Businesses this year face a triple security whammy. The number of successful cyberattacks is up, with 4,145 publicly disclosed breaches in 2021 alone. The average cost rose 10%—the largest increase in the last seven years–to a historic high of 4.24 million. And the gap widened between the numbers of skilled security professionals available and the numbers that are needed, meaning that even those companies with a strong will to harden their security defenses can’t find the talent to do so.
It's not for lack of tools. Today, everyone agrees that there are too many. As the number of breaches has multiplied, so have the solutions designed to stop them. Enterprises use, on average, more than 130 tools to combat all this. There is a veritable alphabet soup of these solutions. SIEMs, WAFs, NACs, NGFWs, IDPS… the list goes on and on.
And now, we’re going to add two more to the list to help relieve all the complexity: Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI)—or, when combined, become one: intelligent automation.
Although not specifically designed for cybersecurity use cases, intelligent automation can be used to fill in the cracks between all the other tools. By automating the repetitive but important aspects of security that used to have to be done manually, intelligent automation can minimize cybersecurity threat risk, reduce human errors, eliminate unauthorized access, increase the accuracy of detection, and reduce time spent in handling attacks.
Why automation is needed
The number and force of cyberattacks long ago overwhelmed the ability of a human solution. There weren’t enough hours in the day to monitor network traffic to identify and mitigate known attack signature patterns. That’s why companies have been automating threat identification and response processes with specialized technologies such as security information event management (SIEM) and other advanced tools.
Yet, even with these purpose-built security automation solutions, security analysts are overwhelmed. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of other processes that are still being performed by people manually. But it’s not humanly feasible for your security team to respond to every alert.
How do security teams protect the organization despite being severely understaffed? With intelligent automation.
By eliminating time-consuming administration processes, security professionals can more effectively neutralize attacks, reduce human error, and reduce the meantime to recovery (MTTR). This will also help counter the shortage of trained security professionals. Even as the global cybersecurity workforce ballooned last year by more than 700,000 employees—to 4.2 million, nearly 3 million cybersecurity positions remain unfilled.
And deploying automation and AI pays off—big time. According to a study by IBM, there was an 80% difference in the cost of a data breach depending on whether AI and automation were fully deployed or not deployed. In dollar terms, it costs firms without automation $3.61 million more per breach than those with automation. Organizations with fully deployed security AI and automation experienced breach costs of $2.90 million, compared to $6.71 million at organizations without security AI and automation. Security AI and automation were also correlated with a faster time to identify and contain breaches.
Here are nine things that intelligent automation can do to help bolster your cybersecurity defenses:
1. Extract, analyze, and input data
Security processes require extracting data from a variety of sources, analyzing or manipulating that data in some way and inputting the results into other systems (or alerting humans). The software robots (“bots”) created by intelligent automation can easily perform these tasks. Some of the things they can do without human intervention:
- Query accounts
- Investigate domains
- Look up IP addresses
- Fetch URL intelligence
- Retrieve logs
2. Protect sensitive data
Human error is still very much the driving force behind an overwhelming proportion of cybersecurity issues. Researchers from Stanford University and Tessian found that approximately 88 percent of all data breaches are caused by employees’ missteps—whether accidental or intended. Much of this involves workers accessing, losing, manipulating, or even stealing sensitive data such as customers’ personally identifiable information (PII), credit cards, bank accounts, or corporate intellectual property (IP). Bots can be used to securely manage the entry of sensitive data, updates, and transfers via email or messaging apps. By not letting humans touch important data, you can eliminate the human errors that lead to leaks and breaches.
3. Strengthen access control
Employees can’t abuse sensitive information if they don’t have access to it. Theft or corruption of secure access privileges has become increasingly prevalent. Many hackers enter networks, systems, and databases through identity spoofing to gain unauthorized access. Deploying bots in your two-factor authentication systems can improve security in a highly efficient, reliable manner.
In effect, intelligent automation bots can prevent everyone except individuals with the proper credentials from accessing sensitive sources. And even for authorized individuals, it’s important to monitor their times (and place) of access and log their data and actions to create clear audit trails in case something goes wrong. Bots can easily do this.
4. Perform cyber threat hunts
Cyber threat hunting is a proactive way of protecting yourself against cyberattacks. It’s the process of continuously searching through networks to detect and isolate advanced threats that evade your other security solutions. This was traditionally done manually, which was time-consuming because of the enormous volumes of data to search through.
AI-enabled intelligent automation bots can automate these repetitive searches by proactively identifying unusual network traffic and privileged user account activity, login anomalies, increases in database-read volumes, suspicious registry, or system file changes. When they find something, they can alert a human analyst, saving the analyst hours upon hours of dreary work.
5. Protect against malware and viruses
Intelligent automation bots can also automatically trigger control and mitigation when malware or viruses enter the network. They can classify the severity of the alert, address and fix the issue, if possible, and alert a human if help is needed. Bots can also automatically generate reports of all incidents for your security professionals to check over for potential issues.
6. Update software
One of the most common threat pathways into a network is by a known but mitigated threat—that is, a threat that was previously identified and addressed. In such cases, software vendors generally issue patches or updates to fix the vulnerability. Unfortunately, many businesses don’t deploy these updates in a timely manner, if at all. Bots can identify messages about software updates—even pop-up messages from within systems—and alert your IT staff. If you want to get more sophisticated, intelligent automation can also search for the latest software updates online, download files, and initiate an update workflow.
7. Integrate legacy systems
Most businesses have a hodge-podge of systems—some new, some legacy; some on-premises, some cloud-based. The often-ad-hoc connections between them can open up security vulnerabilities that invite cybercriminals in. And once a bad actor is in one system, they can easily exfiltrate data from others. Intelligent automation bots can securely integrate legacy systems—no APIs required.
8. Help with compliance
Regulated industries are always concerned about complying with privacy regulations: HIPAA, GDPR, CCPA, and others. Intelligent automation can help healthcare, banking, finance, and other industries that must refer to comprehensive audit trails. Bots record all actions in a log, for example, when data is extracted from a customer database to the corporate commerce site or other, third-party applications
9. Enable cybersecurity team to focus on higher-value tasks
With the current shortage of security talent, intelligent automation can be a lifesaver. You can assign your human workers to the tasks that matter and—importantly—are interesting to them while bots take care of all the tedious stuff. Assigning your workforce to tasks that require creativity, analytical thinking, and strategic insight—all things that bots cannot do yet)—helps your workers to fulfill their potential, increase productivity satisfaction, reduce turnover – and, of course, keep your organization more secure.
Boost cybersecurity with intelligent automation
You might already have dozens of cybersecurity tools and solutions that help automate threat detection and response. But human workers are still doing a lot of the manual work when they could be performing at a higher, more critical level. Intelligent automation can enable that while also reducing errors and improving overall worker productivity and effectiveness.