs are already facing overwhelming volumes of security alerts, and these numbers are continually growing. The average SOC can only investigate a small percentage of the alerts it receives, meaning that this is not a problem that can be solved with additional hiring. Instead, organizations must focus on reducing the volume of alerts and allowing SOC analysts to focus their time and attention on true risks and actionable alerts.
BluVector solutions combine increased network visibility and artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) solutions to perform alert correlation and triage. By connecting the dots and automating alert triage, BluVector enables security analysts to focus their efforts on actionable security alerts that represent a true threat to the organization and eliminate time wasted collecting and aggregating data. BluVector’s AI/ML solutions for alert management provide significant benefits to the corporate SOC, including:
• Lower False Positive Rates: Investigating a false positive alert is a waste of analysts’ time. With increased visibility and automated alert correlation, BluVector solutions drive down false positive rates to maximize the value and impact of alert investigation.
• Reduced Alert Volumes: The average SOC analyst investigates ten alerts per day, so many of the alerts that a SOC receives may be overlooked. By reducing alert volume and providing analysts with actionable alerts regarding true threats, BluVector solutions enable a SOC to manage security alerts while maximizing analyst efficiency and effectiveness effectively.
• Attack Chain Visibility: A single security alert provides one data point about an attack, and gaining visibility into an attacker’s actions requires aggregating and correlating many of these data points. BluVector’s AI/ML solutions do this automatically, providing analysts with visibility into the complete attack chain and streamlining and expediting alert investigations.
• Actionable Alerts: Most security alerts point to a potential attack, but additional investigation is required to gain full visibility and identify a response strategy.
BluVector Advanced Threat Detection provides analysts with actionable alerts that reduce response times to cyber threats. BluVector solutions use the following guiding principles to ensure that they provide maximum benefit to security analysts:
• Correlate all alerts to devices or user accounts. Investigating alerts as individual events lacks context and can be overwhelming for analysts. BluVector solutions correlate alerts to devices or user accounts, which ensures that analysts have a finite set of groups to examine. Additionally, this correlation provides valuable context and visibility into related events.
• Don’t treat all events equally over time. Almost all security systems score events in some way to help analysts prioritize. However, two equally high-scored events, one from a month ago and one from an hour ago, are not of equal interest to an analyst. Triage and scoring need to have a mechanism to deemphasize old events without using arbitrary date cut-offs applied to both high impact and low impact alerts.
• Scoring and prioritization mechanisms need to learn and adapt. Whether through the incorporation of analyst feedback on false positives or by automatically suppressing frequently occurring alerts and emphasizing anomalous ones security systems need to self-tune as much as possible to reduce the noise.
• Analysts need to be empowered, trained, and willing to make the most out of their tools. Tools are ultimately only as good as those wielding them, and, when it comes to alert fatigue, analysts need to be proactive about tuning. This could include manual whitelisting or talking with security vendors about how best to reduce noise in their environment; however, they can’t be passive consumers of detection technology.
Automation and AI are Essential to Overcoming Alert Fatigue
Today, the average SOC faces many more alerts than it can possibly analyze. A significant percentage of these alerts are false positives that consume analyst time and provide no value to the organization. As a result, analysts suffer from alert fatigue that degrades their effectiveness, contributes to stress and burnout, and increases corporate cybersecurity risk.
BluVector solutions enable organizations to overcome high alert volumes and fight alert fatigue by using AI/ML to provide SOCs with a smaller number of high-value, actionable alerts. By reducing alert volume and providing analysts with a clear path to incident remediation, BluVector makes the task of securing the enterprise manageable. Contact BluVector today to speak with an expert and see our progressive technology in action.