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It’s All in the Timing: How to Optimize Incident Response to Conserve Resources

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02
Aug 2023
02
Aug 2023
When it comes to responding to an incident, bad timing wastes resources. And traditional incident response strategies make it very hard to get the timing right. With Darktrace HEAL, organizations can now identify and address critical events faster and more efficiently to save security teams time, money, and effort.

Finding balance with a cyber incident response plan 

When it comes to responding to an incident, bad timing wastes resources. And traditional incident response strategies paired with traditional detection tools make it very hard to get the timing right. 

If an organization starts recovery efforts too early, it can start acting on events that turn out to be benign. This leads to wasted resources. 

If an organization starts recovery too late, it can end up letting attacks continue so that the issues become more widespread and complex, which then require more resources to remedy and can have larger impacts on the business.

Somewhere in between, there is an optimal stage in which the security teams are not wasting time on benign events, but in which incidents are not allowed to escalate too far. But this sweet spot is hard to ascertain, especially when detection tools are prone to false positives and more sophisticated or novel attacks often fly under the radar of signature-based tools. 

This can be illustrated graphically, with the amount of time passed until a security team activates incident response measured along the x-axis, and the amount of resources required on the y-axis. You'll notice a spike at the very beginning due to the high frequency of non-events, which eats away at resources as the security team reacts to many events that turn out to be benign.

Figure 1: Incident response has maximum efficiency when enacted not too early and not too late.
Graph for illustration purposes only.


The problem of responding to an incident too late is heightened by static incident response playbooks. Incident response playbooks are often created in ‘one-size-fits-all’ format for general attack types – you might have one for ‘ransomware’, one for ‘DDoS attacks’, and so on. They outline the necessary steps to eradicate the attack, remediate infected assets, gather evidence, communicate internally, and ultimately recover. 

While these playbooks help satisfy auditors and compliance requirements, they aren’t often used in the real world, because the reality of an attack never quite aligns with the generic parameters set out in the playbook. The playbook is static, while businesses – and the threats that target them ­– are constantly evolving. This is especially true with the rise of generative AI, which allows attackers to carry out sophisticated and innovative attacks on a large scale

In other words, every traditional playbook is outdated the day it is written. The mismatch between attacks and the playbook’s response plan puts the burden on the human team to fill in the gaps, as the human's attention moves from following step-by-step instructions to making real-time decisions. Forced to synthesize the entire event under stressful circumstances, often with limited information, they begin to deviate further and further from the playbooks, rendering them less and less relevant. 

By responding only to genuine security incidents, and initiating actions before those incidents become a crisis, security teams reduce the amount of resources required. But this is only possible with accurate detections and investigative tools that give you all the information you need on a silver platter. 

Using AI for faster and more efficient incident response 

With Darktrace HEAL™, defenders can now initiate incident response earlier, during the optimal window of time. AI technology learns from your business data at speed and scale to identify and investigate events in real time and determine what activity requires attention. It automatically connects the dots between individual unusual events DETECT alerts to look for wider security incidents, which are then subject to HEAL’s recovery capabilities.

HEAL uses this data to enable security teams to address emerging critical incidents earlier, while eliminating unnecessary time and effort spent on irrelevant events. By lowering the threshold for activating incident response and using automation, organizations can make earlier and more informed decisions, resulting in swifter and less resource-intensive recovery.

Two things now happen to our graph. First, the entire curve shifts downwards due to better tooling. The security team now benefits from automation, bespoke AI-generated playbooks, and integrations, and as a result, the amount of resources required drops at every stage of the curve. Secondly, the sweet spot previously unattainable to incident responders due to inaccurate detection and stringent incident response activation policies, becomes achievable.

Figure 2: With Darktrace HEAL, incident response can be enacted earlier, and using fewer resources.
Graph for illustration purposes only.


Bespoke playbooks accelerate recovery

HEAL automates several steps of the recovery process to accelerate the rate of incident response. It creates bespoke, AI-generated incident response playbooks that leverage an evolving understanding of the organization to determine recovery steps that are tailored to the specific incident and the environment it takes place in. For example, a cloud migration may introduce new architecture that a traditional, static playbook may not consider but HEAL does. 

