Author Archives: Amber Wolff

Are Cybersecurity Robots Coming For Your Job?

“14 Jobs That Will Soon Be Obsolete.” “Can A Robot Do Your Job?” “These Seven Careers Will Fall Victim to Automation.” For each incremental advance in automation technology, it seems there’s an accompanying piece of alarmist clickbait, warning of a future in which robots will be able to do everything we can, only better, cheaper, and for longer. Proponents of AI and automation view this as the harbinger of a golden age, ushering in a future free from all the paper-pushing, the drudgery, the mundane and repetitive things we have to do in our lives. We will work shorter hours, focus on more meaningful work, and actually spend our leisure time on, well, leisure.

But while it’s one thing to enjoy having a robot zipping across the floor picking up your 3-year-old’s wayward Cheerios, it’s quite another to imagine automation coming to our workplace. For those of us in cybersecurity, however, it has become a foregone conclusion: Now that criminals have begun adopting automation and AI as part of their attack strategies, it’s become something of an arms race, with businesses and individuals racing to stay one step ahead of increasingly sophisticated bad actors that human analysts will no longer be able to fend off on their own.

Spurred by growth in both the number of companies deploying automation and the sophistication of threats, automated processes are closing in on and even surpassing human analysts in some tasks—which is making some cybersecurity professionals uneasy. “When robots are better threat hunters, will there still be a place for me? What if someday, they can do everything I can do, and more?”

According to the “2019 SANS Automation and Integration Survey,” however, human-powered SecOps aren’t going away anytime soon. “Automation doesn’t appear to negatively affect staffing,” the authors concluded, after surveying more than 200 cybersecurity professionals from companies of all sizes over a wide cross-section of industries. What they found, in fact, suggested the opposite: Companies with medium or greater levels of automation actually have higher staffing levels than companies with little automation. When asked directly about whether they anticipated job elimination due to automation, most of those surveyed said they felt there would be no change in staffing levels. “Respondents do not appear concerned about automation taking away jobs,” the paper concludes.

There are many reasons for this, but perhaps the most basic is that, in order to see any sort of loss in the number of cybersecurity jobs, we’d first need to get to parity—and we’re currently about 3 million short of that.

Phrased another way, automation could theoretically eliminate three million jobs before a single analyst had to contemplate a career change. That’s an oversimplification, to be sure, but it’s also one that presupposes AI and automation will live up to all of its promises—and as we’ve seen with a number of “revolutionary” cybersecurity technologies, many fall short of the hype, at least in the early days.

Automation currently faces some fundamental shortcomings. First, it cannot deploy itself: Experts are needed to tailor the solution to the business’ needs and ensure it is set up and functioning correctly. And once they’re in place, the systems cannot reliably cover all the security needs of an enterprise—due to a lack of human judgment, automated systems surface a great many false positives, and failing to put an analyst in charge of filtering and investigating these these would create a huge burden on the IT staff responsible for remediation.

There’s also the issue of false negatives. AI is great at spotting what it’s programmed to spot; it is vastly more unreliable at catching threats it hasn’t been specifically instructed to look for. Machine learning is beginning to overcome this hurdle, but the operative word here is still “machine”—when significant threats are surfaced, the AI has no way of knowing what this means for the business it’s working for, as it lacks both the context to fully realize what a threat means to its parent company, and the ability to take into consideration everything a person would. Humans will still be needed at the helm to analyze risks and potential breaches, and make intuition-driven, business-critical decisions.

As effective as these automated systems are, once they’ve been programmed, their education begins to become obsolete almost immediately as new types of attack are created and deployed. Automated systems cannot continue to learn and evolve effectively without the guiding hand of humans. Humans are also needed as a check on this learning, to test and attempt to penetrate the defenses the system has developed.

Then there are the things that can never be automated: hiring and training people; selecting vendors; any task that requires creativity or “thinking outside the box”; making presentations and eliciting buy-in from the board of directors and upper management—and, of course, compliance. No automated system, no matter how sophisticated, is going to know when new laws, company regulations, and rules are passed, and no system will be able to adjust to such changes without human intervention. Even if the work of compliance could be completely automated, the responsibility for compliance cannot be outsourced, and rare would be the individual who could sleep easy letting a machine handle such tasks singlehandedly.

But for the sake of argument, let’s assume for a moment we could fully automate the SOC. While the loss of jobs is certainly a serious matter, we’d soon find the stakes to be much higher than even that. Hackers have already demonstrated an ability to hack into automated systems. If they were able to retrain your AI to ignore critical threats, and there was no human present to realize what was happening and respond swiftly and appropriately, sensitive data could be compromised enterprise-wide—or worse.

In short, automation won’t eliminate the demand for human cybersecurity expertise, at least in the short- to medium-term. But it will certainly redefine roles. According to SANS, implementation of effective automation often requires an initial surge in staff to get the kinks worked out—but it is almost invariably accompanied by a redirection, not reduction, of the existing workforce. Once in place, the automated systems will have two functions. By allowing analysts to shift their focus to more critical cybersecurity functions, improving efficiency, reducing incident response time, and reducing fatigue, they function as a tool for cybersecurity professionals to increase their effectiveness.

