What is alert fatigue in cybersecurity: How to reduce false positives

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Alert Fatigue 101: Combatting high volumes of legacy EDR alerts

Cyberattacks are growing more complex and frequent. IT professionals must sometimes deal with thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of cybersecurity alerts a day. Facing a cacophony of alerts can take a toll on multiple fronts. On a micro level, it can lead to exhaustion, mental health challenges, such as anxiety, and high-security team turnovers. On a macro level, it can result in inefficiencies that result in cybersecurity breaches.

The cost of missing a serious incident can be significant. The loss of data, operational capacity, intellectual property, or client information can harm your organization’s carefully cultivated reputation, business relationships, and company morale.

That’s why beating security fatigue is critical for your organization. An excellent way to minimize the impact of alert fatigue is to invest in Managed Detection and Response (MDR). Top MDR solutions are purpose-built for resource-constrained IT teams, freeing up your team from alert fatigue while strengthening your security posture.

Continue reading: What is MDR? Managed security services are an extension of your IT security team. Learn how cutting-edge technology and human expertise makes all the difference in security operations activities.

You must also filter and prioritize alerts to improve your incident response process, highlight essential assets to improve efficiencies and invest in employee training and education to successfully mitigate security risks.

Read this guide for more on:

  1. What is alert fatigue?
  2. Alert fatigue definition.
  3. Alert fatigue solutions.

What is alert fatigue in cybersecurity?

Alert fatigue in cybersecurity is when IT professionals are overwhelmed by the number of alerts they receive from their range of security tools and systems across their organization. Alert fatigue results in decreased productivity due to overload and stress and a waste of human resources and time. In some cases, security teams may miss genuine threats due to this phenomenon.   

Alerts in cybersecurity

Cybersecurity professionals manage many different types of security alerts related to systems, malware, authentication, and data.  Together and in great frequency, the alerts can be counterproductive. Let’s look at some common cybersecurity alerts.


A reconnaissance alert suggests a threat actor has targeted a system or a network to gather information, such as vulnerabilities, to create a list of attack vectors. Intrusion detection systems (IDS) are threat intelligence tools that can offer reconnaissance alerts. Examples of reconnaissance include social engineering attacks, port scanning, or vulnerability checks.

Compromised credentials

Credential stuffing and social engineering attacks like phishing can compromise credentials, such as usernames and passwords. Examples of such alerts include multiple failed logins or logins from known malicious IP addresses. A security information and event management (SIEM) system offers credential alerts by pulling event log data from different security solutions.

Domain dominance

In a domain dominance attack, a threat actor attempts to control an organization’s domain. An attacker can use such an advanced persistent threat (APT) to intrude deeper into a network. SIEM and IDS solutions can offer insight into a domain dominance attack. 


Exfiltration is the process of extracting data from an organization through different kinds of cybersecurity attacks, such as social engineering, hacks, file transfers, or web breaches. Different types of solutions offer indications of exfiltration attacks.

Lateral movement

It’s called a lateral movement when a threat actor attempts to move across a network from their original point of breach to steal data or drop malware. Alerts from different tools can help an organization detect a lateral movement. However, alert fatigue may prevent professionals from uncovering evidence of a threat actor moving across a network. Detecting lateral movement early is essential as a threat actor can harm an organization significantly while staying unseen for weeks.

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What causes alert fatigue?

False positives

In cybersecurity, false positives are security alerts from security solutions that aren’t an actual threat. False positives from security tools can be due to poorly configured detection protocols, improper prioritization, misconfigurations, and outdated systems. Security teams dealing with false positives may either feel overwhelmed or apathetic toward alerts.

Complex systems

Nowadays, IT professionals rely on multiple technologies and solutions in modern organizations to monitor digital activity, which results in complex IT systems. The amount of data from complex interconnected, and highly distributed systems can be vast and cause alert fatigue.

Lack of literacy

Cybersecurity professionals require experience, knowledge, and skills to effectively manage alerts. They must also be familiar with the tools they use. The volume of unprocessed alerts can grow rapidly if individuals with limited technology literacy are less time-efficient or are prioritizing the wrong type of alerts.

