Defending Against Threats in Identity Security; Part 2: Remediate
This is Part 2 (Remediate) of a series on changing security threats and approaches. If you haven’t already, check out Part 1 (Detect) first!
While many understand the need for security practitioners to evolve with attackers, the hard truth is that current solutions already do not do enough to combat advanced security attacks or remediate them once they occur.
Since its release last year, the 2022 Gartner Report has fundamentally changed how we see identity and access management (IAM). Much of this is due to Identity Threat Detection and Response (ITDR), a phrase coined in the Gartner report that offers a new approach to changing security threats.
According to the report, “ITDR is a security discipline that encompasses threat intelligence, best practices, a knowledge base, tools and processes to protect identity systems. It works by implementing detection mechanisms, investigating suspect posture changes and activities, and responding to attacks to restore the integrity of the identity infrastructure.” A key part of the response step: remediation.
In this two-part series, we break down the defense against emerging problems in identity security into their two major steps: Detect and Remediate. This is Part 2: Remediate.
Part 2: Remediate
Although there are many pieces online about security incidents and how they happened or could have been prevented, it is rare to have genuine insight into what an affected organization does to remediate after an attack (e.g., EA’s brief response to their breach).
While we’ve now walked through detective measures, as Gartner advises, “in addition to preparing for and detecting threats and attacks, SRM leaders should prepare a response plan.” Gartner offers the recommendation to “master the response phase by building or updating playbooks and automation to include IAM enforcement within the steps taken to eradicate, recover from, report and remediate identity threats.”
Security playbooks can take on different forms, but in general, they include a plan outlining the steps you’ll take if/when a security incident occurs (Gartner offers a few examples of what this looks like in their “Cybersecurity Incident Response Plan” and “Creating a Ransomware Playbook” toolkits). Every organization needs an information security strategy; attacks can’t be the first time you do something about security because, then, time is of the essence. Every second you spend developing a remediation strategy while a breach is happening is time that the attacker will be using to gather information, attempt to install persistence mechanisms, and potentially compromise additional accounts. This makes having a playbook ready to go essential to timely and effective remediation.
Gartner offers a variety of strategies for your playbook under this remediate umbrella, including to “reset affected credentials, remove rogue and excessive accounts, patch systems, and rotate security keys” and specifically “automating response actions” (emphasis added). Pre-automation, remediation was mostly case-by-case, usually prompted by an incident or some sort of “clean up” like an audit or company initiative. As a result, some remediation services and companies stitched together their own remediation tools and workflows, making solutions pretty ad-hoc overall.
It's important to keep in mind that company size is a key context. At large enterprises, the security operations center (SOC) tends to be responsible for remediation efforts. However, smaller companies may not have a dedicated SOC, so individuals may have to take up multiple roles (being responsible for both infra-security and incident response, for example), including remediation work. This made it especially useful for smaller companies to move away from these ad-hoc solutions toward automation.
Now, a class of tools called SOAR (Security Orchestration, Automation, and Response) is used for auto-remediation. SOAR as a term was coined in 2017 (by… you guessed it! Gartner!), so it is still generally a new category of tools. For example, a SOAR flow may be triggered by a user reporting an Okta session as stolen, so then, automatically, the user account and device(s) are locked, their manager is alerted, the password is scrambled, and a ticket is raised for a SOC analyst to do a forensic investigation (note that in this example, there’s both manual (SOC analyst has to lead a forensic investigation manually) and automated steps (user account is automatically locked)).
A considerable benefit of SOAR is the rapid response, saving valuable security analyst time. However, the major problem with auto-remediation is that it’s great in theory but, in practice, it brings on a slew of new issues, like the loss of data associated with cold-cutting access. There are also concerns with predictability—do I understand what the auto-remediation will do and when it will do it?—and the “cat and mouse” issue—will I have to build a new auto-remediation strategy for every possible issue that comes up?
You need good practices, such as playbooks and quality input, to feed into SOAR for it to be effective. Without playbooks, you may just be chasing every new threat as they pop up, negating the whole point of using automation to streamline processes in the first place (a concept we elaborate on in “Cybersecurity Is More Critical Than Ever, and You (Yes, You) Can Do Something About It Now”). Without quality input, your SOAR may have a high false positive rate (say, a tool wrongly detects an Okta session as compromised) and erroneously cold-cut access, scramble passwords, and lock devices automatically, majorly disrupting you and the business.
Essentially, to take advantage of auto-remediation without otherwise jeopardizing your organization’s productivity, your security team needs SOAR capabilities tailor-made for identity systems. Luckily, solutions are starting to appear across the identity space, and we’ll talk more about them soon.
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