Secure Your SaaS with Automated Security Workflows

For startups relying heavily on cloud services and third party tools, solutions like ThreatKey that provide prebuilt automated security workflows can be a huge help.

How Automated Security Workflows Can Secure Your Cloud SaaS Business

MetaDescription: Automated security workflows help your security team be more productive and make fewer mistakes. Plus, it helps standardize best practices for security. 

Manual processes are the bane of understaffed security teams. They often require communicating with other departments, asking for information, suggesting corrective steps, and following up on action items. Lack of cooperation, busy employees, different priorities, clashing engineering opinions, and other such organizational problems can all become blockers that compromise your company’s security. 

Automated security workflows are a much better approach, bringing an impressive set of security and organizational benefits, which underfunded and short-staffed security teams can particularly benefit from. In this article, we help you understand automated security workflows, their benefits, their uses in different security areas, a set of best practices for them, and solutions to implement them.

What Are Automated Security Workflows?

In an automated security workflow, a sequence of actions is preset and automatically executed to identify and address cybersecurity threats.

The focus in an automated security workflow is not so much on security automation but the automation of workflow steps and on security orchestration, i.e., coordinating corrective actions by all affected departments and their employees. 

As you automate your security workflow, the interactions between the system, employees, and the user experiences takes precedence over backend security automation concerns. After all, the effectiveness of a security policy depends on their participation and cooperation.

Automated security workflow capabilities are generally offered by the category of security tools called Security Orchestration, Automation, and Response (SOAR) solutions.

Sample Automated Security Workflow

To give you a better idea of how it can work, let’s take a look at an example of an automated security workflow. Let’s say your company uses Google Drive for creating, storing, and sharing dozens of new documents everyday. 

Ideally, every document’s permissions should be set tightly based on the principle of least privilege. However, enforcing security policies on each document manually is impractical and inefficient for any security team.

Instead, you can set up an automated workflow that scans all documents every few hours and enforces permission policies. Here’s how it could work:

  • Workflow 1: When a policy violation is detected on a Google Doc, the workflow gives the document owner a gentle reminder over Slack about the risks of poor permissions.
  • Workflow 2: If an employee needs to allow an outsider to access a document, they simply type a special keyword on Slack and provide document details. 
  • The resulting workflow changes permissions for a period of time and automatically reverts it later.
  • Workflow 3: A third automated workflow, responsible for incident management, monitors your intrusion detection system (IDS).
  • When the IDS detects a suspicious attempt to access a document from outside, the workflow automatically creates an incident report.
  • The workflow automatically pulls in threat intelligence for that IP address and assigns the incident to one of your security analysts for corrective steps.

Top 7 Automated Security Workflow Benefits

It's no secret that founders and management often treat security as an afterthought. The focus (and funding) goes to the venture's core offerings, not in security.

However, not prioritizing security comes at a cost. No customer or VC wants to entrust their data or funds to an insecure venture, no matter how good its offerings are.

These opposing pulls often result in start-ups going through the motions of hiring security teams and giving them business-critical mandates but leaving them underfunded and understaffed. Such teams suffer incredibly stressful times.

Automated security workflows are an effective way of ensuring robust security, even for understaffed teams without much time. Let's take a look at their top benefits:

1. A More Productive Security Team

Time-consuming manual tasks severely limit how much your security team can do each day. Plus, interacting with different security softwares can be tiresome. Automated security workflows let a security analyst streamline tasks across these disparate systems from a single dashboard. Ultimately, that’ll make them more productive.

2. Fewer Mistakes

Overworked security analysts may misdiagnose or entirely miss suspicious events. The more work they’re given, the more likely they are to get tired and make human errors. Automated workflows help free up their time and avoid mistakes.

3. Better Interactions With Stakeholders

Good security requires active cooperation from all stakeholders — developers, operations, and others. Security teams are often seen as slowing product development, and ego clashes between security teams and other stakeholders come up a lot. Automated workflows help to reduce friction and improve the quality of interactions, as they reduce wait times for addressing security issues and difficult conversations between security and other teams.

4. Improve the Overall Security of Your Company

Automated security workflows improve your overall security by providing security capabilities that your security team may currently lack. We'll go into details on this a little later.

5. Instill a Proactive Security Culture Throughout the Company

Those little automated reminders to check S3 bucket permissions, Drive file permissions, or vulnerable library versions may seem trivial, but they help train your developers and operations people to have safer practices. Interacting with the security subsystem regularly teaches them security best practices and helps every employee think more about how security fits into their company.

6. Standardize Workflows

Security processes are not left to the whims of individual security analysts. Standardizing repetitive tasks and interactions makes them easier to develop, update, and document over time. 

7. Improve Detection and Response Times

Automation helps improve detection, response, and remediation times. Automated security workflows are a great way to improve metrics like mean times for detection and response (MTTD and MTTR). They enable real-time decision-making on security incidents.

Now that you understand the benefits of automated security workflows, let’s see when and how to use them.

Basic Use Cases for Automated Security Workflows

If you're a new venture, your security operations center (SOC) is probably focusing on just the basics right now — incident management for attacks like phishing and malware, enterprise firewall for network security, a ticketing system for tracking, and communications.

Here are some of the basic use cases for automated security workflows:

Incident Management

Automated workflows for incident management and threat detection improve the effectiveness of remediation and stakeholder participation.

