How Do Root Cause Analysis Techniques Help in Analyzing Security Incidents?

Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a problem-solving strategy for determining the antecedent and underlying causes of recognized situations. While the phrase "root cause analysis" suggests that problems have a single source, this is not necessarily the case. Problems might have a single source or several causes that come from flaws in goods, people, processes, or other variables.

Making effective cybersecurity decisions without enough knowledge is a formula for disaster, and cyber security situations are rarely straightforward. Every situation is unique, and the subtleties must be fully comprehended in order to guide reaction and recovery activities.

Enterprises must comprehend not only particular vulnerabilities but also the root causes of such vulnerabilities, which are frequently related to non-technical risks such as insufficient governance and process adherence. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines Root Cause Analysis as "a principle-based, systems method for the identification of underlying causes associated with a specific collection of hazards."

A single vulnerability is responsible for just a small percentage of cybersecurity events. Investigation usually finds a slew of issues hiding beneath the surface. An organization may increase the efficacy of containment and eradication operations and reduce its exposure to future attacks by analyzing the underlying elements that led to the causes of a security event.

The problem should no longer be a problem as a result of this method, either now or in the future. The root may also be regarded as the "real" cause of an issue in this scenario.

The Four Phases of Root Cause Analysis Methodology

The four phases of the root cause analysis methodology are as follows −

Identification and Description

The precise identification and description of an issue is the first stage in a successful root cause analysis. It may be difficult to appropriately determine the fundamental reasons for the problem if the problem is poorly understood.

The first problem statement for IT operators reacting to an automated alarm from a security analytics tool maybe, "Our security system sent an alert." In RCA, accurate event descriptions are also critical. A collection of correct event descriptions outlining everything that transpired in relation to the problem should be the beginning point for a successful analysis.


IT operators should put the problem and related events in chronological order, as in a timeline or sequence of events, after they have been recognized. This makes establishing and identifying causal linkages between events related to the problem much easier. Security analytics software allows organizations to automate the collecting of event logs as well as the integration of logs from many sources into a single, standardized format and platform. This speeds up the RCA process, allowing these firms to get to step three of the procedure in record time.


The third phase in the RCA process is differentiation. To determine how occurrences are connected, investigators include extra contextual data around the incidents. When a cybersecurity event is discovered, security operators must examine event dependencies to determine the root causes, causal variables, and non-causal elements in the system.

Enterprise security analytics systems can sift through large amounts of computer logs from a range of different sources and select the ones that are most likely to be associated with the problem using a data analysis approach called event correlation.

Visual Explanation

Investigators are urged to create a causal graph, diagram, or other visual explanation of the RCA method's outcome in the last phase of the RCA process. Causal graphing depicts a chain of important events that starts with the underlying causes and concludes with the problem. This exercise explains the logical process used to figure out how the problem arose.

Analysis of the Fishbone/Ishikawa Diagram

A Fishbone diagram is a visual representation tool that enables the investigators to look for possible explanations for an issue from many sources. Fishbone diagrams encourage investigators to discover many reasons that might have resulted in the problem state, allowing them to swiftly get to the base of the problem.

The 5 M's is a popular framework for Fishbone diagrams, in which investigators consider −

  • Man − Human elements that may have contributed to the problem

  • Machines − Hardware or technological aspects are referred to as "machines."

  • Material − Causal factors arising from tangible concerns, such as consumables and information

  • Method − Causal factors resulting from process or methodology flaws.

  • Measuring − Causal factors resulting from measurement tool or inspection errors.

As part of a Fishbone/Ishikawa diagram study, environmental causative variables are commonly explored.

The "Five Whys" Approach to Root Cause Analysis

The "Five Whys" Approach is an investigative strategy that pushes the practitioner to question "Why?" frequently in order to get to the fundamental cause of an occurrence, event, or problem.

We seldom get to the fundamental cause of an issue after a single loop of questioning, "Why did this happen?" To understand the fundamental cause of an incident and discover an opportunity for remedial action, we may need to go through numerous levels of inquiry.

Use this example as a starting point for your Five Whys RCA −


The company's data server had become infiltrated with malware.

  • Why? − Our anti-malware application's server was not up to date with the most recent malware definitions.

  • Why? − The automatic service that distributes the updates is down.

  • Why? − Last month, the automated server malfunctioned, and it has yet to be repaired or replaced.

  • Why? − The person in charge of authorizing the repair or replacement is away on vacation, and there was a lack of communication regarding who should be in charge of modification approvals.

  • Why? − There is a lack of procedure.


Create a procedure to guarantee that repairs are accepted even if the usual approver is unavailable.

Updated on: 22-Jun-2022


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