Cybersecurity Alert Fatigue

Cybersecurity Alert Fatigue

What It Is, Why It's a Problem, and the Challenge of Combating it

Cyber attacks grow more relentless and sophisticated each year. To defend themselves against threats, organizations typically turn to additional tools for strengthening their security programs and protecting their attack surface.

While tools can enhance protection and visibility, they also, in turn, generate a massive volume of events and alerts. And therein lies the problem.

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When faced with a deluge of potential attacks, security analysts can quickly become overwhelmed. In fact, many attacks succeed not because a tool failed to raise an alert, but because the alert was missed or ignored by an analyst.

What is Alert Fatigue?

When analysts receive an overwhelming number of alerts from cybersecurity tools and are tasked with spending time reviewing and responding to each one, it can create an environment where it is impossible to distinguish important alerts from the unimportant ones.

Common tools that can trigger additional alerts and contribute to alert fatigue include: but are not limited to

Firewall Icon

Firewalls

Endpoint Security

Endpoint Security

Cloud Security Icon

Cloud Security

This operating environment of all noise and no signal is known as “cybersecurity alert fatigue,” and it has real costs for the professionals and businesses impacted by it.

Alert Fatigue

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A state experienced by security professionals exposed to a high volume of alerts in a brief period, resulting in decreased effectiveness and detection of legitimate threats.

Why Alert Fatigue is a Problem

Alert fatigue is not just an overwhelming annoyance, it can be a major risk for your entire organization. Alert fatigue has real, quantifiable impacts on an organization’s finances, staffing, and security.
Climbing Alerts, Climbing Costs
Depending on your industry and the size of your organization, your daily alert count can climb into the tens or even hundreds of thousands. Each of these alerts has the potential to represent a real threat, but the sheer fire-hose volume of them can quickly overwhelm a security team.
According to IBM’s 2021 Cost of a Data Breach Report, the average cost of a data breach in the US reached $9.05 million in 2021.
THIS MEANS:
Organizations cannot afford to ignore a single alert. Yet, when a security team is impacted by alert fatigue, more than a quarter of alerts get ignored — every week.
Number of alerts received by the average security operations team each day
Number of alerts received by the average security operations team each day
Percentage of IT Teams that admit to ignoring many lower priority alerts
Percentage of IT Teams that admit to ignoring many lower priority alerts.

The Challenges of Staffing

Staffing a cybersecurity team is an expensive (and ongoing) undertaking for any organization.
It can be difficult to secure enough budget to cover adequate headcount, to say nothing of the challenge in attracting and retaining scarce, sought-after cybersecurity talent.

When these hard-won analysts spend substantial amounts of time reviewing and responding to the deluge of alerts they are being kept from the high-value tasks and strategic initiatives you really need them for.

THIS MEANS:
Your organization ends up paying top-dollar talent to complete low-skill tasks.
More than 25 percent of false positive security alerts fielded by organizations
Percent of security alerts fielded by organizations that are false positives
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Hours per week the average security analyst spends responding to false positive alerts
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Average median hourly wage for an information security analyst in 2020
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Yearly cost of false positive alerts per analyst

Threats & Concerns

Analyst Burnout
The constant need for alert triage is menial, mundane, and exhausting. Attackers don’t keep business hours, which makes reviewing and responding to alerts a 24×7 task—requiring a large team of analysts to provide round-the-clock coverage.

Constant alert triage takes your team away from the challenging, meaningful work that drew them to the field in the first place.

THIS MEANS:
Security professionals can end up feeling drained and unsatisfied in their roles, leading them to seek out more well-resourced organizations that provide hands-on opportunities with new and emerging technologies, and have a defined career growth trajectory.
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Dive Deeper: Hear from Arctic Wolf's CISO
The threat within: We need to talk about mental health in cybersecurity
With fears of a ‘Great Burnout’ to follow the ‘Great Resignation,’ leaders across all industries are grappling with the question of, ‘how do I keep the talent I have?’ This is in addition to filling the innumerable open positions in their organizations. Unfortunately, in the cybersecurity world, the ‘Great Burnout’ is already well underway, and it’s on leaders to address it head-on.
Adam Marrè
Vice President, Chief Information Security Officer, Arctic Wolf
Staff Turnaround is Costly
Considering that training an analyst properly is a process that often takes the better part of a year, and that the average analyst changes jobs every two years3, there is a direct—and costly—correlation between alert fatigue and staff attrition.
Percentage of security professionals who claim they are experiencing burnout
Percentage of security professionals who claim they are experiencing burnout
Alert fatigue impedes not only an organization’s ability to identify the real alerts from the false ones, but also its ability to rapidly react to actual breaches.
THIS MEANS:
When alert fatigue sets in, incidents are improperly investigated or outright ignored, creating a dangerous precedent in your organization that some alerts don’t need to be reviewed.
Numbed by the Noise
Being slow to respond to—or outright ignoring—cyber alerts can open the door to attackers, allowing them to conduct a wide range of malicious activity from deploying malware to encrypting your files with ransomware, leading to costly, damaging data breaches.
Percentage of IT teams that report manual processes slow down their alert triage
Percentage of IT teams that report manual processes slow down their alert triage
70% of those surveyed rank ransomware as their top security threat concern entering 2022
Percentage of organizations who reported a doubling in their alerts since 2015
Average days elapsed between an attack incident and its detection
Average days elapsed between an attack incident and its detection

Numbed by the Noise

Many of the most high-profile data breaches occurred not because the security tool failed to create an alert, but because the alert was not thoroughly investigated. Take the recent ransomware attack on HSE Ireland, the country’s public-funded healthcare system:

“There were several detections of the attacker’s activity … but these did not result in a cybersecurity incident and investigation initiated by the HSE and as a result opportunities to prevent the successful detonation of the ransomware were missed.”

Independent Post Incident Review
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Percentage of breaches that take months or even years to detect.

Percentage of breaches that take months or even years to detect