These bespoke playbooks can keep up with changes in both the business and the threat landscape by using Self-Learning AI, which is trained on the organization’s specific data and continuously updates its understanding of the business. As a result of this tailored AI learning, these playbooks can facilitate more efficient incident response during and after an incident by taking relevant actions and not over-responding.

The AI also prioritizes the order of remediation actions based on factors like further damage, how much the attack relies on the specific asset as a pivot or entry point, and if RESPOND has contained the asset's unwanted activity temporarily.

HEAL’s bespoke playbooks apply both in the case of critical incidents that need quick eradication and recovery as well as during day-to-day triage of any emerging incidents. With bespoke playbooks, organizations can tick the compliance box while also having real-world, practical value. 

Incident response made simple

Traditionally, organizations struggle to find the sweet spot between responding to incidents too early and too late, increasing the chance that they will waste resources or even face reputational or financial issues. 

With HEAL, organizations can now identify and address critical events more effectively. The AI technology uses enhanced detection capabilities to surface significant incidents early without wasting time and effort on irrelevant events. Leveraging bespoke, AI-generated playbooks further streamlines recovery by ensuring applicable recovery plans. 

By adjusting the timing of incident response, HEAL uses accurate detection and swift recovery to save security teams time, money, and effort.

HEAL is the final stage of Darktrace’s Cyber AI Loop, an interconnected security ecosystem that helps defenders at every stage of an attack lifecycle. AI outputs flow between each product – Darktrace PREVENT™, Darktrace DETECT™, Darktrace RESPOND™, and HEAL – to continuously and autonomously harden security. 

Figure 3: The Cyber AI Loop is a virtuous cycle in which Darktrace products amplify each other by sharing AI outputs.
DANS LE SOC
Darktrace sont des experts de classe mondiale en matière de renseignement sur les menaces, de chasse aux menaces et de réponse aux incidents. Ils fournissent une assistance SOC 24 heures sur 24 et 7 jours sur 7 à des milliers de clients Darktrace dans le monde entier. Inside the SOC est exclusivement rédigé par ces experts et fournit une analyse des cyberincidents et des tendances en matière de menaces, basée sur une expérience réelle sur le terrain.
AUTEUR
à propos de l'auteur
Dan Fein
VP, Produits

Based in New York, Dan joined Darktrace’s technical team in 2015, helping customers quickly achieve a complete and granular understanding of Darktrace’s product suite. Dan has a particular focus on Darktrace/Email, ensuring that it is effectively deployed in complex digital environments, and works closely with the development, marketing, sales, and technical teams. Dan holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from New York University.

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Customer Blog: Community Housing Limited Enhancing Incident Response

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04
Mar 2024

About Community Housing Limited

Community Housing Limited is a non-profit organization based in Australia that focuses on providing affordable, long-term housing and creating employment opportunities where possible. We give people the security of having a home so that they can focus on other essential pathways. As such, we are responsible for sensitive information on our clients.

As part of our commitment to strengthening our cyber security, we sought to simplify and unify our incident response plans and equip our engineers and desktop support teams with all the information we need at our fingertips.

Why Community Housing Limited chose Darktrace

Our team hoped to achieve a response procedure that allowed us to have oversight over any potential security risks, even cases that don’t overtly seem like a security risk. For example, an incident could start as a payroll issue and end up in the hands of HR, instead of surfacing as a security problem. In this case, our security team has no way of knowing the real number of events or how the threat had actually started and played out, making incident response and mitigation even more challenging.

We were already a customer of Darktrace’s autonomous threat detection, attack intervention, and attack surface management capabilities, and decided to add Darktrace for AI-assisted incident response and AI cyber-attack simulation.

AI-generated playbooks save time during incident response

I wanted to reduce the time and resources it took our security team to appropriately respond to a threat. Darktrace automates several steps of the recovery process to accelerate the rate of incident response by using AI that learns the granular details of the specific organization, building a dynamic understanding of the devices, connections, and user behaviors that make up the normal “pattern of life.”  

The AI then uses this understanding to create bespoke, AI-generated incident response playbooks that leverage an evolving understanding of our organization to determine recovery steps that are tailored not only to the specific incident but also to our unique environment.