Any employee can use common communications tools like Slack or Discord to notify the security system about a suspicious mail or file or access attempt.

The system acts on it by automatically opening an incident response workflow for a security analyst to review. With a single click, the security analyst can:

  • Initiate an automated workflow that quarantines the suspicious file in a sandboxing service
  • Have its indicators of compromise (IoC) analyzed
  • Learn about its network origins from global databases
  • Automatically update the enterprise and application firewalls' rules to block those network sources
  • Send a thank-you notification to the employee with tips for future occurrences

Ticketing System Integration

A ticketing system receives suspicious incident reports and tracks them from the first report to remediation. A good automated security workflow solution integrates with your ticketing system to update tickets automatically as different stakeholders address tasks in the workflow. The chore of manually updating tickets is taken off your security analysts' shoulders.

Communications and Interactions

A good automated security workflow solution integrates with your company's communication tools like Slack, Discord, or Teams. Employees can use these channels to send special keywords like "/securityalert" with necessary details. The workflow solution monitors these systems and automatically initiates incident response workflows. They should integrate with task assignment solutions like PagerDuty and OpsGenie for carrying out remediation steps.

Advanced Use Cases for Automated Security Workflows

An Automated Workflow from the Shuffle Project (Image courtesy: Shuffle)

Good workflow engines can correlate incidents with other data from your SIEM. They can pull in relevant data from global threat intelligence sources into your incident reports, schedule vulnerability scans on all your systems, recommend actionable remediation steps, and perhaps even automatically execute them.

As your security operations (secops) mature, automated security workflows can help improve advanced cybersecurity capabilities like:

  • Threat intelligence and threat hunting: Proactively search for novel threats that might have escaped standard detection mechanisms 
  • Vulnerability management: Continuously scan for known security vulnerabilities in your software systems and alert your security team
  • Cloud security posture management (CSPM): Regularly check insecure settings on cloud resources
  • Third-party security: Regularly scan for known vulnerabilities and threats that target any third-party services your company uses
  • Endpoint protection: Detect and quarantine malware on your employees’ devices
  • Digital forensics: Automatically collect and correlate data that may help trace the date and origin of a breach
  • Identity lifecycle management: Automatically authorize new employees to your digital properties when they join and automatically remove their authorizations when they leave your company

Empower your security team with actionable intelligence

5 Best Practices for Automated Security Workflows

To get all the benefits of automated security workflows, we recommend the following best practices:

1. Clearly Understand Your Threats

Automated security workflows can be effective only if you know what security threats you should prioritize and address. The workflows should be in sync with your attack surfaces and threat models.

2. Start Gradually, Automate Incrementally

Even the most capable workflow system will have some quirks. Give your security team time to become comfortable with its learning curve by converting playbooks into automated workflows. Ramp up its responsibilities gradually.

3. Make the Workflows Easy to Trigger and Interact With

Frictionless interactions with the security system are the key to obtaining stakeholder buy-in. Whether it's reporting a suspicious incident, requesting temporary access to a cloud resource for downloading logs, or initiating a scan after a build workflow, make them easy for developers and operations people to trigger. Special commands in their regular communication tool should be enough to trigger a workflow.

4. Choose a Solution That Integrates With Your Existing Security Tools

A good automation solution should overcome security software silos, integrate deeply with their APIs, and ship with a large set of plugins. Otherwise, you risk your analysts trying to overcome basic integration barriers instead of focusing on actual security.

5. Document Your Workflows

Your workflows are part of your security organization’s institutional memory. As your company grows from a dozen employees to hundreds, the number and scope of workflows also increase. Document them clearly with well-defined responsibilities and outcomes. Keep them under version control and make them easily searchable. The last thing you want is an analyst deploying the wrong workflow after a critical incident because they got confused by multiple workflows sharing similar names.

ThreatKey’s Cloud and Third-Party Security Workflows

ThreatKey Findings

Many start-ups, especially in the technology sector, are cloud natives. You probably are too.

Your SaaS may rely on storage and database services from cloud providers like AWS. You probably host all your data on S3. Your development teams probably use GitHub Enterprise for software development, your teams likely use Slack for internal communications, and your sales teams might use SalesForce.

With this level of reliance on cloud and third-party services, cloud and third-party security become critical components of your baseline security posture.

In theory, automated security workflows can help out here. But in reality, you probably don't have the expertise or time to write elaborate workflows for these services at this stage.

ThreatKey can help. We provide automated security workflows specifically for cloud integrations. We’ve used our security expertise from working with cloud services like AWS, GitHub, Box, Google Workspace, and Microsoft 365 to understand their security best practices and create automated security workflows. (Many more popular services like SalesForce and Okta are on our integration roadmap.)

Our service continuously scans your cloud integrations for configuration problems. We analyze their logs to detect suspicious incidents. Then, you can configure our service to quickly, automatically remediate any security issues we detect. We’ll share our findings and remediations with your security team through common tools like Slack, PagerDuty, and ServiceNow. 

Complement Your Automated Workflows With ThreatKey

Automated security workflows are a great way for your small security team to implement robust 24x7 security in your startup.

With ThreatKey, you let us take care of cloud and third-party security so your security team can focus on threats unique to your business. Try ThreatKey for free today.

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