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What is Alert Overload in Cybersecurity and How to Reduce It

Alex McConnell
Alex McConnell
12/08/22
4 Minute read
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Article Contents

    Cyberattacks cost businesses trillions of dollars every year in lost productivity, lost business, and legal penalties. So companies try to solve the problem by signing up for as many WAFs, NIDS, and bolt-on bot bundlers as they think they need.

    But while these systems can help stop cyberattacks, they also cause another problem: alert overload. When you receive dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of alerts every day, it’s hard to keep up. 51% of security staff members say they’re ‘drowning’ in alerts. And as the volume of bot traffic increases, alert overload is only going to get worse.

    So, is there a way to protect your network from attackers, while preventing alert overload and alert fatigue? In this article, you’ll learn:

    • What is alert overload?
    • Why alert overload happens
    • The consequences of alert overload
    • How to prevent alert overload.

    What is alert overload?

    Alert overload is what happens when your site security team are inundated with notifications about possible threats to your system, making it near impossible for them to keep up or to identify genuine threats amongst false alarms.

    Why does alert overload happen?

    Most alert overload stems from two problems:

    • Too many systems — if every system alerts you to every possible threat, notifications quickly rise to unmanageable levels
    • Inaccurate detection systems — solutions that can’t accurately identify threats report a high number of false positives.

    Neither of these problems are easy to solve. If you scrap some of your existing security measures, you may leave parts of your network vulnerable to attacks. And how can you be sure that switching to another cybersecurity service will reduce the number of false positive alerts you get?

    To find the right solution, it’s essential to understand the consequences of alert overload, alert fatigue, and false positives.

    Why is alert overload a problem in cybersecurity?

    Alert overload might seem like a trivial issue. But if left unchecked, it can quickly cause major problems like financial loss, high staff turnover, and low productivity.

    • False positives can lead to a loss of revenue, as investigating false alarms are a huge waste of resources. It’s estimated that around 45% of all cybersecurity alerts are false positive but investigating them requires time and money.
    • When experiencing such high volumes of false alarms, security teams could become complacent and inadvertently ignore or react too slowly to a genuine security threat.
    • Alert overload puts security teams under unnecessary stress, leading to high staff turnover, lower productivity and lower morale.

    False positive = loss of revenue

    Alerts that notify you of genuine threats are a necessity. But many systems have a high false positive alert rate, which damages your security efforts. False positives occur when your system incorrectly detects malicious activity on your network and alerts you to investigate.

    45% of all cybersecurity alerts are false positives. That’s high. It’s a huge waste of your resources to have staff investigating problems that don’t actually exist. Plus, it results in excessive site downtime, preventing customers from browsing your site or accessing your services. Three-quarters of companies say they spend at least the same amount of time investigating false positives as actual attacks.

    Unnecessary investigations, site downtime, unreliable systems — all these issues impact your bottom line. So, if your cybersecurity system can’t accurately identify malicious activity, it could be costing you more than you think.

    Cyber fatigue = higher risk of genuine breaches

    Cyber fatigue is like the story of the boy who cried wolf. After seeing so many false positives, will your team react if there’s a genuine threat?

    According to a 2021 TrendMicro report, 49% of security personnel have ignored an alert on the assumption it was a false positive. And 40% say they have ignored alerts entirely to focus on other tasks.

    Ignoring alerts can seriously harm your cybersecurity efforts. Attackers can do real damage if your reactions are slow. Bots act so quickly that they may have stolen thousands or even millions of credentials before you intervene.

    Cyber fatigue also makes it easier for attacks to fly under the radar. If you’re not vigilant about investigating alerts, seemingly innocuous bots can mask malicious attacks. These are easy to miss if dozens of alerts come in at once.

    Poor staff well-being = lower productivity

    Alert overload is stressful and irritating. Constant notifications make it tough for staff to switch off after work, so it’s harder to relax and return refreshed the next morning. 70% of security staff say their work affects their quality of life.

    Alert overload can make staff unwilling or unable to deal with inbound security threats. If they receive 500 alerts in a day, but only have time to deal with a dozen, there’s a risk to staff well-being as well as the integrity of your network.

    It’s well established that occupational stress leads to lower productivity and high staff turnover, so addressing alert overload can make your staff happier and more productive — ensuring your cybersecurity doesn’t suffer as a result.

    How to prevent alert overload

    There are several ways to prevent (or at least minimize) alert overload:

    • Share the workload between staff members — make sure each staff member has a manageable number of alerts to deal with, and that the alerts they receive are relevant
    • Optimize alert settings in each system — if you understand normal user behavior for your site, you can adjust alert thresholds to only notify you of unusual activity
    • Switch to a system with a low false positive rate — using systems with a proven track record of low false positives ensures you’re only alerted to genuine threats.

    How Netacea prevents alert overload

    Netacea’s bot management system has an industry-low false positive rate. Our machine learning engine is constantly learning about bot behavior — and it detects bots so accurately that our false positive rate is just 0.001%.

    That means every alert you receive from Netacea should be investigated — you won’t waste time looking for problems that simply aren’t there.

    This saves money, improves staff well-being, and prevents alert overload — all while keeping your systems safe from bad bots.

    Learn more about Netacea’s all-in-one bot management software

    Netacea’s bot management system is designed to detect and block all kinds of malicious bots. We deal with attacks like credential stuffingaccount takeover, and API scraping every day — so we can protect your network while keeping alerts to an absolute minimum.

    Watch our two-minute demo video to learn more. Then book a free demo to see how Netacea solves alert overload with our innovative bot management software.

    Block Bots Effortlessly with Netacea

    Book a demo and see how Netacea autonomously prevents sophisticated automated attacks.
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