Empowering Automated Incident Response: The Role of Threat Intelligence

By Gaurav Deshpande, VP – International Business & Global Lead for the Integrated Cyber Threat Management Practice, Inspira Enterprise 

In the rapidly evolving digital environment of our interconnected world, cybersecurity has become imperative as cyber-attacks are a certainty.  With cybercriminals continuously advancing their tactics and businesses frequently facing significant financial and reputational risks, the demand for robust cybersecurity measures is more pressing than ever.  Without a proactive strategy in place to promptly respond to security incidents, organizations are vulnerable to sophisticated cyber threats.  

Much as all organizations need to stay ahead of potential risks, not many can effectively prevent cyber-attacks.  A recent study by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Tenable revealed a concerning trend in APAC organizations.  The findings indicated that these organizations were unable to prevent 41% of cyberattacks directed at them.  Consequently, more and more of these entities had to depend on reactive measures with 61% of security teams involved in fighting critical incidents rather than adopting a proactive approach.  When preventing attacks is a challenge the focus naturally shifts to how organizations can respond swiftly and effectively in the face of attacks.

Failure of incident response plan in the absence of threat intelligence

Security incidents are inevitable with the creativity and inventiveness of attackers and the human error of the user.  A reactive, unorganized, and unstructured response to an attack gives more control to the bad actor and puts organizations at higher risk.  Such a challenge exists due to the absence of threat intelligence in the incident response which then becomes dependent on reactive measures.  In such a scenario, identifying and mitigating the immediate impact of the incident is given more importance than proactively anticipating and addressing the cyber threats. Without a contextual understanding of the evolving threat landscape, incident responders are unable to take appropriate actions.  The lack of context about the incident makes the response team struggle to comprehend the full scale of the challenge, diagnose it, and accordingly communicate to other stakeholders.

While the cybersecurity team aims to not miss a single incident, too many notifications can lead to alert fatigue.  As the responders are unable to assess priority, the teams can spend more time on low-priority alerts.  They are also forced to follow a reactive approach that can lead to delayed response times with the risk of the incident recurring.  Cybersecurity teams also face challenges in accurately identifying the origin and type of threats.

In the current context, where cyber threats are sophisticated, frequent, relentless, pervasive, and advanced, organizations must put in place a proactive incident response plan. 

Integrating Threat Intelligence into Incident Response Plans

The challenges with the traditional incident-response processes can be effectively addressed by harnessing automated incident-response systems with Threat Intelligence serving as a cornerstone. Threat intelligence solutions can strengthen the incident response capabilities of organizations with an adaptive approach to combat threats, proactively detect, effectively analyze, and respond to incident response. By leveraging this approach, based on similar incidents in the past as a reference or indicators of response (IOC) which serve as forensic evidence, organizations can foresee cyber threats and implement pre-emptive security measures.  Valuable insights about potential attacks on the organization are gathered from various sources including government agencies, vendors of security products and solutions, open-source feeds, and more importantly the internal data of the organization. The information is both internal and external intelligence collected on vulnerabilities, attacks, techniques used, and the threat actors and is also known as Incident Information Enrichment. This entire enrichment can be done by leveraging an automation engine where the latter picks up data from various sources and the right actions can be taken according to the mapping.

Security Operations Centers (SOCs) can create incident response playbooks based on insights from threat intelligence.  These playbooks chart predefined steps and actions customized to specific threats, enable streamlining the response process, and reduce the time to containment.  Let us consider the case of a bank in the Asia Pacific region.  By leveraging curated threat intelligence, the bank can proactively recognize a specific attack pattern that was observed in European banks, where similar technologies and solutions have been implemented.  The Asia Pacific bank can develop and deploy a precise automation playbook by identifying similar technologies and solutions.  This playbook is designed to detect the identified attack pattern swiftly and if necessary, initiate remedial actions.  The strategic combination of targeted threat intelligence and automated incident response proves invaluable, efficiently safeguarding the bank’s critical assets.  This proactive approach helps in saving time and optimizing financial resources, contributing to a more resilient cybersecurity posture. 

Integrating Threat Intelligence and Incident Response Automation benefits MSSPs

Significant time of SOC teams at Managed Security Service Providers (MSSPs), is spent on alerts, mostly false alarms, and it becomes paramount for them to tap into only relevant data to identify and resolve genuine security incidents.  In the absence of automation, SOC analysts typically spend several hours manually assessing threat intelligence, implementing remedial measures, and documenting the incident.  This not only hinders incident response time but also leaves systems vulnerable to further attacks.

On the other hand, if MSSPs invest in a threat intelligence platform and integrate it with the automated response engine, the threats can be immediately addressed alleviating the burden on security teams.

Automated incident response systems play a key role in detecting, analyzing, and mitigating security incidents in real-time.  It is the integration of the Threat Intelligence component that empowers the automated incident response systems, equipping them to act decisively and effectively. 

Automated incident response tools empower security teams to respond rapidly, reducing the mean time to respond (MTTR) and strengthening the security posture.  The tools enable organizations to proactively establish a protective barrier against ransomware, phishing attacks, C & C attacks, and malware among others, resulting in cost savings and enhanced security.

Threat intelligence delivers real-time updates on the latest threats and augments incident response by providing essential context.  This enables automated systems to assess threat severity, make informed decisions, and quickly address potential threats before any further damage can occur.

Threat intelligence also significantly reduces false positives offering better clarity of the threat landscape.  This improved understanding enables automated systems to effectively distinguish genuine threats from benign activities, streamlining incident prioritization and response.

While threat intelligence offers numerous benefits, it also presents a few challenges that organizations must address. At the very outset, organizations should establish the credibility, applicability, and timeliness of the threat intelligence they rely upon.  Furthermore, they should take into consideration the privacy and legal implications associated with its usage as well. 

Nonetheless, threat intelligence will continue to play a key role in automated incident response contributing significantly to the strengthening of an organization’s cybersecurity defenses.  Going forward, with the threat landscape continuously evolving, integrating threat intelligence into incident response strategies will remain a critical aspect for preserving digital security in the ever-changing cybersecurity landscape.

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