What are Cyber Security False Positives & How To Prevent Them

Imagine you've alerted your IT team to a critical infrastructure error plaguing your network. You ask them to drop their current work and focus on immediate remediation of this detected vulnerability. After further investigation, however, it is found to be a false positive. 

Unfortunately, these incidents are commonplace – and they cost your organization valuable time and manpower. More worrying, they distract from legitimate security issues.

Clearly, this frustrating and critical issue must be addressed. Let’s look at some ways you can narrow your team’s focus so they can identify and respond to the threats that matter most.  

What is a false positive in cyber security?

Your security team is charged with responding to alerts from multiple systems – endpoint solutions, network intrusion and prevention appliances, firewalls, switches, and more. You may even have a security information and event management (SIEM) tool to help aggregate and analyze these various alerts. 

But it’s not uncommon for some of these alerts to be false positives or false alarms: sometimes, they indicate a vulnerability or threat where none exists. 

It’s akin to when a jogger runs past your house and triggers your Ring doorbell.  It happens so often that alert fatigue sets in, and you ignore the alarm. The same is true in the security operations center (SOC). Perhaps that’s why a study by ESG found that 44% of alerts go uninvestigated by security analysts.  

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How to eliminate the risk of false positives

What can your organization do to cut through the noise, focus on the real threats, and respond to the alerts that matter? One way to reduce false positives is to fine-tune the default rules in your SIEM or monitoring systems, but this comes at the risk of missing actual incidents.

A better way to address the challenge of false positives is to gain a holistic view of where risk is hidden in your digital ecosystem so that you can take proactive, not reactive, steps to cyber risk remediation.

With BitSight for Security Performance Management (SPM), for instance, you can visualize your entire security program – on-premises, in the cloud, across geographies, business units, and remote networks – to gain a clearer understanding of how secure your organization is.  

Through continuous analysis, SPM can help you identify gaps in security controls and hidden cyber threats, such as misconfigurations, vulnerabilities, unpatched systems, and other risk factors that bad actors can exploit. If a vulnerability exists, BitSight will identify it and classify the associated risk. For example, SPM ranks areas of critical or disproportionate risk so that you can make educated, confident, data-driven decisions about where to focus your resources.

SPM also layers in information about the geographic location of the impacted asset, so you don’t have to guess where risk lies. With BitSight’s dashboard and map-based view, your security analysts can determine the precise location of a vulnerable asset, such as a misconfigured AWS instance in Germany or a business unit with digital assets that deviate from security policy, and quickly move to remediate that risk. They can also prioritize remediation efforts by ranking the importance of assets by cloud provider.

With this much-needed context, you can effectively and expeditiously eliminate the risk posed by false positives and alert fatigue.

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Data-driven threat detection that benefits everyone

A major advantage that SPM has over other data sets and monitoring methodologies is that it leverages the BitSight Security Ratings platform.

Security ratings provide a baseline metric of your organization’s cyber security performance. These daily ratings, ranging from 250 to 900, are derived from objective, verifiable information. BitSight Security Ratings are also accurate, significantly reducing the chances of false positives.

Security ratings consider things like historical security performance and performance change over time. If there’s a significant change in your organization’s ratings, BitSight will generate a trustworthy alert and provide actionable information about risk mitigation. No guesswork is required.

Notably, security ratings have become a broadly adopted key performance indicator (KPI) of an organization’s overall security performance. Instead of monitoring disparate systems for alerts and incidents, they provide a common frame of reference that everyone from security analysts to board members can use to quantify risk and develop improvement plans.

It’s time to eliminate the noise and risks of false positives

Most security programs are both preventative and reactive. Organizations build defenses and processes for reacting to an alert that something is wrong. But with an abundance of false positives – many of which are ignored – hidden cyber risk can go unchecked.

That’s why your organization needs a proactive, data-driven approach to risk reduction. With broad and continuous visibility into your organization’s digital footprint and accurate data you can trust, you’ll gain a clearer understanding of unknown risk and confidence that you are allocating your limited resources where they can lead to the biggest ROI.