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June 12, 2020 By Enrico Benzoni

The difference between playbooks and runbooks in Incident Response

A question we often receive from users new to Sumo Logic’s Cloud SOAR solution is “What is the difference between a playbook and a runbook?” Many professionals within the cybersecurity industry use these terms interchangeably which often leads to confusion when both are being used.

In this blog post, we will take a brief look at the basic definitions of both runbooks and playbooks, what they consist of, their differences including some examples, and how they can both be used together to achieve a more effective incident response.

What is a playbook?

In the past, a playbook was a linear style checklist of required steps and actions required to successfully respond to specific incident types and threats. Incident Response playbooks provide a simple step-by-step, top-down approach to orchestration. They help to establish formalized incident response processes and procedures within investigations and can ensure that required steps are systematically followed, which can help to meet and comply with regulatory frameworks such as NIST or GDPR for example. Although playbooks support both human tasks and automated actions, most Sumo Logic users tend to use playbooks to document processes and procedures which rely heavily on tasks a human will carry out manually, such as breach notification or highly technical processes such as malware reverse engineering.

What is a runbook?

A runbook consists of a series of conditional steps to perform actions, such as data enrichment, threat containment, and sending notifications, automatically as part of the incident response or security operations process. This automation helps to accelerate the assessment, investigation, and containment of threats to speed up the overall incident response process. Runbooks can also include human decision-making elements as required, depending on the particular steps needed within the process and the amount of automation the organization is comfortable using. Like playbooks, runbooks can also be used to automatically assign tasks that will be carried out by a human analyst; however, most runbooks are primarily action-based.

Playbooks and runbooks are the same concepts

Used together, Incident Response runbooks or playbooks provide users with flexible methods for orchestrating even the most complex security workflows. Security administrators may use runbooks, or playbooks, to document different security processes, depending on which solution best fits the process or procedure is documented. Multiple runbooks or playbooks can be assigned to a single incident, permitting the proper type and level of automation and orchestration to be delivered for each incident type.

Sumo Logic advanced playbooks

Sumo Logic’s Cloud SOAR platform features a wide array of out-of-the-box playbooks that are based on industry best practices and recognized standards. The ready-to-use playbooks identify and automate responses to frequent enterprise cyber threats, including phishing, compromised accounts, and malware to name a few.

Organizations can also craft their own customized, simplified, or advanced playbooks, which gives incident response teams the freedom to react as they see fit, and in accordance with regulations or compliance measures that are particularly applicable to their operations.

For the automation-leary organization, Sumo Logic’s playbooks can be customized to leverage automatic enrichment actions while also enforcing role-based security requirements that require authorization for containment measures. These dual-mode action capabilities allow fully and semi-automated actions providing security administrators the ability to determine the appropriate amount of automation required at every stage of the response process, with the final decision taken by a human analyst if required.

This example playbook for handling a general malware incident covers each phase of the response process, from Detection and Analysis, through Containment and Remediation.

Sumo Logic’s playbooks

Sumo Logic’s playbooks can automate and perform the early-stage processes involved in assessing and investigating security incidents until a human security analyst is required to intervene.

Sumo Logic’s playbooks automate the operationalization of threat management from detection, triage, and investigation to containment. Hundreds of automated actions provide workflows and execute a variety of data enrichment, notification, containment, and custom actions based on complex, stateful, and logical decision-making. This accelerates the ability of responders to assess, investigate, and hunt for threats. Runbooks also collect and facilitate knowledge transfer between incident response and security operations teams.

Unlike the simple true/false conditions found in competitive solutions, Sumo Logic’s machine learning engine supports “User Choice” conditions that allow organizations to select which incident response steps “should” and “should not” be performed without human review.

Here is an example of a simple Spear Phishing runbook where indicators extracted from the phishing email are first checked through several threat reputation services, then blocked if they are deemed to be malicious.

Sumo Logic’s Cloud SOAR Solution

One of the key features of a SOAR solution is the ability to automate and orchestrate process workflows and there are two basic ways to codify process workflows within a SOAR solution: either classified as playbooks or flow-controlled workflows or runbooks.

Through playbooks and runbooks, combined with other advanced features, including its Advanced Responder Knowledge machine learning module, correlation engine, and full-featured incident management capabilities to name a few, Sumo Logic’s Cloud SOAR solution effectively helps organizations to meet their bespoke security program requirements, providing flexible methods for orchestrating complex security workflows.

Security teams can achieve a guided approach to responding to security alerts with a defined step-by-step process and these streamlined processes and workflows ensure organizations adhere to the latest regulations, such as data breach notification and reporting.

Summary

In reality, there is no difference between a playbook and runbook and they can be useful to respond more effectively to security incidents. They enable incident response teams to establish repeatable, enforceable, measurable effective incident response workflows, orchestrating a number of different security tools in a seamless response process.

Further examples of practical use cases involving our range of playbooks and runbooks are available on our website, and if you would like to see them live in action, request your one-to-one personalized demo today.

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Enrico Benzoni

Manager, Marketing and Technology Alliances

More posts by Enrico Benzoni.

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