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. 

Gain complete control and visibility of 50K endpoints in just 48 hours

Congress is working on another coronavirus relief package and telework measures are among the provisions being discussed. One group of senators is urging Congress to maintain maximum telework for federal employees throughout the pandemic. Another group of senators wants to see additional funding for upgrading agency IT systems. As they await a final bill and begin making decisions on end-of-fiscal-year dollars, federal agencies should strongly consider investments that enable effective telework, at scale, for the foreseeable future.

1E’s Tachyon is one such investment. Tachyon is a real-time, modern endpoint management solution that simultaneously improves employee experience and IT monitoring and remediation of devices. The single-agent platform is efficient, easy to deploy, and entirely API driven. All its capabilities can be leveraged through ServiceNow or used to augment tools such as Splunk and Microsoft Endpoint Manager (MEM). These robust integrations remove the need for multiple agents and provide federal agencies with several benefits.

Seamless Telework Experience

Tachyon gives IT teams enterprise-wide visibility of their devices from a single dashboard. Synthetic “microtransactions” periodically test the impact of a load on the environment to help identify processes that are interfering with normal operations, and how. This helps IT accurately gauge device responsiveness and performance. With so many employees working remotely, the ability to see in real-time who’s working vs. who’s having issues is vital to improving the end-user experience.

Ticketing Workflow Automation & Reduction

Integrating with ServiceNow, Tachyon’s functionality can be accessed directly through a single console for incident tracking and remediation. Help desk staff can diagnose and fix issues directly from the ServiceNow admin page, significantly improving response rates and response times on incidents. Also, with Tachyon running in the background, remote workers get an enhanced version of ServiceNow’s virtual agent that enables self-servicing for common issues.

Real-Time Response & Remediation

IT staff can query endpoints and perform actions in a matter of seconds with Tachyon. When issues pop up, staff can address them by taking real-time control of endpoints across any of their environments. They can also prevent issues from replicating on other devices by setting new enterprise-wide policy controls. This proactive maintenance feature automates many mostly manual IT processes, bringing substantial efficiencies.

Tachyon’s Core Modules

Put Tachyon to the Test

Merlin is currently offering federal agencies a 48-hour implementation of Tachyon against the tool’s two main endpoint use cases: visibility and control. After initial requirements are fulfilled by the customer, the rapid implementation of Tachyon will be structured like this:

Day 1 (Visibility): Setup, pilot group, and testing

  • Stand up required infrastructure
  • Install 1E client in a pilot group of endpoints
  • Test the software in your environment
  • Gain complete visibility of all remote devices

Day 2 (Control): Analysis, roll out, and collaboration

  • Analyze performance data from Day 1
  • Gain control of remote devices and fix any issues
  • Expand 1E client beyond pilot endpoints
  • Enable core teams to use Tachyon

1E will provide a dedicated solutions expert, at no cost, who will help fast track the deployment of the platform in your environment. This two-day implementation can be used to manage up to 50,000 remote devices.


If your agency needs to modernize its endpoint management to enable maximum telework, scale-up ticketing and remediation with automation and self-service, and maintain a proper security and compliance posture, we can demo Tachyon and customize a solution to meet your objectives.

Learn more about 1E and their solutions

 

 

From zero (trust) to hero: DevSecOps to the rescue

With the proliferation of cloud-based applications, organizations are faced with complex challenges regarding security as a whole and how to provide controls around the data that now resides somewhere in Neverland. We have moved away from the idea of the workplace’s four walls, complete with well-known kill chains, and find that our data is moving to the cloud at an alarming rate.

Perhaps the largest issue when moving to the cloud is trying to figure out how to secure applications, and users, without adding overhead and complexity. The cloud is supposed to make our lives easier while ensuring that the bad guys can’t get in. On the surface, this seems like an easy fix, especially when you think of it in terms of the existing security infrastructure. Unfortunately, reality sets in, and you begin to see this magical space rapidly becoming a logistical nightmare. How am I going to secure all this? Who is going to vet my users? What happens if an application is compromised, and allows a nefarious user to crawl my properties from east to west? How fired am I going to be at the end?

This is where the DevSecOps approach comes to the rescue. The whole premise of DevSecOps is around placing security controls within the applications themselves. In days gone by, things like admin credentials and cross-application access controls were hard-coded into apps. While this was business as usual for many years, it has increasingly become a highly available attack vector for hackers. When you combine this with known, and previously unknown, CVEs it becomes a glaring loophole in your security posture.

WHITE PAPER: On Your Mark, DevSecOps, Go!