For my security team, this means having access to all the information we need to respond to a threat. When running through an incident, rather than going to different places to synthesize relevant information, which takes up valuable resources and time, we can speed up its remediation with Darktrace.  

The playbooks created by Darktrace help lower the technical skills required to respond to incidents by elevating the workload of the staff, tripling our capacity for incident response.

Realistic attack simulations upskill teams while saving resources

We have differing levels of experience on the team which means some members know exactly what to do during incident response while others are slower and need more guidance. Thus, we have to either outsource skilled security professionals or add a security solution that could lower the technical skills bar.

You don’t want to be second guessing and searching for the right move – it’s urgent – there should be certainty. Our goal with running attack simulations is to test and train our team's response capabilities in a “realistic” scenario. But this takes considerable time to plan and execute or can be expensive if outsourced, which can be a challenge for organizations short on resources. 

Darktrace provides AI-assisted incident response and cyber-attack simulation using AI that understands the organization to run simulations that effectively map onto the real digital environment and the assets within it, providing training for actual incidents.

It is one thing to sit together in a meeting and discuss various outcomes of a cyber-attack, talking through the best response strategies. It is a huge benefit being able to run attack simulations that emulate real-world scenarios.

Our team can now see how an incident would play out over several days to resemble a real-world scenario or it can play through the simulation quickly to ascertain outcomes immediately. It then uses these insights to strengthen its technology, processes, and training.

AI-Powered Incident Response

Darktrace helps my security team save resources and upskill staff using AI to generate bespoke playbooks and run realistic simulations. Its real-time understanding of our business ensures incident preparedness and incident response are tailored to not only the specific threat in question, but also to the contextual infrastructure of the organization.  

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About the author
Jamie Woodland
Head of Technology at Community Housing Limited

Blog

Email

Beyond DMARC: Navigating the Gaps in Email Security

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29
Feb 2024

Email threat landscape  

Email has consistently ranked among the most targeted attack vectors, given its ubiquity and criticality to business operations. From September to December 2023, 10.4 million phishing emails were detected across Darktrace’s customer fleet demonstrating the frequency of attempted email-based attacks.

Businesses are searching for ways to harden their email security posture alongside email providers who are aiming to reduce malicious emails traversing their infrastructure, affecting their clients. Domain-based Message Authentication (DMARC) is a useful industry-wide protocol organizations can leverage to move towards these goals.  

What is DMARC?

DMARC is an email authentication protocol designed to enhance the security of email communication.

Major email service providers Google and Yahoo recently made the protocol mandatory for bulk senders in an effort to make inboxes safer worldwide. The new requirements demonstrate an increasing need for a standardized solution as misconfigured or nonexistent authentication systems continue to allow threat actors to evade detection and leverage the legitimate reputation of third parties.  

DMARC is a powerful tool that allows email administrators to confidently identify and stop certain spoofed emails; however, more organizations must implement the standard for it to reach its full potential. The success and effectiveness of DMARC is dependent on broad adoption of the standard – by organizations of all sizes.  

How does DMARC work?

DMARC builds on two key authentication technologies, Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) and helps to significantly improve their ability to prevent domain spoofing. SPF verifies that a sender’s IP address is authorized to send emails on behalf of a particular domain and DKIM ensures integrity of email content by providing a verifiable digital signature.  

DMARC adds to this by allowing domain owners to publish policies that set expectations for how SPF and DKIM verification checks relate to email addresses presented to users and whose authenticity the receiving mail server is looking to establish.  

These policies work in tandem to help authenticate email senders by verifying the emails are from the domain they say they are, working to prevent domain spoofing attacks. Key benefits of DMARC include:

  1. Phishing protection DMARC protects against direct domain spoofing in which a threat actor impersonates a legitimate domain, a common phishing technique threat actors use to trick employees to obtain sensitive information such as privileged credentials, bank information, etc.  
  2. Improving brand reputation: As DMARC helps to prevent impersonation of domains, it stands to maintain and increase an organization’s brand reputation. Additionally, as organizational reputation improves, so will the deliverability of emails.
  3. Increased visibility: DMARC provides enhanced visibility into email communication channels, including reports of all emails sent on behalf of your domain. This allows security teams to identify shadow-IT and any unauthorized parties using their domain.

