Why fly when you can SOAR? 5 things you’re getting wrong about security orchestration, automation and response

Security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR) solutions are often billed as a panacea that will solve all of a security operations center’s (SOC) problems, reduce mean time to repair (MTTR), improve efficiency, act as a single pane of glass, and even make a really good cup of coffee. You name it and someone somewhere has claimed that a SOAR platform can do it. The truth, however, is a little more complicated.

Yes, a SOAR solution can automate a great number of tasks—if properly implemented. If a task can be broken down into steps that are repeatable, reusable, and consistent, then it has the potential to be automated. But if an organization tries to take on too much at once or is unfocused in its approach, the implementation can rapidly get out of hand and lead to failure and ultimately shelfware. Here are a few examples of common mistakes and misconceptions about SOARs.

Boiling the ocean

A SOAR solution can be incredibly powerful; the initial desire to automate everything in sight is akin to the first time you get a label maker. You want to apply it to everything, all at once. Some of the worst experiences I’ve seen have come from an environment where they tried to build a complex interweave of use cases and became bogged down in the details and frustrations. The key to a successful implementation is to start small. Find one or two simple use cases that allow the SOC team to get a handle on what can be done and the thought process to build the use case. Initial simple automations and response actions such as threat enrichment of an IOC (indicator of compromise), hash, or URL are particularly effective as they can be easily reused as part of more complex actions later.

Training? I don’t need any stinkin’ training!

Yes, you do. While this is often the first thing on the cutting room floor when budgeting for a new solution, training usually makes the difference between a successful implementation and a package becoming shelfware. This is the opportunity for your team to ask questions of the people who implement and use the technology daily. Take advantage of it. A SOAR platform, like most integration-focused solutions, has many hidden features and nuances to how complex actions like a workflow are created. These are going to be automated actions that are hopefully going to run your business and you’ll need to understand how they are constructed.

I have scripts, isn’t that the same thing?

Most engineers, analysts, or administrators who have worked in IT for more than a few years have ended up running into tasks that they find themselves doing repeatedly. Inevitably, someone on the team will write a script, whether it is Visual Basic, a batch file, or a snippet of Java for each of those routine tasks. Those scripts are running continually in SOC near you right now. So, the question becomes: If I’ve already got scripts running, why do I need a SOAR? Remember, SOAR stands for security orchestration, automation, and response. Automation refers to performing singular tasks repeatedly, orchestration is putting multiple singular tasks together, and response is really the key because it’s the ability to evaluate, make a choice, and then perform additional actions. The ability to build-in complex response actions, either in an automated fashion or via human interaction, is one of the primary differentiators of a good SOAR platform. This doesn’t mean throwing the scripts out, it means taking them and converting them into SOAR workflows that can provide response choices, in-depth auditing and error tracking, and consistent integration across multiple platforms. This is where SOAR sets itself apart.

It will be done tomorrow right?

Not likely. While an initial set of use cases or workflows can usually be imported from the SOAR vendor, they still need to be customized to your environment. For instance, it may have been written for a different firewall or threat feed vendor. Each of these steps will need to be verified and tested with the current version of the existing platforms deployed in the environment. A simple version difference in the target platform can make a huge difference. Which brings us to…

Integrations are simple

Umm, no. To be successful, a SOAR platform will need to communicate with many different platforms that already exist in your environment. Let’s face it, the IT space is full of companies that are often competing with one another in multiple verticals and one vendor is rarely sole-sourced throughout the organization. It’s not uncommon to see vendors significantly change APIs, database structure, architecture, and platforms in between versions with either missing or incorrect documentation to go with it. These changes are not made to purposefully break outside integrations but are instead made with their own interests in mind. Simply put, IT infrastructures are complex environments with lots of moving parts that need to be carefully integrated to get the best value from the solutions. Often the response from vendors’ support teams will boil down to “not my problem.” Ultimately, a good SOAR vendor will try and keep up with the integrations as new versions are released, but some of this will also come back to a good relationship between you and your vendor. Simply letting them know that a new version released and that you intend to upgrade soon can change the integration team’s process to better support you.

Things to keep in mind

So, what are the main takeaways? SOAR solutions can be incredibly powerful enablers of the cyber and operations teams if some simple rules are followed:

  • Stay focused. Choose a singular task to learn what works in your organization. Use this as your inhouse training scenario to learn the process.
  • Take your time. Diagram the workflow on a whiteboard and take your time finding the lowest common denominator to help pick one or two use cases to leverage as your showcase.
  • Identify simple integrations. Choose the deployed solutions that can be easily integrated to start with. Typically, they will be API driven and allow you to combine with threat enrichment to see immediate benefits.
  • Re-use. Ideally, your SOAR platform allows you to reuse the work you’ve already done. You’ve created the first piece of the puzzle for the future and you can leverage that same structure and concept again to reduce the amount of effort on your next workflow.

Merlin Cyber has partnered with Swimlane to help our public-sector customers avoid these and many other challenges that they encounter. Swimlane provides a comprehensive SOAR platform leveraging a drag-and-drop workflow builder that enables organizations to rapidly build and deploy workflows to the field. With built-in case management, auditing, reporting, and a robust integration library, Swimlane provides environments with the tools they need to be successful.


If your organization wants to rapidly improve staff efficiency and drastically decrease MTTR by leveraging a powerful SOAR platform, we can demo Swimlane and help customize a solution that meets your objectives.