Security Orchestration, Automation, and Response (SOAR)

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

Security Orchestration, Automation, and Response (SOAR) refers to a system of integrated, compatible software solutions that allows an organization to automate cybersecurity data collection and incident response, improving the efficiency of its security operations in the process. 

In many ways, SOAR represents an evolution of Security Information and Event Management (SIEM). It incorporates event logs and data from third-party sources, including external threat intelligence, endpoint security solutions, vulnerability scanners, behavioral analytics, and intrusion detection. It also leverages analytics to provide security teams with defined investigation paths alongside curated alerts, allowing for a more efficient and fine-tuned response to cyber incidents. 

Components of SOAR

As the name suggests, SOAR consists of three main components. 

1. Security Orchestration

Orchestration is all about connecting and integrating the various tools in your ecosystem, both internal and external. This is typically achieved via built-in integration capabilities, custom-built integrations, or application programming interfaces (APIs). The core purpose of orchestration is to consolidate the alerts and data generated by each solution into a single stream.

2. Security Automation

Security automation is where SOAR truly sets itself apart. Typically, ingesting and analyzing the immense volume of data generated by security orchestration would require extensive manual analysis. However, by leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning, a SOAR solution takes the bulk of that work out of human hands. 

By leveraging playbooks—essentially, collections of predefined processes, responses, and procedures—SOAR can automate many tasks, including log analysis, alert prioritization, user access management, and threat detection.

3. Security Response

Orchestration and automation form the foundation of the third pillar of SOAR—response. This is where the human element of a SOAR platform comes into play. Analysts can plan, manage, and coordinate their organization’s responses to security threats through a consolidated, single-view dashboard. This includes the reporting, review, case management, and intelligence-sharing processes that typically occur once an incident has been resolved. 

Benefits of SOAR

The key benefits of SOAR include the following: 

  • Faster, more effective incident detection, management, and response
  • Better, more accurate threat information
  • Reduced complexity and overhead
  • Freeing human analysts from manual busywork and low-level threats, allowing them to accomplish more
  • Scalability through automation
  • Streamlined security operations through standardized playbooks
  • Centralized, simplified management of threat data
  • Improved collaboration between IT teams
  • Easier post-incident information sharing and reporting
  • Organization-wide, real-time visibility

SOAR Capabilities

Gartner established the term SOAR in 2015. At the time, it stood for Security Operations, Analytics, and Reporting. The analyst has since updated it to its current definition while also establishing that a SOAR solution must: 

Support the remediation of vulnerabilities and provide formalized workflow, reporting, and collaboration capabilities. Incorporate security incident response platforms with capabilities that include vulnerability management, workflows, incident management, case management, audit and logging capabilities, and reporting

Support how an organization plans, manages, tracks, and coordinates its response to security incidents. Incorporate security orchestration and automation, including workflow automation, integrations, playbooks and playbook management, data gathering, log analysis, and account lifecycle management

Support the automation and orchestration of workflows, processes, policy execution, and reporting. Incorporate threat intelligence platforms, which include aggregation, analysis, distribution, visualization, and context enrichment

SOAR Use Cases

The potential use cases for SOAR are vast. Because SOAR solutions typically integrate a wide selection of different platforms, so they can feasibly accomplish anything those tools could. With that said, there are a few use cases relatively unique to SOAR worth mentioning: 

  • Coordinating threat intelligence across a sprawling threat landscape
  • Streamlining case management
  • Vulnerability management, detection, and mitigation
  • Automated risk management and remediation
  • Proactive threat hunting
  • Coordinating and prioritizing alerts
  • Certificate management
  • Advanced malware detection and analysis

SOAR is, in many ways, an evolution of SIEM, and the two share a great deal in common. Both are designed to collect and aggregate data from multiple sources, and both aim to enable a more effective, streamlined incident response process. Some people have even started using the two terms interchangeably. 

Muddying the water even further is the fact that some vendors have begun to incorporate SOAR-like capabilities into their solutions. This is not strictly isolated to SIEM vendors, either. Multiple security solutions, including Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) and Extended Detection and Response (XDR), are embracing SOAR. 

Despite these trends, it’s important to understand how SIEM and SOAR differ from one another—because they do, and in some critically important ways.

First and foremost is the scope of collected data. While a SIEM solution will gather intelligence from various internal sources, SOAR tools take things a step further. They incorporate multiple external and third-party sources and typically feature more real-time information in their data gathering.  

Businesses large and small contend with a growing number of devices, each adding to attack surfaces. At the same time, most enterprises face a cybersecurity skill gap and resources shortages. Cybersecurity staffing is particularly troublesome for small and mid-sized businesses.

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