What Is SOAR (Security Orchestration, Automation and Response) In Cybersecurity?

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What is Security Automation?

Automation is when software and systems can do things by themselves, usually to affect other systems and applications. Security automation completes tasks without human intervention.

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What is Security Orchestration?

Orchestration is the coordination of software, systems, and people to complete a workflow. Orchestration includes, but does not limit itself to, automated steps. Orchestration involves multiple technologies working together via integration.

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What is the Difference Between Automation and Orchestration?

Security automation is a part of security orchestration, although people often use the terms in place of each other. One can orchestrate a workflow using automation. Orchestration means complex sequences of actions, while automation means a single action or simple sequence.

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What is Incident Response?

Incident response is the process of assessing and resolving potential security events. Incident response tools provide methods for effective resolution, such as prebuilt playbooks, ticketing, and even security automation.

Incident response platforms were early versions of SOAR. Industry leaders upgraded them with integration and orchestration features to create more advanced security orchestration platforms.

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What is a SOAR Platform?

A SOAR platform collects data from various sources, such as security tools, cloud services, email, and more. It then uses playbooks to create customized responses by combining security tools, automated workflows, and human input.

The elements of SOAR, according to Gartner

A SOAR platform is the quarterback of your security strategy and architecture. It analyzes incoming information and draws on available knowledge or intelligence, orchestrating plays to achieve the best outcome.

SOAR helps Security Operation Center (SOC) and Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRT) teams with integrations, automations, playbooks, case management, and reporting for security operations.

What are the Types of SOAR Platforms?

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Product-Oriented SOAR

Gartner says SOAR is a tool that helps manage cyber threats. It brings together incident response, coordination, automation, and threat information management all in one place. However, some orchestration and automation capabilities are emerging in other security systems, such as EDR, SIEM, and email protection. Gartner calls this product-oriented SOAR, because the SOAR capabilities are specific to the function of a single product.

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Broad-Based SOAR

Most enterprise and MSSP security teams need a broad-based SOAR solution. This is especially true for teams that use the best tools or have lots of different tools. This also applies when companies add teams, such as during a merger or acquisition.

Broad-based SOAR helps manage and automate tasks across many tools. This offers flexibility, easy connections with different systems, and more ways to use it beyond just security.

Even companies that work with just a few vendors should consider broad-based SOAR. It lets them keep using their main tech tools while easily connecting to other tools when needed.

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Best-Of-Breed

Best-of-Breed SOAR solutions connect easily to different tools and don’t require complex coding for playbooks.

With Smart SOAR, users can use playbooks easily without needing to code and can connect to any tools using APIs. Smart SOAR utilizes MITRE ATT&CK-based features to enhance detection, response, and hunting capabilities. Additionally, it provides support for security operations throughout the entire lifecycle.

Smart SOAR playbooks close the loop by combining enrichment automation with complex incident response orchestration to disrupt threats.

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How Are SOAR and XDR Different?

While they work toward similar goals, there are significant differences between how XDR and SOAR function. XDR is mostly a set of security tools from one company. It works well together, but it limits security teams who are too busy or like certain tools. On the other hand, SOAR platforms work with many different tools, usually hundreds, and they can also add custom ones

Another difference is how they handle incidents. SOAR platforms use playbooks to help organize how the system responds and give tasks to staff. They also learn from what users do to get better at automatic actions.

XDR solutions typically lack this ability and instead automate single actions in response to analyzing incoming data. This is the reason many XDR vendors maintain separate security orchestration solutions in their offerings.

Read: XDR & Smart SOAR: Everything You Need to Know

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What makes SOAR so important for cybersecurity teams?

  • Automation and orchestration are vital to your security strategy. They give you the means to rapidly validate and disrupt threats while strengthening your security posture.
  • SOAR technology saves time by automating enrichment and response, getting rid of data silos, and reducing false positives.
  • Advanced platforms go further than just adding information and basic scenarios. They help responders and hunt teams with Tier-2 and Tier-3 security tasks.
  • It works with threat intelligence platforms and other tools. It helps automate and coordinate security operations, incident response, and threat hunting tasks among different teams.
  • No other security product enhances your team’s capabilities and reduces response times as effectively. Pick one that fits your security needs, focusing on how flexible, open, and thorough it is.

Yes, teams that handle security operations and respond to incidents have used tools and playbooks for years. But, without SOAR, the people who respond to cyber incidents can’t manage everything they need. This includes their plans, standard procedures, tool connections, threat information, cases, and reports. Plus, it’s hard for them to keep up with the growing number of complex threats.

