How MSPs, Service Desks and Security Analysts Can Avoid Alert Fatigue

(Getty Images)

MSPs rely on a full suite of software apps and tools to do their job effectively. While these tools are crucial to providing first-class service to their clients, they’re not without their downsides.

Author: Drew Sanford, ConnectWise
Author: Drew Sanford, VP of global security operations, ConnectWise

For example, each tool or software app comes with its own notifications and alerts. As a result, MSPs managing an overall IT system may become subject to a phenomenon known as alert fatigue. This occurs when an MSP staff member becomes inundated with so many system notifications and alerts that they become desensitized to them.

Experiencing alert fatigue on the job could lead to potentially catastrophic problems. This phenomenon can occur in a number of IT settings, but MSPs are particularly susceptible to experiencing alert fatigue. The number of tools and software platforms MSPs use to support their clients can create a seemingly endless flow of audible alerts and pop-up notifications. As a result, MSPs need to be more aware of what alert fatigue is exactly and how they can best fight it within their own team.

This article is a resource to do exactly that. Read along with us to discover more about alert fatigue and how you and your team can keep it at bay during those critical moments.

What is alert fatigue?

Alert fatigue involves a large number of incoming alerts flooding an IT professional simultaneously. With so many alerts coming in at the same time, it can be challenging for MSPs to handle all of them – leaving some highly critical alerts ignored or unanswered.

Too much noise can also occur when systems aren’t functioning properly. Occasionally, IT systems may repeatedly send out false alarms. If MSPs know a system to be glitchy, they may begin to ignore the incoming alerts and write them off as false.

Organizations may also program their system to send out alerts across multiple channels. If the same alert is received on a smartphone, tablet, laptop, and desktop all at the same time, it may compound an employee’s lack of care or attention.

What are the consequences of alert fatigue?

Alert fatigue leads to dangerous situations where team members start to ignore alerts or reconfigure system settings. Due to the inconvenience, staff members may turn down audible alerts, adjust settings to unsafe levels, or ignore system alerts entirely.

In the case of redundant or false alarms, system admins may begin to assume that most of the alerts they receive are false. This could lead to slow incident response times, infected systems, and missing legitimate alerts – resulting in significant system damage.

At best, these floods of notifications will cause burnout among your staff. The lack of care and interest in monitoring client systems will eventually lead to some of the more significant problems mentioned above. Minimizing alert fatigue in cybersecurity isn’t just good for the system; it’s good for your team as well.

How does alert fatigue impact cybersecurity?

In addition to healthcare and construction, the tech field is one of the industries most plagued by alert fatigue. Software tools like antimalware, antivirus, threat response systems, and others constantly alert MSPs of suspicious activity or malicious files threatening their clients’ systems.

Although it’s important to be on high alert with the growing number of cyber-attacks in the modern digital business world, too many insignificant alerts may drown out the more critical notifications. It’s essential for MSPs and other IT professionals to be aware of alert fatigue and take whatever measures are necessary to minimize system alerts.

An incoming flood of notifications leading to missed cybersecurity alerts is not a hard connection to make. We’re sure anyone in the IT field can attest to how bad the problem of alert fatigue can get. What most IT admins don’t know is that alarm fatigue can actually have some pretty significant consequences outside of the technical aspect.

It may be an afterthought, but if alert fatigue goes unchecked, it can lead to HR problems within your team. IT staffers who are continuously overwhelmed with notifications and alerts may choose to leave in search of other employment.

Relying on your team to process too many system alerts can eventually lead to stress. Employees may begin to feel like it’s pointless to try and keep up with their daily tasks as the system alerts seem to multiply. This can contribute to frustration with their roles.

Ultimately, these feelings of frustration can lead to you losing critical members of your team. With the global IT labor shortage what it is today, the last thing MSPs need is additional vacancies in their team caused by system flaws. If not controlled, system alerts may begin to topple your team from the inside.

