Thursday, March 6, 2014

It's All About the Workflow

In a previous blog post entitled "The Scarcest Resource", I discussed how, of all the resources necessary for security operations and incident response, human analyst cycles are the most scarce. Recently, HP echoed the same sentiment in a report entitled "State of Security Operations" ( The following quote from that report is particularly poignant:

"In SOCs, this results in minimal investment in the most expensive CPU in the room: the analyst."

The issue is clear, but what can an organization do to address it? There are many possible approaches one could take here, but I would like to discuss one of my favorites: workflow. Workflow is a concept that, in my experience, has the greatest return on investment for security operations when implemented correctly. With the volume, velocity, and variety of data coming at an analyst these days, it's more important than ever to focus the analyst via a single, unified work queue containing actionable, high fidelity items. Further, it's crucial that the analyst be able to perform all necessary analysis, investigation, and pivots and work each item to resolution from within the workflow. Let's have a look at what this workflow might look like and how each step of it corresponds to the incident response process:
  • On a continual basis, intelligent alerting content is developed across all sensing and instrumentation platforms using incisive, precise, targeted, finely-tuned queries designed to extract reliable, actionable, high fidelity events from the vast quantity of data. These events are the items that populate the work queue. This corresponds to the detection stage of the incident response process.
  • Working through the items in the work queue, analysts investigate each one, pivoting into and out of relevant platforms as appropriate to support the investigation. All investigation is documented within the work queue, and once analysis is complete, the analyst draws a conclusions about what has occurred. This corresponds to the analysis stage of the incident response process.
  • The analyst then proceeds through the containment, remediation, and recovery stages of the incident response process, pivoting into and out of relevant supporting systems as necessary. The stages are guided by the conclusions drawn during the analysis stage.
  • Lessons learned are gathered and documented, and detection techniques are improved accordingly. This completes the incident response process and provides a virtuous feedback loop as an added bonus.
It's interesting to note that this workflow is incredibly reliant on the population of the work queue with a sensible volume of reliable, actionable, high fidelity events. This requires sensing and instrumentation platforms designed to support incisive, precise, targeted, finely-tuned queries to extract the most relevant events, while minimizing false positives. I can't emphasize enough how critical this is to the operational workflow as a whole.

It's not easy to master your organization's workflow, but in my experience, it is the single greatest return on investment one can gain organizationally. How do you workflow?

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