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What is Security Automation? Benefits, Importance, and Features

Discover how security automation is redefining proactive defense and operational efficiency in the face of rising cyber threats

Explainer

Security automation refers to the use of technology to perform security operations-related tasks with little to no human intervention.

Cybersecurity is one of the most important aspects of any business, especially in this digital age. However, managing security can be a complex and time-consuming task, especially when dealing with daily threats, vulnerabilities, and compliance requirements. That’s why security automation is quickly becoming an essential component of modern cybersecurity strategies.

Security automation is like having a smart assistant who can perform repetitive tasks for you, such as prioritizing threats based on identified risk levels, compiling information to aid in threat investigations, and responding to threats using predefined rules, typically in seconds and with a greater level of accuracy, speed, and efficiency compared to manual processes.

[Read also: Ultimate Guide to AI Cybersecurity]

This blog post exposes the critical need for and advantages of security automation: how it strengthens cybersecurity, improves security operations, and explores the different types of security automation solutions on the market today. This post also covers how Tanium is working to address the need for an advanced security automation approach to help organizations protect systems more efficiently, improve their security posture, and optimize workflows to build stronger cybersecurity defenses.

Definition of security automation

Security automation involves using specialized software, tools, and policies to automate time-consuming activities for various use cases ranging from managing configurations to automating scanning, monitoring, patching, reporting, and responding to incidents. By leveraging automation to complete these actions, organizations can improve efficiency by reducing human error and risk.

Importance of security automation in cybersecurity

To better understand the importance of security automation, we must first understand the complex issues organizations are facing with the current threat landscape and the need to address security gaps created by traditional security tools.

The rising threat of cyberattacks

Cyberattacks are becoming more frequent and sophisticated, with cybercriminals exploiting new vulnerabilities at an alarming rate. In recent years, cyber threats have evolved at an unprecedented pace, both in the number of attacks and sophistication. The 2024 State of the Phish report from Proofpoint revealed that 69% of organizations globally were infected by ransomware in 2023.

The risks associated with these growing threats are further complicated by a recent surge in highly evasive and aggressive attack types. For example, the 2024 Picus Red Report found over the past year, there’s been a 333% increase in hunter-killer malware, which actively targets and disables cyber defense systems – allowing threats to stay hidden in environments longer.

The pandemic closures also started a cascade of supply chain issues that opened the door to a rise in supply chain-related cyberattacks (and it hasn’t closed yet).
 
It’s not just the attack vectors and methods that are changing, but it is also the scale and scope of modern-day cyberattacks. Attacks have become more widespread, and their impact on businesses is more severe, resulting in significant financial losses, reputational damage, and legal consequences.
 
Statista calculated that the global average cost of a data breach in 2023 was $4.45 million. The healthcare industry had the highest average cost at $11 million, making it the industry with the highest breach costs for the past three years.
 

Challenges caused by manual security practices

As sophisticated threats continue to surface, organizations are finding that many traditional, manual approaches to cybersecurity are outdated and inadequate.

Callie Guenther, a cyber threat researcher and senior manager at Critical Start, described in her interview with CSO how traditional cyber defense best practices are no longer enough when it comes to emerging threats, like hunter-killer malware.

“The rise of hunter-killer malware marks a substantial evolution in cyber threats, requiring cybersecurity industries to adopt more dynamic and proactive defense mechanisms. Traditional defense strategies might be insufficient as these new malware types aim to undermine them directly.”

Additionally, organizations are facing a number of related challenges stemming from relying on traditional security systems and manual practices. These challenges can be grouped into three key areas:

  • Time-consuming, error-prone security processes: Security teams, especially those affected by the ongoing shortage of cybersecurity talent, can struggle to keep pace with the complexity of today’s threats. The use of outdated and manual security processes can also result in teams receiving a high volume of unactionable security alerts or require them to manually piece together fragmented cybersecurity analytics from disparate security point products to gain any insights.However, manual tasks like this can lead to false positives, where teams perceive and spend time tracking down a threat when there isn’t one, and false negatives, where the opportunity to prevent or stop an attack at the onset may be lost due to inadequate timing, insufficient analysis, or using limited, inaccurate data.
  • Poor visibility increases risks and costs: Many traditional security tools (not to mention IT operations and security teams within the same organization) operate in siloes, which can result in tool redundancies, conflicts, and workflow inefficiencies in security operations.For example, tools may use different data formats, sources, protocols, or standards, making it difficult to share and correlate data. This can also lead to teams working out of separate dashboards with contradictory insights, inhibiting their ability to reference a single source of truth about the security status and risks across the organizations. Tool overlap not only increases maintenance and budget costs but can create inconsistencies in security posture that reduce agility and scalability, which are essential in today’s cybersecurity climate.

Learn how a composite organization realized a savings worth more than $4.1 million over three years through 70% tool consolidation with Tanium Converged Endpoint Management (XEM)

  • Challenging compliance management: Organizations responsible for processing personal data, health data, financial data, or government data may need to comply with different regulations. Compliance requirements can change over time as new laws and industry standards are introduced or updated. These updates require constant monitoring and assessing your compliance status to ensure you have the necessary controls and documentation in place.