Poor processes

Poor processes due to inefficient or outdated practices can increase alert fatigue. Organizations should invest in cybersecurity training and awareness for their staff. They should apply better policies and ensure that alerts are prioritized by severity. Solutions and protocols must also be integrated properly and regularly reviewed and optimized to reduce alert fatigue.

Low resources

Many organizations simply don’t have the budget to invest in the staffing and technology required to manage the barrage of security alerts in a modern IT environment. An in-house security team that’s short on resources will undoubtedly feel fatigued.

One solution is to prioritize alerts by their risk and impact factors. In-house IT teams can also improve efficiency by testing and validating security solutions to finetune their precision.

A growing number of businesses that simply don’t have the resources to invest in a full-time, in-house fully resourced security operations center (SOC) are investing in Managed Detection and Response (MDR) security services. So, what is MDR security, and how does it work?

Well, MDR is a budget-friendly, tailored, 24/7/365 security service that helps reduce the pressure on your internal security. MDR offers proactive, purpose-built threat hunting, monitoring, and response capabilities operated by a team of skilled professionals. Malwarebytes MDR is built on a cutting-edge endpoint detection and response platform and managed by a team of highly proficient analysts and threat researchers.

False positive definition: What are false positives in cybersecurity?

A false positive is a cybersecurity notification that points to a benign security event. An example of a false positive is an anti-ransomware tool that identifies a legitimate application as a malicious file-encrypting program or an IDS that falsely red flags a legitimate network activity. False positives are problematic because they can cause alert fatigue and negatively impact the workflow of your security team. Frequent false positives may force your team to ignore authentic threats. False positives can be caused by poorly configured systems, inadequately trained employees, and outdated software.

The risks of alert fatigue

According to research by the International Data Corporation (IDC), over a quarter of cybersecurity alerts go ignored due to alert fatigue in a survey of 300 American companies with 500 or more employees.

Organizations must never take alert fatigue lightly. The most obvious risks of alert fatigue include missing genuine threats and breaches, resulting in data loss, reputational damage, and compliance violations. Other risks of alert fatigue include:


Employees managing many alerts daily may start to feel fatigued. Over time, the exhaustion can translate to anxiety. Eventually, it can cause burnout.

Higher turnover

Employees fatigued by increasing alerts may feel frustrated that they lack the resources to process security risks. Such employees may also feel ignored by management. Organizations with dissatisfied employees usually have higher turnover rates.

Increase in cost

There are many potential costs to alert fatigue. A company with high turnover must spend more money on interviewing, hiring, and training. Cybersecurity incidents due to alert fatigue can cost a company its company culture and standing in the business community.

High workload volumes

As uninvestigated alerts stack up, workload volume spikes. Unnecessarily high workload volume can cause burnout, response delays, and inefficient threat management.

Compliance issues

Your industry may have strict regulatory standards for data management. With alert fatigue causing your security teams to ignore alerts that point to data breaches, you may increase your risk of non-compliance.

Poor reputation

Alert fatigue can hurt employee morale and negatively affect your company’s reputation. In addition, any data breaches due to alert fatigue will hurt your organization’s standing.

How to prevent alert fatigue and reduce false positives

Preventing alert fatigue and reducing false positives requires the right processes, training, and solutions.

Contextualize alerts

Contextualize alerts by understanding the motives behind adversary techniques and sub-techniques. Contextualizing alerts will help your organization gain technical perceptions of how attackers carry out tactics. We suggest you leverage the MITRE Adversarial Tactics, Techniques, and Common Knowledge framework to gain deep context and minimize alert fatigue in cybersecurity.

Prioritize alerts

Prioritize alerts based on their seriousness and importance. Incidents around critical assets must be tackled first. Please also adjust notifications so they reach the right departments and professionals. Finally, create a flagging system with custom rules based on predetermined risk factors to help your staff react to high-priority alerts more efficiently.

Expand staffing

Expanding staffing by hiring experienced network professionals to reduce security fatigue. A larger security operations center will be better able to manage a high volume of daily alerts.

