What is Alert Triage? SOC Alert Triage Process Explained

Orion Cassetto Orion Cassetto

In today’s fast-paced digital world, organizations are bombarded with a constant barrage of security alerts. With the ever-increasing number of cyber threats, it’s crucial to have an effective process in place to quickly identify, prioritize and respond to potential risks. This is where the concept of alert triage comes into play. 

But what exactly is alert triage, and why is it crucial? This guide explores the concept of alert triage and the involved processes, and delves into its important role within Security Operations Centers (SOCs). We’ll share best practices for triaging alerts, discuss the process, how it can be improved and the role of AI in its automation.

What is Alert Triage?

Alert triage, a key process within Security Operations Centers (SOCs), entails the systematic evaluation, prioritization, and response to security alerts. It’s a crucial mechanism for discerning the potential impact and urgency of each alert, enabling security teams to allocate resources effectively, focusing on the biggest threats first. 

At its core, the alert triage process involves swiftly assessing the threat level of a security alert and determining the appropriate course of action. This initial evaluation, integral to incident response protocols, empowers analysts to promptly identify and address potential threats, thereby mitigating the dangerous and harmful effects of cyberattacks.

The alert triage process includes the reviewing, confirmation, and prioritization of security alerts generated by monitoring systems. Traditionally, this was a manual endeavor, involving gathering contextual information, verifying the legitimacy of alerts, and deciding whether escalation or dismissal is warranted. However, the landscape is evolving, with a growing emphasis on automating the alert triage process to enhance efficiency and effectiveness, freeing analysts to handle more complex security issues.

6 Steps in the SOC Alert Triage Process

Before commencing the alert triage process, it is imperative to lay down a structured and cohesive workflow. This involves defining specific roles and responsibilities, establishing effective communication channels, and implementing a centralized mechanism for alert monitoring and administration. With a clearly outlined process, SOC teams can adeptly address alerts in a timely and effective manner.

The alert triage process comprises several stages:

  1. Collecting alerts
  2. Categorizing alerts
  3. Prioritizing alerts
  4. Analyzing alerts
  5. Incident response
  6. Ongoing improvement

Let’s delve deeper into each stage:

Step 1:Collecting alerts 

This is the initial phase in maintaining a robust cybersecurity posture. The assumption that’s driving the security alert collection task is that most, if not all, of the alerts that find their way into the SOC, has the potential for security relevance – even information that might later be classified as redundant or low priority. 

This implies that strong discipline should be practiced to ensure that no alerts are missed or ignored – coming from diverse sources, such as intrusion detection systems, firewalls, and antivirus software. 

These alerts are then aggregated into a unified platform for comprehensive analysis. 

Step 2: Categorizing alerts

Categorizing alerts involves sorting alerts into different categories based on specific criteria such as threat type, affected assets, or attack stage. This systematic approach aids Security Operations Centers in comprehending more clearly the nature of the threat, facilitating a more targeted and efficient response. 

Organizing alerts into categories enhances the team’s ability to assess the severity and potential impact of each alert, enabling them to tailor their response strategies accordingly. Alert categorization plays a crucial role in prioritizing and streamlining incident response efforts and bolstering overall cybersecurity defenses.

Step 3: Prioritizing alerts 

This is effectively one of the most important aspects of maintaining a strong security posture. It is the process of prioritizing alerts based on various factors such as category, severity, potential impact, and threat intelligence. 

By assigning priority levels to alerts, security teams can effectively manage their resources and respond to the most significant threats promptly. Executing this step of the alert triage process, immediately affects the decisions taken around incident response efforts. 

Step 4: Analyzing alerts

This critical step is when SOC analysts meticulously scrutinize incoming alerts to ascertain their legitimacy and identify any false positives. This entails a thorough review of alert specifics, such as affected assets and contextual details, coupled with correlation with existing threat intelligence. 

By dissecting the alerts with precision, analysts can accurately gauge the level of risk posed and determine the appropriate course of action. This method ensures that genuine threats are promptly addressed while minimizing unnecessary disruptions caused by false alerts, thus fortifying the organization’s overall security posture with informed decision-making.

Step 5: Incident response

This step is about the orchestrated effort to effectively manage and mitigate security incidents. Upon identification of potential threats, The SOC team promptly executes a series of predefined actions, encompassing containment, eradication, and recovery measures. 

These swift and decisive response actions are aimed at limiting the impact of the incident, restoring normal operations, and preventing further compromise of systems and data. 

Incident response is crucial for minimizing damages and restoring the integrity of the organization’s security infrastructure. Learn more about how incident triage works.

Step 6: Improved resiliency

In the context of cyber alerts triage this step involves ongoing evaluation and enhancement of the alert management process to align with emerging threats and optimize security operations. 

This entails regular reviews of triage procedures, performance metrics, and technology capabilities to identify areas for refinement and innovation. By fostering a culture of continuous learning and adaptation from the triage process organizations can tune security systems with the goal of reducing the likelihood of a future security events. 