The most common method for addressing pre-production security gaps is to have a human security specialist review the code, perform the STIG process, and apply various toolsets to identify and remediate vulnerabilities. The inherent problem with this process is that security staff are often overrun and facing long backlogs as the Dev team increases the speed at which apps are ready for deployment. Adding Sec to DevOps allows the developers to inject security into the earliest processes and, by doing so, creates self-healing, self-remediating applications that are fully aware of known exploits and continually updated to reflect novel threats in a fully-automated process.

The second problem hard-coded credentials can present is in app-to-app communication. As it stands today, a vulnerable application can be compromised, allowing bad actors to view dependencies, make changes, or otherwise gain access to additional properties, all while masquerading as an approved application. This becomes an enormous concern, as some of the database, app, and user calls could cross multiple applications and provide access to something that may not have robust security controls baked in. Mainframes may be out of vogue, but they are often the legacy central repositories for huge amounts of data, which may only have the ability to provide basic credential authorization. We’re left to rely on the legacy app, while the lift and shift to DevSecOps may not be feasible with today’s technologies. We must secure these apps.

In conclusion, these are some key points to take away for properly securing your applications and users as you move to the cloud:

  1. DevOps is falling to the wayside. You must look at holistic solutions to inject security as early in the CI/CD pipeline as possible.
  2. App-to-app security is paramount. If your applications cannot fully vet what it is talking to, it becomes open to compromise.
  3. Secure your cloud containers. This seems like a no-brainer but be mindful of your cloud architect’s time and workload, with the realization that posture management can be fully automated.
  4. Apply multi-factor authentication (MFA) to everything. Move security controls as close to the payload as possible. Network segmentation is great, but it allows vulnerabilities to be exploited.

Future-proofing technology stimulus spend

During the COVID-19 outbreak, agencies have shifted much of their workforce to telework. The strain on existing infrastructures has made headlines, whether it be the DoD asking employees to avoid non-essential services while on the VPN or other agencies staggering work schedules and limiting overall Citrix users. Further complicating these issues is the increase in cloud-based resources. 

I recently heard from an agency user attempting to participate in a required training session. Even though the training was hosted in the cloud, the user needed to use the overburdened VPN to access it, and the result was poor video quality. The problem is clear: current remote access systems were not scoped for this flood of users. 

As it always seems to be, while IT operations and security teams deal with new complexities and challenges, malicious actors see newfound opportunities. CISA recently released a new alert (AA20-073A) that includes the following considerations regarding teleworking:

  • As organizations use VPNs for telework, more vulnerabilities are being found and targeted by malicious cyber actors.
  • As VPNs are 24/7, organizations are less likely to keep them updated with the latest security updates and patches.
  • Malicious cyber actors may increase phishing emails targeting teleworkers to steal their usernames and passwords.
  • Organizations that do not use multi-factor authentication (MFA) for remote access are more susceptible to phishing attacks.
  • Organizations may have a limited number of VPN connections, after which point no other employee can telework. With decreased availability, critical business operations may suffer, including IT security personnel’s ability to perform cybersecurity tasks. 

The COVID-19 stimulus bill passed in March provided agencies the resources necessary to address telework infrastructure and security needs. Rather timely to this funding, there is new guidance from OMB regarding updates to TIC 2.0, providing the ability to use cloud-based solutions to assist with these issues. More specifically, the OMB memorandum regarding TIC 3.0 provides for the following new use case:

Remote Users: This use case is an evolution of the original FedRAMP TIC Overlay (FTO) activities. This use case demonstrates how a remote user connects to the agency’s traditional network, cloud, and the Internet using government-furnished equipment (GFE).

So how can agencies leverage these new TIC 3.0 guidelines to alleviate current strain and security concerns, while future-proofing their investments? TIC 3.0 allows agencies to modernize and move towards embracing a zero trust architecture (ZTA) by removing the outdated “trusted vs. untrusted” model and instead focusing the perimeter around the endpoint. To do this, the focus should be on the following key principles:

  1. Remove traffic destined for the cloud from current remote access infrastructure, thus lessening the load on the overburdened systems.
  2. Leverage the scalability and elastic nature of the cloud to deal with any further unexpected surges of remote access.
  3. Institute the principle of least privilege for remote access to overcome some of the shortcomings of VPN technologies.
  4. Where possible, move to an “identity as the perimeter” approach, targeting security at the remote user.
  5. Secure both new and legacy applications as the move to ZTA occurs, thus ensuring critical legacy systems are not left unsecured.
  6. Provide the least amount of friction to the end-users!

