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Editor’s note: This is part two of a four-part series on applying automation to security operations.
This is the second installment of our blog series on taking a practical approach to security automation. In our initial blog, we set the stage by exploring the foundational concepts of automating the response playbook for common cyber threats.
Today, we prove that automation is not just a buzzword, but a vital tool against a cyber threat that’s all too familiar to both security practitioners and organizations: phishing. Its insidious nature and constantly evolving tactics demand an agile and rapid response. While some organizations may hesitate to embrace automation in addressing this threat, this blog will highlight why automating the phishing playbook is not just a prudent choice but a necessary one.
To help alleviate the hesitation, we’ll show practical ways to minimize the risk associated with automation. As we delve into the world of automation, we’ll prescribe the practical strategy security practitioners, incident responders, and cybersecurity leaders can adopt to automate the three critical phases of a cybersecurity response playbook: containment, investigation, and remediation.
The initial defense line against threats, the containment phase, swiftly isolates and limits the impact of a security incident, essential in responding to phishing attacks. Automating containment is critical for rapid response and damage control. Below are automated actions that can be configured within a security operations platform to execute automatically after known-bad phishing-related detections like Allowed Malicious Email or Phishing Link Clicked. Prior to automating, be sure to review the key considerations outlined in the initial blog of this series.
After the phishing threat has been contained, the investigation phase delves deep into the incident to understand its scope and impact, providing the context analysts need to make informed decisions. Automation expedites analysis, uncovering critical information for timely action.
The chart below shows some common questions posed by human analysts during investigations of Allowed Malicious Email and Phishing Link Clicked alerts, which are prime candidates for automated investigations. These automatic queries should be initiated by the platform after a detection has triggered.
Prior to automating, ensure there’s a clear grasp of the organization’s technologies and the data locations required for investigating a phishing attack. Additionally, review the key considerations outlined in the initial blog of this series.
Focused on recovery and prevention, the remediation phase removes phishing threats and restores systems. Automation accelerates this process, ensuring swift response and consistent recovery in the event of a phishing attack.
The chart below outlines the types of actions that can be automated within the remediation phase for the Allowed Malicious Email and Phishing Link Clicked detections, along with configuration options to further minimize the risk. These automated actions can be platform-initiated or human-initiated after the investigation confirms the threat. Prior to automating, review the key considerations outlined in the initial blog of this series.
While automating the phishing playbook based on platform-driven detections is essential, it’s equally crucial to consider additional detection avenues to create a comprehensive and robust defense against phishing attacks. In some cases, phishing emails manage to bypass email threat protection layers and reach a user’s inbox undetected. In such scenarios, the responsibility falls on users to identify and report these suspicious emails for further analysis. While the initial detection is driven by human observation, there are methods to automate the subsequent email analysis and execute containment actions based on the analysis results.
The GreyMatter Phishing Analyzer, purpose-built for reliability and efficiency, automatically conducts a thorough analysis of reported emails through a process known as email deconstruction. This entails disassembling the various components of an email, scrutinizing each element, and determining its threat level.
Once it has reached a verdict, the Phishing Analyzer executes corresponding actions autonomously. These actions may include deleting the malicious email, executing investigative queries, documenting the analysis findings, and providing a response to the reporting user. This automation not only accelerates the mean time to respond (MTTR), but also alleviates the administrative burden associated with managing abuse mailboxes, allowing security operations teams to focus on higher-priority tasks.
To see this in action, we’ve outlined two practical use cases, depicted in the workflow diagram below, that illustrate the power of automation in addressing real-world cybersecurity challenges.
Use-case one: A user clicks on a link to a credential harvesting website. As shown in the top half of the diagram, the “Phishing Link Click” detection will trigger, and the automation will begin.
Use-case two: A user reports a suspicious email. As shown in the bottom half of the diagram, the “User Reports Suspicious Email” detection will trigger, and the automation will begin.
These scenarios are common in today’s threat landscape, and automating the containment, investigation, and remediation phases for them is a game-changer. This showcases how automation can swiftly and effectively respond to security incidents.
Incorporating automation into your phishing response playbook isn’t just an option; it’s an imperative in modern cybersecurity. Automation brings a powerful blend of speed, consistency, resource optimization, and scalability to your defense strategy. When confronting phishing threats, every second matters. GreyMatter’s automation capabilities can trim response times from hours to mere minutes, all while reducing the risk of human error.
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