Best Practices to Improve the Alert Triage Process

Undoubtedly, adhering to the alert triage methodology enables SOC teams to proficiently handle alerts promptly and with efficacy. Yet, SOC teams frequently encounter challenges coping with the escalating influx of alerts and incidents, resulting in delayed reactions and heightened vulnerability. Fortunately, the progression of technology (such as Artificial Intelligence, but not only) has ushered in a fresh era of SOC tools, automating alert triage, investigation, and response processes, completely revolutionizing incident management methodologies. Let’s take a look at some of the best practices and ways to improve the alert triage process:

  • Collaboration in alert triage – seamless collaboration among SOC team members is paramount. Analysts collaborate, leveraging their collective expertise to precisely evaluate and address potential security threats. This collaborative environment facilitates the exchange of insights, diverse viewpoints, and specialized skills, thereby elevating the effectiveness and precision of the alert triage process. Moreover, it cultivates a culture of ongoing learning, ensuring analysts stay abreast of evolving threats. Transparent communication channels facilitate rapid information dissemination, coordination of response efforts, and collaborative troubleshooting, culminating in expedited incident resolution.
  • Alert escalation – While lower-tier, less experienced analysts can resolve many alerts, certain incidents demand higher-tier expertise and resources. Alert escalation channels direct alerts to senior analysts or specialized incident response teams within the SOC. These seasoned professionals manage intricate security incidents, guaranteeing prompt attention to critical alerts. The escalation procedure facilitates in-depth analysis, harnessing supplementary tools and resources as needed. In cases of extreme severity, alerts may escalate to external entities. This hierarchical approach ensures meticulous investigations and resolutions, fortifying the SOC’s capacity to counter sophisticated cyber threats.
  • Alert triage automation – In a typical Security Operations Center (SOC) setting, many security alerts flood the system from diverse tools, burdening analysts with an overwhelming workload. While some alerts can be swiftly verified, the majority require manual data gathering and extensive scrutiny to discern their malicious intent. Regrettably, the finite time and analyst resources within the SOC render it impossible to address every alert. Consequently, certain alerts remain unattended, while others are deliberately filtered out to manage the influx. In both scenarios, blind spots emerge, leaving room for potential attacks to slip by unnoticed.

Automation is key to solving the alert triage issue, however recent attempts at automation that employ static, pre-programmed playbooks have not yielded dependable results or enough efficiency gains to be deemed successful in most SOCs.

This is precisely where artificial intelligence (AI) emerges as a game-changer. AI enables automatic analysis of alert content, dynamically conducting tests until determining whether the alert signifies malicious activity. The brilliance of this approach lies in AI’s ability to concurrently evaluate numerous alerts and conduct comprehensive investigations, surpassing human analysts’ capabilities on a monumental scale. Consequently, it becomes feasible to extract security insights from various data types, including network security alerts, which were previously sidelined due to their overwhelming volume and the limited accuracy and utility of the information they contain.

  • Software-based repeatability – Divergent conclusions stemming from various analysts or even the same analyst at different instances impede smooth and efficient SOC operations. Alert triage reliant on software, rather than human analysts, ensures heightened levels of predictability and consistency. By maintaining constant variables such as institutional knowledge, processes, and understanding of the threat landscape, this approach eliminates variations in triage outcomes influenced by individual analysts’ familiarity with systems, experiences, and skill sets.
  • Better identification of false positives – Because the vast majority of security alerts received by a SOC turn out to be false positives, it’s imperative to find them and remove them from SOC workloads before analysts spend time on them. SOC teams require an alert triage process capable of automatically recognizing and validating alerts deemed as false positives, presenting no genuine threat to the organization. While it’s essential to clearly mark false positives, they should not be concealed. Teams must maintain visibility into these alerts to review and validate them as necessary, as well as to establish rules to prevent similar false positives from triggering in the future.
  • Behavioral modeling – Many methodologies and tools applied in alert triage lack learning capabilities. While they collect, disseminate, or enhance cases with data from various sources. They fail to grasp the typical patterns within an environment or the evolving threat landscape. It’s pivotal for the alert triage procedure to possess the capability to understand the regular activities within an environment, encompassing behaviors, operating systems, browsers, and locations. This capability will enable the assessment of alerts in alignment with the organization’s standard operational framework. This significantly diminishes false positives and augments contextual understanding for informed triage, investigation, and response actions.

Automating Alert Triage with the Power of AI

With the exponential growth in the volume and complexity of security alerts overwhelming Security Operations Centers (SOCs), manual triage methods have proven inadequate in meeting the demands of today’s threat landscape. By harnessing the power of AI, organizations can now automate and streamline their alert triage workflows with unprecedented efficiency and accuracy. AI-powered alert triage systems leverage advanced algorithms to autonomously analyze and prioritize incoming alerts based on various factors such as severity, relevance, and potential impact. These systems not only expedite the identification of genuine threats but also significantly reduce the occurrence of false positives, allowing SOC analysts to focus their attention on the most critical security incidents. 

Moreover, AI’s ability to continuously learn and adapt to evolving threats ensures that alert triage processes remain agile and effective over time. By integrating AI-powered alert triage solutions into their security infrastructure, organizations can enhance their overall cybersecurity posture, proactively preventing potential threats and safeguarding sensitive data and critical assets. As the cybersecurity landscape continues to evolve, AI-powered alert triage stands out as a formidable ally in the ongoing battle against cyber threats, empowering organizations to stay one step ahead of adversaries and effectively mitigate risks.
Radiant Security’s Gen AISOC Co-pilot employs AI to meticulously examine every alert, regardless of quantity, uncovering genuine threats amidst the noise. It marks a significant transformation in SOC operations, overturning conventional triage methodologies. Unlike the prevailing practice of filtering and prioritizing alerts based on team capacity, Radiant facilitates a comprehensive examination of each individual alert. This innovative approach eradicates blind spots and prevents the oversight of numerous alerts. With Radiant, limitations on capacity become obsolete; the most effective method for identifying threats is by scrutinizing every single element. Radiant’s meticulous triage and investigation capabilities can identify even the most intricate attacks and represent a paradigm shift from the constraints of human-driven processes – enabling organizations to keep pace with the escalating frequency of cyberattacks.

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