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Getting Off the “Alert-Respond” Hamster Wheel: A Journey from Reactive to Preventative Security


In today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, the importance of cybersecurity cannot be overstated. The frequency and sophistication of cyberattacks continue to rise, making it imperative for individuals and organizations to shift from a reactive approach to a proactive stance when it comes to security. The traditional “wait-and-respond” method is no longer sufficient in safeguarding sensitive data and critical systems. In this blog post, we’ll explore the benefits of moving from reactive to proactive security measures, and finally to actionable strategies to fortify your defense against cyber threats.

The Downfalls of Reactive Security

Reactive security involves responding to incidents only after they’ve occurred, often resulting in a game of catch-up that leaves organizations vulnerable to various cyber risks. This approach can lead to devastating consequences, including data breaches, financial losses, reputational damage, and legal liabilities. Relying solely on firewalls, antivirus software, and incident response plans is akin to locking the barn door after the horse has bolted.

Proactive vs Preventative Security

The first step in the evolution of any security strategy is to root out your adversaries before they can cause damage to your organization.  And the only way this can be done is with data.  Lots of data.  Let’s be clear, organizations that are struggling to keep up with a high volume of daily alerts simply do not have the time to search through terabytes (or more) of logs, looking for evidence of a potential threat.  This created the need for XDR and MDR solutions.  These products and services (when done well) use AI and/or highly skilled security professionals to comb through massive datasets looking for evidence of a potential breach, before it can be exploited.

But threat hunting is only a part of the equation.  Evidence of security incidents means that attackers are finding their way into your network. And this leads to us to the next stage of an effective security strategy – preventative.  Preventative security (as the name implies) focuses on keeping attackers off your network in the first place.  And the only way to do this is by finding (and fixing) the gaps in your security controls.  There are multiple ways that this can be done. Trusted external auditors and security consultants can be leveraged to evaluate your security architecture and tool configurations, helping you to build a short-term/mid-term/long-term improvement plan to address these gaps, based on their criticality. In addition, Red/Purple/Blue Teams can regularly test your environment, looking for exploitable attack surfaces and paths into/across your network. But the most important step in a preventive security strategy is taking the time to do a post-mortem analysis of every security incident that occurs, because these are no longer hypothetical attack vectors that should be blocked; they are documented, exploitable weaknesses that have been, and will be, exploited again.

Benefits of a Proactive/Preventative Security Strategy

None of these should come as a surprise, but they are all compelling reasons to undertake this journey.

  1. Reduced Attack Surface: Adopting a preventative security approach means identifying weaknesses in your systems and applications that you can address before attackers have a chance to exploit them. This reduces your attack surface, making it harder for cybercriminals to gain a foothold.
  2. Early Threat Detection:  By continuously monitoring network traffic, user behavior, and system logs, you can identify suspicious patterns and activities that could indicate an impending attack, or evidence of a current attack in progress. This early detection empowers you to take preemptive action and minimize potential damage.
  3. Minimized Downtime: Cyberattacks often lead to system downtime and disruptions in operations. Proactive security measures, such as deploying intrusion detection and prevention systems, can help prevent breaches and keep critical systems up and running. This results in decreased downtime and improved business continuity.
  4. Cost Savings: Dealing with the aftermath of a cyber incident can be financially draining. Legal fees, customer compensation, and regulatory fines can add up quickly. By investing in proactive security measures upfront, you can potentially avoid these costs altogether.
  5. Reputation Protection: A single data breach can severely damage an organization’s reputation and erode customer trust. Proactive security demonstrates a commitment to safeguarding sensitive information, helping to maintain a positive brand image and customer loyalty.

Sounds great. But How Do I Get There?

  1. Empower Your SOC: Sounds easy, right?  Well, it may not be as hard as you think. Investing in quality tools that can automate the detection, analysis and response to security incidents can take a huge burden off your security analysts, freeing up their time to do the proactive threat hunting that is key to getting ahead of the threats. A good MSSP or MDR (although typically more expensive than a software solution) can help here as well. But be careful, read the fine print on any product or service. They can become cost prohibitive based on the amount of data you need to store, and with security, more is more. You want everything you can get.
  2. Evaluate Your Tools: When is the last time you evaluated your EDR or SIEM, compared to the current products in the marketplace?  And what criteria were used to select the tools you use today? Complacency and inertia are all too commonplace in most organizations, leading to outdated or underperforming technologies.
    1. Join a local security user group and find out what your peers are using, and more importantly if it works well.
    2. Build a relationship with a VAR that you trust and ask for their recommendations.
    3. Think outside the (magic) quadrant!  Just because Gartner or Forrester don’t have a category or an article telling you that “this is the key tool that everyone needs this year” doesn’t mean that a solution isn’t good or would be a good fit for you.
    4. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Just because something you have isn’t the latest and greatest, doesn’t mean it’s still not a good choice.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
  1. Evaluate Your Processes: Complacency doesn’t just affect tooling. Too many organizations suffer from “Well that’s the way we’ve always done it” syndrome.  Evolve, change, shake things up if what you’re doing isn’t working.
  2. Evaluate Your Personnel: No, this does not mean interviewing your staff to keep their jobs. It means interviewing your staff to truly understand their needs. Sometimes it’s a bored analyst who needs a greater challenge. Or a SOC team member who is burned out from chasing false positives.  Not only will this help you get the best out of your people, but it can also drastically reduce turnover.  And who doesn’t like that?
  3. Follow a Framework: There are a lot of great security frameworks like MITRE, CIS Critical Controls, NIST and ISO27001.  They each take a different approach to security and sometimes, elements of each one might be the right fit for your organizational needs.  But whatever you choose, make it a priority.  Get buy in from the CISO and set measurable goals.  No matter how good your plan is, if it’s a binder in a cabinet, it probably won’t do you much good.
  4. Monitor Your Progress: Not only is measuring your progress the only way to make sure you stay on track, it’s also the only way to make sure that the executive team will continue to fund your efforts.  Security teams have always struggled to justify their budgets, but facts don’t lie.  Demonstrate that you went from 65-90% compliance on your EDR deployment, your critical vulnerabilities are down 40%, your Mean-Time-to-Detect (MTTD) and Mean-Time-to-Resolution (MTTR) are down 22% in the last 6 months.  (Don’t worry, good toolsets will help you track this).
  5. Assess Your Risk: There is more risk to an organization than just a cyberattack.  Is your sensitive data on the dark web? Is your supply chain secure? Organizational risk can take on many forms.  Don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees.


In an era where cyber threats continue to evolve in complexity and frequency, adopting a proactive security approach is no longer optional—it’s essential. The shift from reactive to proactive security empowers organizations to anticipate and mitigate threats before they escalate into major incidents. By embracing early threat detection, reducing attack surfaces, and prioritizing risk management, businesses can safeguard their data, systems, and reputation more effectively. Remember, cybersecurity is an ongoing journey, and staying proactive is key to maintaining a strong defense against the ever-changing landscape of cyber threats.

I wish you well on your journey.