Consider your abilities and capacity

We understand that while large organizations have access to resources, smaller businesses lack staffing to manage their cybersecurity needs. However, small business cybersecurity teams can utilize the best Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR), Managed Detection and Response (MDR), or Extended Detection and Response (XDR) solutions for support. Read up on the difference between EDR vs MDR vs XDR to learn what solution is best for your organization.

Use a zero trust model

A zero trust model assumes that all your network traffic is potentially malicious. It exercises strict access control to reduce the chance of data breaches.

A correctly implemented zero trust model can reduce false positives and minimize alert fatigue. However, it can also have the opposite effect, as it may require your staff to monitor network activity more closely. To reduce alert fatigue with the zero trust model, please prioritize your alerts, train your staff in zero trust management, and utilize an automation system powered by Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Least privilege policy

A least privilege policy prevents users from accessing assets or systems that are unnecessary for their job function. It can reduce alert fatigue in your security team by minimizing false positives. However, like the zero-trust model, this security strategy can also increase alert fatigue when lacking optimization.

Invest in the right tools

The right security tools can lower alert fatigue by reducing your organization’s attack surface and volume of threats. For example, a good DNS filtering tool protects your staff from threats that infiltrate browsers and web-based apps. Likewise, a flexible incident response tool compresses your response time and reduces the workload on your IT team. Here are some other tools that can help minimize alert fatigue by boosting your cybersecurity posture:


Firewalls are a critical component of network security and can reduce alert fatigue by blocking malicious activity. Again, firewalls must be properly configured and automated, or they may throw up false positives.

Endpoint security

A technologically advanced endpoint protection security is an excellent cybersecurity tool that will help your organization lower alert fatigue. A proactive and intelligent endpoint security solution protects endpoints like laptops and smartphones and reduces the volume of alerts by preventing zero-day exploits, ransomware, or malicious downloads.

Cloud security

Cloud security reduces alert fatigue by providing centralized visibility and protection. Use a powerful cloud security solution to keep your cloud repositories free from malware-based attacks. Use this tool to find malware, support secure online document storage, and bolster your business’ cloud environment.

Don’t let the first signs of a breach go undetected.

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Alert Fatigue in Cybersecurity FAQs

Why is alert fatigue a problem?

Alert fatigue is a problem in cybersecurity because it can result in multiple challenges for your organization:

  1. Security teams overwhelmed by alert fatigue may accidentally miss security alerts that negatively impact your organization.
  2. Dealing with a large number of daily alerts may cause security teams to ignore warnings, resulting in inefficiencies.
  3. Even if your security team has a wealth of resources, checking a large volume of alerts takes time. Investigating some types of incidents results in longer downtimes for your organization. It can also lower productivity.
  4. As mentioned, alert fatigue increases burnout and results in higher turnover.

Managed Detection and Response (MDR) Solutions provide a purpose-built service which alleviates security tool alert fatigue and mitigates false positive alerts without the need to hire additional cybersecurity talent on your IT team. Learn more about how ThreatDown MDR takes the guesswork out of detection, incident response, and threat remediation.

What is an example of alert fatigue?

An example of alert fatigue is a large volume of security alerts, many of which are false positives. Security analysts monitoring many alerts per hour and dealing with false positives may ignore genuine alerts that seem similar to false positives.

The entire security team may eventually suffer from burnout and lower job satisfaction. The lower productivity may cause your security operations center (SOC) to ignore an attacker intent on exfiltrating sensitive data or some of the other most dangerous cyberthreats facing businesses nowadays. 

Who is impacted by alert fatigue?

Alert fatigue has the potential to negatively impact different departments of your organization, your business partners, and your clients.

  1. Security analysts may be less effective when managing a large number of daily alerts.
  2. IT teams will maintain IT systems less efficiently when regularly hit by false positives.
  3. Management and leadership teams will be unable to make informed decisions.
  4. Data loss due to alert fatigue can negatively impact clients and result in legal or civil consequences.
  5. Partners may lose trust in an organization that can’t manage its cybersecurity responsibilities.