IT admins and managers may want to visit our cybersecurity glossary to get a better understanding of cybersecurity alerts. Discover which alerts are absolutely necessary, which are lower impact, and which tools you can use to streamline and manage all of the above.

What are best practices to lower alert fatigue?

Not having the right policies for you and your clients will cause too much noise. MSPs need to customize their security tools - they can't be used directly out of the box.

While alert fatigue is a growing problem within the MSP space, all hope is not lost. The good news is that this phenomenon is entirely preventable. MSPs wanting to control alert fatigue within their team can:

  1. Consolidate repetitive alerts. 56% of large companies say they handle more than 1,000 security alerts per day. Alerts should be consolidated and reduced whenever possible. The resulting alert load will be more manageable, and you’ll start to experience better attention from team members.
  2. Focus on actionable alerts. Alerts that are vague and ambiguous can cost teams a lot of time and energy. Specific, actionable alerts can reduce overwhelm and reduce employee fatigue. It may also help to have checklists associated with each alert. When the alert occurs, employees move into “autopilot” as they respond to the alert and work through their checklist.
  3. Regularly review your process. Every organization is different. What fixes fatigue for one team may not work for another. Every time your alert fatigue measures fail, consider it a learning opportunity. Schedule regular reviews of your alert management process and probe your system with questions to keep improving.
  4. Outsourcing to a 3rd party manager. Depending on your team size, bandwidth, and expertise, it may not be feasible to add more tasks onto their plate. In this case, you want to have external support to manage and filter the series of alarms and notifications coming your way. ConnectWise SOC is one of the best-in-class options for these needs.

Follow these steps, and you’ll be well on your way to minimizing alert fatigue. But, implementing and maintaining an effective alert management system also falls on your employees. Ensuring they’re adequately trained to handle alert fatigue adds another layer of protection to your entire process.

How can you train your team on alarm/alert fatigue?

Putting your team in the best position to respond to alerts is one of the biggest steps toward combating alert fatigue in cybersecurity. There are many different ways to train your team on alert response, but the end goal should always be to make it as easy as possible for team members.

One way to streamline alert response is to prioritize alerts. If you’re struggling to nail down a hierarchy for your alerts, here’s a good example:

  • Priority 1 – Critical threats that need an immediate response
  • Priority 2 – Threats that are still high-priority but can tolerate a 24-hour response time
  • Priority 3 – Less timely, potentially malicious alerts that can be responded to in the next few business days

In addition to prioritizing critical alerts, we’ve briefly discussed the idea of checklists. This is an idea that comes from the airline industry. In that industry, immense care needs to be taken with every step across a vast number of processes. A missing nut, bolt, or screw can create a life-or-death scenario.

The idea behind checklists is that once an IT staffer sees a particular alert, they immediately launch into running through their checklist. While this isn’t relying on software tools for automation, it does “automate” the process somewhat.

Repetitive training and mock “trials” of checklist protocols will make these procedures second nature to your employees and help your cybersecurity center run much more smoothly. When a specific alert enters the system, they can immediately launch into action without even thinking of how to respond.

For more information on best practices here, check out our eBook on how to create your SMB cybersecurity checklist. For more support with what is best included on your checklists or how to structure your training program – contact us at any time.

What tools can reduce alert fatigue?

Speaking of automation, MSPs can also leverage automation software tools to help minimize alert fatigue for their team. Tools powered by AI and machine learning rarely make mistakes and all but eliminate the human element.

When it comes to automation tools, ConnectWise is here to help. Users can sign up for free trials and demos of our SIEM and SOC tools to streamline cybersecurity operations and give your team and clients more peace of mind. We’re always here to help, and our mission is to do whatever it takes to see your MSP business thrive.

This guest blog is courtesy of ConnectWise and authored by Drew Sanford, VP of global security operations. Read more ConnectWise guest blogs here. Regularly contributed guest blogs are part of ChannelE2E’s sponsorship program.