However, when equipped with the right solution, security teams can drive better alerting, enrichment, response, and investigations. Put simply, the right SOAR solution will make your team vastly more efficient and will help you to rapidly validate and disrupt threats.

Solving Cybersecurity Challenges with SOAR

Why Do Companies Need SOAR?

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Lack of Security Analysts

The cybersecurity skills gap isn’t going away any time soon. On average, SOCs are understaffed, especially in highly-skilled positions.
The efficiencies brought by SOAR tools help security teams do more with less. Automating repetitive and time consuming tasks frees up analysts for more important work. Playbooks codify best practices, enabling less experienced analysts to perform at a higher level.

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Alert Overwhelm

Many SOCs face hundreds of security alerts every day, meaning that they can’t investigate most of those alerts. SOAR tools perform automated triage and risk scoring through threat intelligence enrichment. It auto-closes some alerts, and checks every alert.
SOAR puts the most important, high-priority alerts first in the analyst’s list. It gives them useful information that helps them understand the situation quickly.

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Too Many Security Tools

The average SOC has close to a dozen security tools, added gradually as needs change. They are often costly and take a lot of work to replace.
Usually, there’s no specific plan for how all these tools should work together. This means SOCs have tools that don’t communicate well with each other. It leads to separated data and makes analysts switch between many different systems.
SOAR connects all these tools, bringing data from different sources together to coordinate actions across systems.

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Evolving Cyber Threats

New threats require newer tools. Simply relying on your firewall to keep your company’s data safe is not enough anymore. The number of places where cyber attacks can happen has increased.
Attackers are now smarter and often get help from unfriendly governments or criminal groups. Security orchestration tools provide the speed, agility, and advanced capabilities needed to fight back against sophisticated attackers.

What Are Common SOAR Use Cases?

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Phishing

Assessing potential phishing incidents is one of the most essential SOAR use cases.This is because large organizations get a lot of real or suspected phishing attempts. Most major breaches start with a phishing/spear-phishing attack.
SOAR makes it easier to handle phishing threats at large volumes. With just a few clicks, it quickly checks each possible phishing incident. It examines suspicious emails, tests any harmful attachments in a secure area, and decides the best action to take.

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Ransomware

SOAR helps companies investigate suspected ransomware incidents, confirm true positives, and take the appropriate steps to minimize the impact. The initial threat point for ransomware attacks is typically phishing, for which SOAR tools offer streamlined response. When an EDR or other tool detects potential ransomware, it runs a playbook to triage the ransomware. It locates any other instances of the malicious file, and quarantines the affected hosts.

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Endpoint Incident Response

Security teams have a scattered response process without SOAR. They miss crucial details, switch between screens a lot, limiting their ability to investigate, track and report effectively.

When an EDR identifies a potentially risky endpoint, SOAR evaluates the threat level and decides on the appropriate action. Response actions may include checking the suspicious file in a safe location and searching for it on other endpoints. Subsequently, taking necessary steps to tackle the threat is also a crucial part of the process. These steps may include removing the file, blocking its signature, and isolating the affected endpoints.

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Vulnerability Management

To effectively address security risks, security teams often struggle to decipher individual scan results and devise ad hoc responses. SOAR streamlines this process by automating workflows triggered by vulnerability scans. When an integrated tool scans endpoints and identifies a security weakness, SOAR automatically interprets the scan report. It then generates an incident response playbook.

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Cryptojacking

Cryptojacking — hijacking a machine to run cryptomining scripts—is a common attack against enterprise cloud environments, such as AWS EC2 instances. Cryptomining scripts can potentially be detected by Amazon GuardDuty or an application performance monitoring tool like Datadog APM, but neither tool has the ability to fully investigate and remediate the threat on its own. Cryptojacking alerts can be escalated to SOAR for investigation and response, including actions like domain analysis and EC2 instance analysis.

Cryptojacking involves hijacking a server or endpoint to run cryptomining scripts. Enterprise cloud environments, such as AWS EC2 instances face such attacks.

Amazon GuardDuty can potentially detect cryptomining scripts. Additionally, an application performance monitoring tool such as Datadog APM can also identify them. However, neither tool has the ability to fully investigate and remediate the threat on its own.

SOAR ingests cryptojacking alerts for further investigation, and response. This may include actions like analyzing domains and EC2 instances.

What Are the Key Benefits of SOAR?

Improved MTTD and MTTR

The longer a security incident goes undetected, the more damage it does. One of the primary benefits of SOAR is how it drastically shortens the time it takes to detect and respond to incidents. SOAR automates alert enrichment, orchestrates actions across tools, and automates (or automates most of) response playbooks.