But their most valuable role may be as a partner. Automation may be powerful, but automation closely directed and honed by humans is more powerful. Rather than taking the place of humans, robots will take their place alongside humans. Automation, then, should be thought of as a way not to replace SecOps teams, but rather to complement and complete them in a way that will allow them to handle both the monotonous and mundane (yet necessary) tasks in the SOC, and also attend to the true mission-critical tasks rapidly and without distraction.

For more on misconceptions surrounding automation, read the 2019 SANS Automation Survey

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Analyst Fatigue: The Best Never Rest

They may not be saying so, but your senior analysts are exhausted.

Each day, more and more devices connect to their enterprise networks, creating an ever-growing avenue for OS exploits and phishing attacks. Meanwhile, the number of threats—some of which are powerful enough to hobble entire cities—is rising even faster.

While most companies have a capable cadre of junior analysts, most of today’s EDR (Endpoint Detection and Response) systems leave them hamstrung. The startlingly complex nature of typical EDR software necessitates years of experience to successfully operate—meaning that no matter how willing the more “green” analysts are to help, they just don’t yet have the necessary skillset to effectively triage threats.

What’s worse, while these “solutions” require your top performers, they don’t always offer top performance in return. While your most experienced analysts should be addressing major threats, a lot of times they’re stuck wading through a panoply of false positives—issues that either aren’t threats, or aren’t worth investigating. And while they’re tied up with that, they must also confront the instances of false negatives: threats that slip through the cracks, potentially avoiding detection while those best suited to address them are busy attempting to work through the noise. This problem has gotten so bad that some IT departments are deploying MDR systems on top of their EDR packages—increasing the complexity of your company’s endpoint protection and further increasing employee stress levels.

Hoping to both measure the true impact of “analyst fatigue” on SOCs and to identify possible solutions, a commissioned study was conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of McAfee in March 2019 to see what effects current EDRs were having on businesses, and try to recognize the potential for solutions. Forrester surveyed security technology decision-makers, from the managers facing threats head-on to those in the C-suite viewing security solutions at the macro level in relation to his or her firm’s financial needs and level of risk tolerance. Respondents were from the US, UK, Germany or France, and worked in a variety of industries at companies ranging in size from 1,000 to over 50,000 employees.

When asked about their endpoint security goals, respondents’ top three answers—to improve security detection capabilities (87%), increase efficiency in the SOC (76%) and close the skills gap in the SecOps team (72%)—all pointed to limitations in many current EDRs.  Further inquiry revealed that while 43% of security decision makers consider automated detection a critical requirement, only 30% feel their current solution(s) completely meet their needs in this area.

While the issues uncovered were myriad, the results also suggested that a single solution could ameliorate a variety of these problems.  The introduction of EDR programs incorporating Guided Investigation could increase efficiency by allowing junior analysts to assist in threat identification, thereby freeing up more seasoned analysts to address detected threats and focus on only the most complex issues, leading to an increase in detection capabilities. Meanwhile, the hands-on experience that junior analysts would get addressing real-life EDR threats would increase both their personal efficiency and their skill level, helping to eliminate the skills gaps present in some departments.

To learn more about the problems and possibilities in the current EDR landscape, you can read the full “Empower Security Analysts Through Guided EDR Investigation” study by clicking here.

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Chris Young and Ken McCray Recognized on CRN’s 2019 Top 100 Executives List

CRN, a brand of The Channel Company, recently recognized McAfee CEO Chris Young and Head of Channel Sales Operations for the Americas Ken McCray in its list of Top 100 Executives of 2019. This annual list honors technology executives who lead, influence, innovate and disrupt the IT channel.

Over the past year, Young led McAfee into the EDR space, directed the introduction of McAfee’s cloud and unified data protection offerings, and forged a partnership with Samsung to safeguard the Galaxy S10 mobile device. According to CRN, these accomplishments earned Young the number-three spot in CRN’s list of 25 Most Innovative Executives—a subset of the Top 100 list that recognizes executives “who are always two steps ahead of the competition.” Young is no stranger to the Top 100 Executives list: He also earned a place on last year’s list, when his post-spinout acquisitions led to him being named one of the Top 25 Disruptors of 2018.

Based on his work overseeing the launch of McAfee’s alternative route to market channel initiative, Ken McCray was also recognized as one of this year’s Top 100 Executives. The initiative, which has driven incremental bookings as Managed Security Partners and cloud service providers bring new customers on board, earned McCray a spot on the Top 25 IT Channel Sales Leaders of 2019. This has been an accolade-filled year for McCray: In February, he was named one of the 50 Most Influential Channel Chiefs for 2019, based on his division’s double-digit growth and the relationships he built with key cloud service providers.

The Top 100 Executives being recognized drive cultural transformation, revenue growth, and technological innovation across the IT channel. In doing so, they help solution providers and technology suppliers survive—and thrive—in today’s always-on, always-connected global marketplace.

“The IT channel is rapidly growing, and navigating this fast-paced market often challenges solution providers and technology suppliers alike,” said Bob Skelley, CEO of The Channel Company. “The technology executives on CRN’s 2019 Top 100 Executives list understand the IT channel’s potential. They provide strategic and visionary leadership and unparalleled guidance to keep the IT channel moving in the right direction—regardless of the challenges that come their way.”

We at McAfee are proud of the recognition Young and McCray have received, and look forward to seeing our company continue to thrive under their leadership.

The Top 100 Executives list is featured in the August 2019 issue of CRN Magazine and online at www.CRN.com/Top100.

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