By embracing TIC 3.0 and ZTA, agencies can augment current remote access capabilities (VPN, Remote Desktop, Citrix, etc.) by providing access to cloud applications without the need to use old remote access systems. Further, this can be done alongside the current infrastructure, avoiding the dreaded “rip and replace,” and increasing security along the way.

At Merlin, we scout innovative, emerging technologies and establish technology partnerships that allow us to effectively implement unique remote access strategies that incorporate zero trust principles. As the model below illustrates, we provide end-to-end secure access, leveraging highly scalable and elastic solutions. Using cloud-based and cloud-native technologies like Okta and Netskope Private Access can increase security while lessening the load on remote access infrastructures. Adding Silverfort unique SSO capabilities can bring those legacy systems into the security of today. 

While there is no quick fix for legacy remote access systems, agencies can take the first steps in their zero trust journey while augmenting the capacity of current systems and increasing overall security. 

Cyber hygiene starts with good tools configuration

Last month, the Government Accountability Office released a new report titled DOD Needs to Take Decisive Actions to Improve Cyber Hygiene. The GAO report found that the Defense Department is behind on three major cyber hygiene initiatives and lacks cybersecurity accountability among its leadership. If a critical government agency like the DOD struggles with cyber hygiene, what about a regular company?

An average-sized company usually has 25-plus security vendors. Organizations have implemented tool after tool in efforts to secure their data, systems, and users. This has left them with misconfigured, repetitive, or siloed tools and an uphill climb toward proper cyber hygiene.

RELATED: 5 of the biggest cyber hygiene myths

While proper cyber hygiene involves tools, training, and policies, having a fragmented toolset makes the concept a non-starter. Tool fragmentation and overlapping tool capabilities put additional burden on IT staff, making it difficult to respond to threats, quantify risks, or effectively manage an organization’s most critical security controls. As a result, the organization’s cyber hygiene suffers.

Poor cyber hygiene creates security vulnerabilities that require decisive action. It’s vitally important to correctly configure, maintain, and ensure that your security tools are effective. In other words, cybersecurity leaders should consider maximizing the ROI on already-purchased tools before adding new ones to their crowded ecosystem.

Tool-proof your cyber hygiene

Practicing proper cyber hygiene goes beyond just purchasing and implementing security tools. Using the tools correctly is what helps solidify overall cybersecurity posture. And it all starts with proper configuration of the tools you have.

Establishing configuration baselines is a fundamental but often overlooked cyber hygiene task. Why else is tool misconfiguration a frequent cause of breaches? While we rely on security tools to maintain proper hygiene, their effectiveness is entirely in our hands.

Here’s how to weigh the performance and usage of existing security tools:

  1. Analyze if the tools you’re using are engineered properly and behaving correctly. For example, if it’s a vulnerability scanner, is it updated and scanning your entire IT landscape? If it’s a next-generation firewall, are you using all the features appropriately?
  2. Review and score every tool with a critical eye. Try to rationalize each tool against your organization’s current and future needs. Move past qualitative descriptions and into quantitative analysis by ranking and scoring them with questions like:
    • Does this tool have a niche or special purpose?
    • Is it more or less secure than other options?
  3. Examine each tool’s actual configuration. Is it configured securely? Does it have default passwords or other weak controls? How easy is it to harden?

The complexity of today’s IT infrastructures coupled with security tool fragmentation and misconfiguration makes cyber hygiene challenging for companies of all sizes. Security tools are only as strong as an organization’s internal process for maintaining them. Luckily, there are solutions that automate much of the work and provide organizations with a comprehensive way to implement and maintain proper cyber hygiene.

Stepping up security with speed during the Covid-19 crisis

We are witnessing unprecedented times. Times that test our aptitude, abilities, and resilience. It’s during these critical times that organizations need to lean on cybersecurity innovation to help them confidently navigate uncharted waters. And they need a partner they can rely on to help them do that quickly and efficiently.

At Merlin, we bring best-in-class cybersecurity brands together with emerging technologies to deliver groundbreaking solutions purpose-built to help you tackle your most vexing cybersecurity challenges. Whether you need to secure remote workers or gain greater visibility and control across your enterprise, we are here to help you get it done. We are fortunate to work with amazing partners who are pitching in during this time of crisis to support your security needs with speed and flexibility. Here is an overview of just a few of our partners and how we can help you quickly meet cybersecurity needs:

 

Time is essential. If you need to ensure the security of remote collaboration in light of mandatory work-from-home requirements, Wickr’s end-to-end encrypted enterprise collaboration platform helps you create and manage secure networks in hours.