False Positive Reduction

Without SOAR, Tier 1 security analysts can easily spend the most of their time on alerts that turn out to pose no actual risk. SOAR automates threat intelligence enrichment, risk scoring, and sandbox integrations, to quickly identify false positives. In many cases, it automatically resolves it.

Operational Efficiency

SOAR helps SOCs move faster while using less resources. Integrating tools through one interface saves time. Time wasted on screen-switching, navigating data silos, and copy-pasting data between systems.
Playbooks keep incident responders on track, following proven best practices. Collaboration features help enforce SLAs and reduce duplicated work.
SOAR aggregates a substantial amount of security data. This data enables the creation of reports and metrics that offer insights into bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and areas for improvement

Staff Onboarding and Retention

Recruiting, hiring, and training security personnel requires time and resources. Therefore, when you onboard them, it makes sense to ensure you nurture and care for them.
Too many SOC analysts burn out from handling a high volume of unimportant alerts every day. It gives them little opportunity to apply and develop their skills. SOAR cuts down busywork and repetitive tasks, enabling analysts at all tiers to stay focused on real threats.
It turns incident response playbooks into proven workflows and simplifies complex toolsets to a single interface. This helps new hires get up to speed quickly and provide value to the team beyond their level of experience.

How Does SOAR Work with Other Tools?

  • SIEM + SOAR
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    A common misconception is that if you have a SIEM (security information and event management) tool, you don’t need SOAR. In fact, SOAR and SIEM complement each other. It improves investigation and response capabilities through its wide range of integrations and security automation use cases.

    SIEM tools store large amounts of log and network data. It lacks the playbooks and automations necessary for managing incident response. It also lacks user-friendly integrations, and can’t generate important SOC metrics. Post fixing issues, SOAR updates or closes records in the SIEM system, ensuring completeness of data.

    Read: SIEM vs. SOAR: How they Differ and Why they Work Well Together

  • Threat Intelligence Platform + SOAR
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    Threat intelligence is a key pillar of SOAR. Some SOAR tools have proprietary TIPs built in, and others can integrate with virtually any intelligence source. When a SOAR tool gets an alert, it adds more details to enrich it. It does this by checking things like files, IP addresses, and URLs against threat intelligence sources to figure out the risk.

  • Endpoint Protection + SOAR
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    SOAR integrates with EDRs and other endpoint protection tools to investigate and enrich potential endpoint security incidents. It can orchestrate a range of actions via the endpoint tool. Actions range from malware detection, file removal, blocking file hashes, stopping malicious processes from running, quarantining endpoints, etc.

  • ITSM + SOAR
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    Organizations can use SOAR and ITSM to collaborate across teams and add automation and orchestration to ITSM tickets. ITSM can escalate tickets to SOAR, for threat intelligence enrichment, and investigated using incident response playbooks. Conversely, if an IT task requires an automation workflow, SOAR can generate an ITSM ticket from the playbook.

  • Firewall + SOAR
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    SOCs need to act quickly to block a threat when detected. SOAR tools integrate with firewalls to orchestrate changes to firewall rules, block malicious IOCs, and update blacklists.

  • IT Services + SOAR
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    The integration of IT services within your security workflows are critical for rapid response and collaboration. SOAR integrates with email senders, notification engines, collaboration spaces and other cloud communication platforms. Beyond communication and alerting, popular IT service integrations also include meeting management and video conferencing such as Zoom.

  • Email Protection + SOAR
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    Many major incidents start with a simple phishing email. SOAR integrates with email tools to ingest reports of suspicious emails. It pulls those messages from the server, and parses out IOCs for investigation. If the SOAR tool spots a harmful email, it blocks the sender and deletes that email from all company mailboxes

  • Identity Management + SOAR
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    Identity is an important element of security incidents. SOAR tools work with identity management systems, adding employee details and login history to incidents. This helps understand the impact of compromised credentials. It also manage responses, such as turning off user access and requiring password changes.

  • Vulnerability Management + SOAR
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    SOAR turns the information from vulnerability scans into automated response workflows. SOAR tools ingest and parse vulnerability scan reports. Next, they orchestrate tasks to remediate vulnerabilities. Finally, they search across past reports during threat hunting.

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Threat Intelligence Platform + SOAR

Threat intelligence is a key pillar of SOAR. Some SOAR tools have proprietary TIPs built in, and others can integrate with virtually any intelligence source. When a SOAR tool gets an alert, it adds more details to enrich it. It does this by checking things like files, IP addresses, and URLs against threat intelligence sources to figure out the risk.