Understanding DMARC’s Limitations

DMARC is often positioned as a way for organizations to ‘solve’ their email security problems, however, 65% of the phishing emails observed by Darktrace successfully passed DMARC verification, indicating that a significant number of threat actors are capable of manipulating email security and authentication systems in their exploits. While DMARC is a valuable tool in the fight against email-based attacks, the evolving threat landscape demands a closer look at its limitations.  

As threat actors continue to innovate, improving their stealth and evasion tactics, the number of attacks with valid DMARC authentication will only continue to increase in volume and sophistication. These can include:

  1. Phishing attacks that leverage non-spoofed domains: DMARC allows an organization to protect the domains that they own, preventing threat actors from being able to send phishing emails from their domains. However, threat actors will often create and use ‘look-a-like’ domains that closely resemble an organization’s domain to dupe users. 3% of the phishing emails identified by Darktrace utilized newly created domains, demonstrating shifting tactics.  
  2. Email Account Takeovers: If a threat actor gains access to a user’s email account through other social engineering means such as credential stuffing, they can then send phishing emails from the legitimate domain to pursue further attacks. Even though these emails are malicious, DMARC would not identify them as such because they are coming from an authorized domain or sender.  

Organizations must also ensure their inbound analysis of emails is not skewed by successful DMARC authentication. Security teams cannot inherently trust emails that pass DMARC, because the source cannot always be legitimized, like in the event of an account takeover. If a threat actor gains access to an authenticated email account, emails sent by the threat actor from that account will pass DMARC – however the contents of that email may be malicious. Sender behavior must be continuously evaluated and vetted in real time as past communication history and validated DMARC cannot be solely relied upon amid an ever-changing threat landscape.  

Security teams should lean on other security measures, such as anomaly detection tools that can identify suspicious emails without relying on historical attack rules and static data. While DMARC is not a silver bullet for email security, it is nevertheless foundational in helping organizations protect their brand identity and must be viewed as an essential layer in an organization's overall cyber security strategy.  

Implementing DMARC

Despite the criticality of DMARC for preserving brand reputation and trust, adoption of the standard has been inconsistent. DMARC can be complex to implement with many organizations lacking the time required to understand and successfully implement the standard. Because of this, DMARC set-up is often outsourced, giving security and infrastructure teams little to no visibility into or control of the process.  

Implementation of DMARC is only the start of this process, as DMARC reports must be consistently monitored to ensure organizations have visibility into who is sending mail from their domain, the volume of mail being sent and whether the mail is passing authentication protocols. This process can be time consuming for security teams who are already faced with mounting responsibilities, tight budgets, and personnel shortages. These complexities unfortunately delay organizations from using DMARC – especially as many today still view it as a ‘nice to have’ rather than an essential.  

With the potential complexities of the DMARC implementation process, there are many ways security and infrastructure teams can still successfully roll out the standard. Initial implementation should start with monitoring, policy adjustment and then enforcement. As business changes over time, DMARC should be reviewed regularly to ensure ongoing protection and maintain domain reputation.

The Future of Email Security

As email-based attacks continue to rise, the industry must recognize the importance of driving adoption of foundational email authentication protocols. To do this, a new and innovative approach to DMARC is needed. DMARC products must evolve to better support organizations throughout the ongoing DMARC monitoring process, rather than just initial implementation. These products must also be able to share intelligence across an organization’s security stack, extending beyond email security tools. Integration across these products and tools will help organizations optimize their posture, ensuring deep understanding of their domain and increased visibility across the entire enterprise.

DMARC is critical in protecting brand identity and mitigating exact-domain based attacks. However, organizations must understand DMARC’s unique benefits and limitations to ensure their inboxes are fully protected. In today’s evolving threat landscape, organizations require a robust, multi-layered approach to stop email threats – in inbound mail and beyond. Email threats have evolved – its time security does too.

Join Darktrace on 9 April for a virtual event to explore the latest innovations needed to get ahead of the rapidly evolving threat landscape. Register today to hear more about our latest innovations coming to Darktrace’s offerings. For additional insights check out Darktrace’s 2023 End of Year Threat Report.

Credit to Carlos Gray and Stephen Pickman for their contribution to this blog

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About the author
Carlos Gray
Product Manager

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