Security automation can help organizations overcome many of the limitations of traditional security tools and manual efforts.
 
By leveraging automation, organizations can better integrate their security workflows, orchestrate their responses, and optimize their resources (human and monetary) to achieve higher levels of cyber resilience, which is the ability to anticipate, withstand, recover from, and adapt to cyberattacks.
 

Key benefits of security automation

Let’s look closer at how automation can help streamline core security processes.

Enhance security capabilities

Using security automation to quickly identify potential threats by uncovering anomalous behavior or indicators of compromise can allow for faster, more accurate threat detection.

Automation can also play a pivotal role in reducing incident response time by enabling core teams, like a security team in a Security Operations Center (SOC), to set predefined actions that quickly contain and remediate threats. This minimizes the risk that security breaches will escalate and decreases the mean-time-to-response (MTTR).

Improve performance and posture

Automating the management and maintenance of system configurations can also help reduce performance issues, non-compliance, and vulnerabilities caused by misconfigurations. This ensures that security policies are in place, updates are consistently applied, and systems are operating correctly.

[Read also: What is security configuration management?]

Implementing security automation into your cybersecurity processes can also lead to a more resilient security posture, with the added benefit of reducing alert fatigue, which can allow IT, operations, security, and development teams to focus on more strategic initiatives that propel the business forward instead of constantly having to react to the next cyber threat.

Reduce security costs

Security automation can help you optimize your security resources and operational expenses by eliminating repetitive security tasks, streamlining workflows, and reducing the need for specialized staff. Security automation can also help you avoid sensitive data loss, reputational damage, or other financial losses caused by security incidents.

Simplify security compliance and auditing

Security automation can help organizations manage compliance efforts with various security regulations and standards, such as GDPR, PCI DSS, HIPAA, and NIST. Using automation, you can more easily audit your security activities and generate reports to demonstrate compliance status. You can also use automation to send alerts about any gaps or potential violations, helping reduce the risk of non-compliance fines or legal penalties.

Better endpoint management

Having real-time visibility and taking measures to secure endpoints is also a core component of building good cyber hygiene and improving your cyber defense. Endpoints can be described as “the doors and windows” of a network and, without the right security measures in place, can open opportunities for threat actors to enter your environment.

Security automation can help organizations more easily fortify endpoint security by streamlining the process of updating, monitoring, and resolving potential vulnerabilities. This includes ensuring all endpoints adhere to security requirements and policies and receive the latest patches. By having complete visibility and control over all endpoint devices communicating with your network, you can more easily take proactive measures to secure your devices before an incident can occur and quickly respond to identified threats.

Common types of security automation tools to know

When determining which methodology will work best for your business needs, understanding the tools, technologies, and frameworks that typically power cybersecurity automation efforts is essential for ensuring automation is used to its full potential. Common automation strategies include:

Security Orchestration and Automation Response (SOAR)

SOAR platforms integrate various security tools and automate the response to security incidents. By helping orchestrate complex workflows and processes, SOAR tools can help organizations create a more cohesive and effective security posture.

Security Information and Event Management (SIEM)

SIEM technology collects event log data from various sources, including applications and network hardware, to analyze activity in real time and generate alerts for abnormalities. It helps organizations with event management and the identification of potential security threats.

Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) and Extended Detection and Response (XDR)

EDR is focused on endpoint security, while XDR extends this capability across networks for a more integrated approach. However, to address the evolving cybersecurity challenges organizations face today, the evolution of these tools must include real-time incident response capabilities and other intelligent features to help organizations outpace and outsmart adversaries, an area where Tanium’s solutions are making significant strides.

The future of security automation: How Tanium enables endpoint security automation at scale

Autonomous endpoint management (AEM) is an emerging artificial intelligence (AI)-based security automation framework that promises to be the next big data transformation for the digital workplace. Steve McDowell, chief analyst and CEO at NAND Research, defined AEM as being designed to, “…deliver comprehensive, autonomous management of endpoints, including security, incident response, patching, change management, and performance monitoring capabilities.”

We have an even broader vision for AEM, including harnessing composite AI, which incorporates several types of artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques, to support more intelligent security automation and decision-making capabilities for managing IT endpoints.

AEM is a natural next step in the evolution of our cloud-first XEM platform, which already improves efficiency through AI-enhanced and autonomous functionalities, such as configuration enforcement, vulnerability management, and threat resolution. AEM’s core functionality will incorporate real-time data and AI-driven insights to automate and recommend actions based on each organization’s success metrics and risk tolerance.

Autonomous Endpoint Management allows you to get ahead of routine IT and security issues, but in a way that is always going to be safe, where you’re always going to be in control.

Matt Quinn, chief technology officer at Tanium

Our aim is to empower security teams to make more informed, efficient decisions, reduce manual workload, and enhance security and operational capabilities beyond previous limits.


Autonomous Endpoint Management is in active development and is expected to be available in the summer of 2024. Want a sneak peek? Join us in person during our Converge World Tour, or schedule a personalized demo.

Tanium Staff

Tanium’s village of experts co-writes as Tanium Staff, sharing their lens on security, IT operations, and other relevant topics across the business and cybersphere.

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