What is Alert Triage?

In today’s landscape, organizations are constantly under siege from a never-ending stream of cybersecurity threats. To defend against these attacks, security teams deploy an arsenal of security tools aimed at preventing and detecting potential breaches. When these tools identify suspicious activities, they generate security alerts that require human review, in a process known as alert triage. If deemed malicious, immediate action must be taken to avert a potential security breach. Unfortunately, the situation is becoming more challenging as attackers leverage automation, leading to an exponential rise in the number of alerts that analysts must handle. As a result, Security Operations Centers (SOCs) face significant pressure to stay ahead in this battle against cyber threats.

This post will delve into the topic of alert triage including common types of alerts, SOC workflows, triage process, and modern tools that can aid security analysts in their role of performing alert triage. 

What is Alert Triage?

Alert triage is a crucial security operations process that involves the initial assessment and classification of security alerts generated by various security tools, such as those for phishing, malware, ransomware, and other threats. The significance of alert triage lies in its ability to prioritize alerts based on their severity, potential impact, and relevance to an organization’s security policies, as well as to weed out false positives. 

Within a Security Operations Center (SOC), security analysts play a pivotal role in this process. They are responsible for reviewing and investigating each alert to determine its legitimacy and assess the level of threat it poses. Analysts act as the first line of defense, swiftly identifying and escalating to genuine threats, while also filtering out false positives to prevent unnecessary disruptions and optimize the overall incident response workflow. 

What are Security Alerts?

Overview of Security Alerts

Security tools (e.g. EDR, email security tools, firewalls, identity providers, XDRs, etc.) within an organization generate security alerts for suspected threats like phishing, malware, ransomware, data exfiltration, and more. These alerts signify potential attempts to compromise the organization’s security, reflecting the multifaceted nature of modern cyber threats.

Classification of Alerts based on Severity and Priority

Security alerts are typically classified based on severity (low to critical) and priority to ensure an effective SOC response. Critical alerts may indicate an ongoing data breach, while low-severity alerts represent less immediate threats. Priority levels consider asset sensitivity and potential consequences, guiding analysts to allocate resources efficiently and respond promptly to the most significant threats. 

SOC Workflow and Alert Lifecycle

Workflow in a SOC for Handling Security Alerts

In a SOC, the handling of security alerts follows a structured process. When an alert is generated, it enters the ticketing system for documentation and tracking. Analysts then conduct triage to assess its legitimacy and impact. Based on severity and priority, the incident is escalated for further investigation. Analysts analyze the alert, gather data, and implement containment measures. The threat is eradicated, and affected systems recover. Throughout, effective communication and collaboration among SOC team members are vital for a coordinated response.

Lifecycle Stages of an Alert from Detection to Closure

An alert’s lifecycle in a SOC includes detection, triage, investigation, containment, eradication, and recovery. Security tools identify threats and generate alerts. Analysts assess severity and prioritize alerts for investigation. Once confirmed, containment measures halt the attack. Analysts eradicate the threat and restore affected systems. Throughout, continuous documentation, analysis, and communication ensure a thorough response. After all actions are completed, the alert is closed, concluding the security incident’s lifecycle.

Collaboration and Escalation in Alert Handling

Importance of Collaboration in Alert Triage

Effective collaboration among SOC team members is vital in the fast-paced world of cybersecurity. Analysts work together, pooling their expertise to accurately assess and respond to potential security incidents. Collaboration allows for the sharing of insights, different perspectives, and specialized skills, enhancing the efficiency and quality of the triage process. It fosters a culture of continuous learning, keeping analysts updated on the latest threats. Clear communication channels enable swift information sharing, coordination of response actions, and collective problem-solving, leading to faster incident resolution.

Escalation of Alerts for Further Investigation

Not all alerts can be resolved by initial analysts. Some incidents require higher-level expertise and resources. Escalation routes alerts to senior analysts or specialized incident response teams within the SOC. These experts handle complex security incidents, ensuring critical alerts receive immediate attention. The escalation process allows for a focused analysis, leveraging additional tools and resources. If necessary, alerts may escalate further to external entities. This hierarchy ensures thorough investigations and resolutions, reinforcing the SOC’s ability to defend against sophisticated cyber threats.

False Positives and False Negatives

Dealing with false positives and false negatives is an ongoing challenge in alert triage for security analysts in a SOC. These situations can lead to inefficiencies and potentially overlooked genuine threats, thereby undermining the effectiveness of the security monitoring process.

Challenges of False Positives

False positives occur when security tools incorrectly flag legitimate activities as potential threats. Such instances are incredibly common and happen for a number of reasons, including things like misconfigurations, outdated rules, or anomalous but benign user behavior. The sheer volume of false positives can overwhelm SOC analysts, diverting their attention from genuine threats and causing alert fatigue. As a result, valuable time and resources are spent investigating non-threatening events, hampering the SOC’s ability to focus on high-priority incidents.

Challenges of False Negatives

On the other hand, false negatives pose an even more significant risk. They occur when security tools fail to detect actual security breaches or malicious activities, allowing threats to go unnoticed. False negatives may arise due to sophisticated attack techniques that bypass traditional security measures, or when adversaries deliberately evade detection by employing stealthy tactics. False negatives can occur when security teams, in their efforts to decrease false positives, inadvertently create blind spots that allow potential threats to go undetected.

What is Alert Fatigue?

Alert fatigue is a pervasive challenge experienced by security analysts in a Security Operations Center (SOC). It refers to the state of mental exhaustion and reduced responsiveness caused by the overwhelming volume of security alerts. SOC analysts are bombarded with a constant stream of alerts from various security tools, including intrusion detection systems, firewalls, antivirus software, and more. Each alert demands immediate attention and thorough investigation to discern genuine threats from false positives. As analysts grapple with this relentless flood of alerts, they can become desensitized to the continuous noise, leading to a decline in their ability to accurately identify critical incidents. This often results in analysts overlooking or ignoring potentially significant security breaches, inadvertently creating blind spots in the organization’s defense. Alert fatigue not only hampers productivity and morale but also jeopardizes the overall effectiveness of the SOC’s incident response capabilities, making it imperative for organizations to implement strategies to alleviate this burden on their security teams.

Automating Alert Triage

Recent advances in AI software have made it possible to automate the tedious, time-consuming tasks involved in alert triage while still maintaining high accuracy determinations. This approach can greatly increase a SOC’s alert triage capacity, allowing it to handle every security alert they receive, and thus shift analysts to focus on higher value tasks like system hardening or threat hunting.

To learn how Radiant Security’s AI-powered Co-pilot can automate your SOC’s alert triage and investigation, visit us at https://radiantsecurity.ai.