Taming the Alert Tsunami: Overcoming Alert Deafness in Cybersecurity
07 November 2023

In today’s fast-paced world of software development and cybersecurity, the constant barrage of notifications and alerts has become a major issue for developers and security teams.

With the exponential increase in data being processed by organisations, a surge in errors, failures, and vulnerabilities is inevitable. According to the International Data Corporation, developers receive over 500 notifications per day, creating a chaotic and unmanageable environment. This overwhelming influx of alerts has led to what’s known as “alert deafness,” where roughly 30% of crucial alerts go unnoticed, not out of ignorance but due to sheer exhaustion.

In this blog post, we will explore the reasons behind alert deafness, its impact on application development, and what steps can be taken to mitigate this growing problem.

The End of ‘Unavailable’

In the age of remote work, there is an increasing expectation of constant vigilance from development teams. Employee monitoring software is used by 60% of companies, creating a fear that setting your status to “unavailable” or “busy” may raise suspicion. With the rise of cyberattacks in 2022, companies, especially “always-on” services, are feeling the pressure to work more and react faster. However, creating a culture of 24-hour urgency through alert overload is neither attainable nor productive.

Alert deafness takes a toll on developers’ productivity and well-being. A 2021 article in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease linked cognitive decline to long working hours, highlighting the importance of managing alert fatigue. Developers have a multitude of other tasks to attend to, and the constant onslaught of alerts can easily lead to burnout.

When Everything is Urgent, Nothing is

The consequences of developer burnout extend beyond employee satisfaction. If developers were to respond to every ping, development velocity and efficiency would plummet. This issue is further amplified for teams using multiple security tools. The 2023 Cloud Security Report by Check Point found that 17% of respondents using 1-3 security tools felt overwhelmed by alerts, and this percentage increased to 40% for those using 4-6 security tools.

To combat this problem, it’s essential to differentiate between critical alerts that require immediate human attention and less urgent incidents. Implementing a hierarchical alarm system, as suggested in the book “Site Reliability Engineering: How Google Runs Production Systems,” can help categorise alerts as “alerts,” “tickets,” or “logs.” This approach streamlines the handling of different types of notifications.

Evolving Complexity Requires Evolving Resilience

The landscape of cybersecurity threats is continually evolving, making it unlikely that we’ll see a decline in malicious activity anytime soon. As the complexity of operations and applications evolves, so should your security prioritisation. What was once a critical alert may now be a lower-priority ticket or log as your operations advance.

To gain control over the tsunami of alerts, data becomes invaluable. A centralised alert system can help identify patterns, aggregate related alerts, and measure the time security teams spend on remediation. This data allows for a better understanding of the context behind alerts and enables the creation of defined threat response strategies based on priority.

Don’t Silence the Alerts – Refine Them

Here are several effective methods to regain control over the flood of alerts:

  1. Prioritise Prioritisation: Clearly define what constitutes a critical alert, who will handle it, and its impact on the supply chain. Alerts should only be triggered when immediate action is required.
  2. Filter the Notifications: Organise alerts by using different channels, color-coding projects, using email filters, tags, and understanding each alert’s priority level, timeframe, and remediation strategy.
  3. Define Ownership: Distribute responsibility between security, IT, and DevOps teams, clearly defining who is responsible for checking and reacting to alerts.
  4. Invest in Training and Awareness: Implement clear processes, standardisation, and periodic assessments to raise awareness of alert fatigue among stakeholders.
  5. Invest in the Right Security Tools: Utilize automation, AI, and ML to consolidate security tools and avoid alert duplication. Choose tools that provide accurate analysis and actionable intelligence, reducing the reliance on manual intervention.

Ultimately, while it’s impossible to eliminate security alerts entirely, it is possible to significantly reduce their volume and enhance their effectiveness. By addressing the issue of alert deafness in application development, organisations can improve productivity, resource allocation, and development velocity.

The key is to prioritise alerts, refine their handling, and invest in the right security tools to create a more manageable and efficient security alert system. With the right approach, organisations can navigate the complex world of cybersecurity with greater confidence and resilience.

Check Point CloudGuard’s CNAPP unifies cloud security, merging deeper security insights to prioritize risks and prevent critical attacks – providing more context, actionable security and smarter prevention. With Check Point CloudGuard’s Effective Risk Management engine, you can prioritize risks and receive actionable remediation guidance, enabling you to focus on the most crucial 1% of risks.

Post by: DGITUser
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