Wickr is designed from the ground up to act as the foundational secure collaboration platform for security operations. Wickr has taken battle-tested secure communications and collaboration and built deep integrations with productivity and security tooling. The result is a communications and collaboration platform which allows network defenders and mission owners to ensure that they are able to securely carry through with their communication and response processes during incidents.


Protecting credentials is essential to maintaining a solid security posture. CyberArk’s Privileged Access Management (PAM) solution does just that.

CyberArk is the global leader in privileged access management, a critical layer of IT security to protect data, infrastructure and assets across the enterprise, in the cloud and throughout the DevOps pipeline. CyberArk delivers the industry’s most complete solution to reduce the risk created by privileged credentials and secrets.

 

As employees work remotely, now is the time to implement and modernize your identity and access management with Zero Trust — an essential security control during this COVID-19 crisis.

The Okta Identity Cloud is a secure, reliable and scalable platform that provides comprehensive identity management, enabling customers to secure their users and connect them to technology and applications, anywhere, anytime and from any device.

 

Remote workers need a VPN or a smart, secure alternative. Netskope Private Access can be implemented very quickly to help ensure users are securely accessing essential apps and other resources.

Netskope Security Cloud enables enterprises to extend their data security and threat protection policies to users and data, wherever they may be. Including approved and unapproved cloud apps, public cloud infrastructures, websites, and private apps in data centers or in the cloud.

Reflections on HIMSS Discussions

Meeting HCO security needs on a budget

In the month since this year’s HIMSS conference no less than three data breaches involving the exposure of patient information have made the news. Though the methods by which the hackers gained access to this critical data varied – in one instance a malware attack, while data storage error and employee email were allegedly implicated in the others – the fact remains that healthcare organizations (HCO) are facing an increasingly uphill battle in securing the right technology and talent to avoid becoming tomorrow’s next headline.

While each HCO has a unique set of considerations and priorities, when it comes to data security nearly all are facing some version of the same challenge: finding the talent and technologies to meet both needs and budgets. Smaller organizations whose resources are often more limited seem to be struggling in particular. At HIMSS, a security analyst from a more modestly sized hospital shared with me that though he would like help there wasn’t the money to make hires, and even if the budget did exist he’d face the further difficulty of finding the right talent to fill positions.

The biggest challenge: staffing

In multiple conversations with HIMSS attendees, insufficient staffing was consistently noted as the biggest challenge to improving cybersecurity posture. This mirrors results detailed in our study ‘The State of Cybersecurity in Healthcare Organizations in 2018’, conducted in partnership with the Ponemon Institute and released immediately following the conference. According to 74 percent of respondents, the lack of in-house expertise and security leadership makes it more difficult to reduce risks, vulnerabilities and attacks. As a result, organizations are looking to help augment the staff they do have with technological solutions. 

Among solutions gaining prominence with HCOs looking to improve security without breaking the bank are identity and access management tools. Affordable and unobtrusive, multi-factor authentication is proving popular for preventing password fraud, specifically among remote and privileged access users. Organizations have also seen luck implementing security information and event management (SIEM) solutions that aggregate data produced across networks, servers, databases, applications and devices.  But monitoring and managing SIEM data can be complex and time consuming, often requiring one or more dedicated staff depending on an HCO’s size. And finding the necessary expertise to quickly identify weakness and threats to IT infrastructure could prove problematic, with nearly 80 percent of Merlin study participants finding it difficult to recruit IT security personnel.

The affordable technological solution

According to the HIMSS participants with whom I spoke, the perfect technological solution would provide a 360-degree view of their cybersecurity with analytics and AI layered on top,  something we at Merlin are working to deliver.  In the meantime, our research shows there are plenty of lessons to be learned from high-performing healthcare organizations in significantly reducing cyber attacks. High performing organizations are more likely to have an incident response plan and a strategy for the security of medical devices (a looming and largely unaddressed threat, according to HIMSS presenters).  These organizations are also proactively investing in employee awareness about cybersecurity risks – conducting audits and assessments, providing regular training and incentives, and conducting phishing tests, for example –   and ensuring third-parties safeguard patient information.  Implementing any one of these practices would improve cybersecurity posture critical to patient safety.

You don’t need to be a healthcare information and technology professional to recognize that HCOs are facing constant, increasingly destructive and costly cyber attacks.  Doctors will tell you that even small changes can deliver positive results to overall health. That advice could just as easily apply to cybersecurity. Only through the incremental implementation of both new technology and best practices can we protect patient data and access to essential care, and improve our overall IT health.