How is MITRE ATT&CK Used For SOAR?

TTP Mapping

Some SOAR tools ingest TTP information from detection tools and map incoming alerts on the ATT&CK Matrix. SOAR enriches alerts and puts them into context, making attacker behaviors a key facet of the investigation

Kill Chain Investigations

SOAR tools improve investigation by matching alerts with the ATT&CK Matrix. This helps investigators map out the attack’s kill chain, which may involve several alerts. Understanding the kill chain allows investigators to see how advanced an attack is and predict the attacker’s next move.

Visibility into Trends

Tagging alerts with ATT&CK TTPs enables trend reporting on the occurrence of each adversary technique in the environment. This enables security teams to identify their high-risk areas and determine which root causes they need to address.

Mitre Attack for Dummies

MITRE ATT&CK for Dummies

Discover how to put the MITRE ATT&CK Matrix to work in your security operation. Review use cases and tips designed to help you shift from ad hoc response to proactive countering of known, dangerous threats.

Evaluating and Operating SOAR

Why Do Companies Need SOAR?

Implementing SOAR is a major investment, so the evaluation process usually includes a proof of concept (PoC) project. PoCs will usually focus on a small number of key use cases, playbooks, and integrations. They give prospective buyers a sense of how the SOAR platform will support their security operations.
The criteria by which potential buyers evaluate SOAR platforms include:

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Integrations

SOAR platforms vary in the amount and quality of their integrations. Buyers should look for a broad set of out-of-the-box integrations, including high-quality integrationswith the tools they use.

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Coding Burden

Leading SOAR platforms are moving towards alow-code/codeless model for playbooks and integrations. Some, however, still require substantial Python coding from users. Buyers should assess their internal coding expertise and available resources and pick a platform that matches their needs.

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Enrichment

How a SOAR platform enriches events is a core capability that users will leverage many times every day. Buyers should look what data sources SOAR platforms use to enrich events. Data sources range from integrated or internal threat intelligence, TTP correlation, and historical incidents.

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Incident Response

Even as SOAR evolves, the heart of the platform is still incident response. Some platforms deliver quick, simple responses, often through a single orchestrated action. Others support more complexity and depth. Buyers can compare IR capabilities to their needs and the skills of their users.

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Threat Hunting

Beyond incident response, SOAR platforms also support threat hunting with automation and orchestration. Buyers evaluating platforms’ threat hunting abilities can see how platforms automate hunts with threat intelligence. They can check for searches of attack indicators (IOAs) linked to new incidents. They can also assess ongoing monitoring of critical IOAs and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs).

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Metrics and Reporting

SOAR platforms provide a wealth of data that can help organizations optimize their security operations. Metrics and reporting capabilities are a key factor when selecting a SOAR tool.

How Do MSSPs Use SOAR?

SOAR is a highly valuable tool for MSSPs who want to improve their services and increase profits.

Revenue Opportunities for MSSPs

SOAR opens up high-value offerings that MSSPs can sell to clients, such as advanced playbooks and MITRE ATT&CK-based services. Playbooks, integrations, and automation also make it easier to onboard new clients and reduce time to revenue.

Revenue opportunities with SOAR

Operational Improvements for MSSPs

SOAR streamlines MSSP operations just like it does for SOC teams. It makes operations quicker, reduces time spent on unimportant tasks, and improves the ability to assess incoming threats.
Whether an MSSP has access to a client’s entire set of tools or not, it can gather security data in the SOAR tool. The SOAR tool then places this data into context using information from the client’s entire environment.
SOAR playbooks enable the use of standardized workflows. Teams can apply these workflows broadly across clients or customize them as needed. SOAR also enables better reporting, which gives visibility to clients.

Operational Improvement

MDR Service Enablement

SOAR gives MSSPs the tools to do more than just handle alerts, with a full set of incident response tools. This has enabled many MSSPs to offer full-lifecycle, Tier 1-3 services. They can handle end-to-end response, instead of simply alerting the client’s team of threats. This means that MSSPs can compete with the MDR providers that have been rapidly gaining market share in the managed services space.

MDR Service

SOAR Case Studies

SOAR for Enterprise

SOAR for MSSP

Managed Services

How SOAR Helped an MSSP Increase Profits and Streamline Operations

This MSSP served 50 clients, but struggled to efficiently manage its tool set, which included multiple SIEMs for the internal SOC and CSIRT teams. With SOAR, the MSSP integrated its tools, implemented more than 40 playbooks, and automated customized reporting for clients.

Smart SOAR for MSSPs

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