January 19, 2024

Alert Fatigue - Understanding and Mitigating its Impact

Alert fatigue

Cybersecurity is about staying proactive, maintaining multiple layers of preparedness, and never being too cautious. As a result, it's unsurprising that maintaining robust security requires significant time and resources. Unfortunately, this is often not sufficiently taken into account when organizations formulate their security policies. Adequate security alarm systems may be in place, but alarm service personnel are understaffed and lack sufficient support from the organization. A major risk in their work is the phenomenon of alert fatigue, a consequence of the systems put in place to protect information and networks. In this article, we explore the topic of alert fatigue, particularly in the context of simulated phishing emails - a common tool in modern cybersecurity strategies.

The more you're exposed to something, the more you tolerate, normalize, and ignore it.
The more you're exposed to something, the more you tolerate, normalize, and ignore it.

The Strains of Cyber-Protection

A key method for boosting end-user security awareness in organizations is the deployment of simulated phishing emails. These are controlled, harmless messages designed to mimic actual phishing attacks. The primary purposes of these simulations are to teach end-users to recognize the characteristics of phishing emails, assess the current level of awareness and preparedness in an organization, and encourage more vigilant behavior. Hence, many security awareness providers, Nimblr included, dispatch simulated phishing emails regularly. This pursuit, although beneficial, can spike end-user reports and may also strain IT support, leading to alert fatigue.

Alert Fatigue - What Is It?

Alert fatigue refers to a phenomenon where an overwhelming number of alert messages causes individuals to become inattentive. This can lead to the overlooking of vital notifications and a decrease in response quality. The phenomenon is particularly pronounced in professions subjected to frequent alerts, such as healthcare, technical domains, and cybersecurity.

An overwhelming number of alerts

In cybersecurity, alert fatigue arises when security analysts find themselves inundated with an overwhelming number of alerts. When bombarded with alerts, particularly when many are false positives, there's a danger that analysts may begin to dismiss these alerts. This can compromise their ability to differentiate between false, inconsequential, and vital alerts, thereby amplifying the risk of missing genuine threats. The challenge of alert fatigue has escalated in recent years, driven by the enhanced collection and analysis of security data, a surge in security alerts, and an expansion of attack surfaces. 

Mitigating Alert Fatigue Involves the Following:

  • Ensure all alerts are actionable and prioritized based on severity. 
  • Regularly review alert procedures to make sure that they are working effectively.
  • Educate users on how to report incidents, and which incidents to report. 
  • Provide clear guidelines on how to respond to threats.
  • Promote transparent communication within the organization
  • Improve end users’ cybersecurity knowledge 

Develop a strategy

Organizations should establish a security balance - a synergy between vigilance and efficiency. By streamlining security practices, prioritizing user education, and fostering a culture of cybersecurity awareness, organizations can mitigate both external security risks and those associated with alert fatigue. In doing so, they are not only improving their immediate security posture, but also fostering a more resilient and aware community of end-users that can react quickly and correctly, and play it cyber-safe.

Making the internet safer