Understanding Alert Fatigue and Its Causes
Alert fatigue happens when monitoring systems send numerous alerts that many of them get ignored or become so overwhelming that it is impossible to respond to them all in time. The parable “Boy Who Cried Wolf” is a great way to explain alert fatigue — if false alarms become frequent, it may lead to people ignoring actual problems because they have grown accustomed to misleading alarms or having too many of them to manage.
In the IT realm, alert fatigue is more complicated and may occur more than just when alerts are ignored. Another issue of alert fatigue happens when an abundance of alarms confuses the IT team and prevents them from responding quickly.
At its core, alert fatigue results from an overproduction of alerts. This problem is generally more acute regarding incident response in IT. In most cases, alert fatigue occurs due to poor incident response and alert monitoring design, with improper thresholds or insufficient feedback loops in place to continuously evaluate and improve the process in which alerts are set and processed.
Sometimes, the annoyance caused by alert fatigue could prompt companies to turn off alerts completely. This can prove to be a dangerous decision, given that the alerts are there for a reason despite their non-optimal functioning. Turning off these alerts makes it impossible for businesses to know what is going on with their systems.
The Psychology of Alert Fatigue
Alert fatigue could bring severe psychological consequences to both an organisation and its staff. One such major issue is that it could result in three types of behaviour that involve alerts being overlooked, misunderstood, ignored, or left without a proper response. Below are three of these behaviours in detail:
In the case of alert fatigue and incident response, normalisation could happen when numerous alerts get ignored or left unresolved becomes the norm. It develops when previously abnormal behaviour is normalised and accepted as the standard.
Habituation takes place once people develop a decreased response to issues that should not be deemed normal. Regarding alert fatigue, this entails accepting that the number of alerts will be overwhelming instead of acting to change it.
Desensitisation occurs when people are no longer as sensitive toward something that should elicit a response. In alert fatigue, this could mean accepting that the flood of alerts can no longer be acted on by anyone as a standard operating procedure.
The Risks Involved
All these concepts boil down to the idea that alert fatigue makes companies and their employees tolerate, ignore, and normalise alerts. Or rather, they could end up missing the critical ones because they can no longer separate the essential issues from the unessential ones due to overwhelm. This ultimately means that the alert system has failed because its alerts now go unheeded.
On the individual level, alert fatigue could result in increased burnout for incident response teams, given that their roles are already stressful as it is. When a member of such a team receives countless alerts that they have to manually sift through to understand what is going on, they will have difficulties in doing their real jobs. Furthermore, users could ignore potential cyber-attacks if they are under alert fatigue.
How to Prevent and Overcome Alert Fatigue
An alert management system aims to help IT teams do their jobs efficiently and address critical issues before they snowball into bigger problems. Once alert fatigue sets in, the systems that are supposed to help the business actively hurt it by hiding key information rather than revealing it. Therefore, the system should be able to properly analyse and group alerts and highlight root causes instead of simply showing duplicate evidence of symptoms that just get ignored or missed.
1. Set Alert Thresholds
Alert thresholds determine when alerts are generated. The main purpose of an alert is to notify IT teams when something important has occurred. Sometimes, alerts simply inform about an unusual activity without specifying if it is or is not an issue worth looking into; at other times, they notify about pressing issues that require immediate resolution.
Setting the proper threshold for alerts should be based on a keen understanding of the operational architecture of the system and historical analysis. Using judgment is the first step in this process. The second involves making adjustments like increasing or decreasing thresholds as necessary based on experience. Lastly, alerts must regularly keep up with changes in the system’s architecture.
2. Tiered and Grouped Alerts
Alerts can have varying tiers from informational to indicators of critical problems and everything else in between, similar to real-life fire alarms. Informational alerts may be catalogued for further analysis, while critical alerts are analysed and routed to IT teams so they can get ahead of the problem. The right tiers for alerts depend on the response and its complexity. The more specialities and people involved, the more tiers there should be.
Similarly, alerts should have tags to enable easy grouping for various purposes. Alerts typically come with data such as time stamps, details of the component or system being tracked, geography information, and more. Moreover, they will also have relevant information pertaining to the context of the systems generating the alerts, including critical vital signs. Having all this information in place enables an incident response system to properly group alerts that let operations teams quickly understand what is going on.
3. Automated Alert Responses
Properly automating responses to alerts is how businesses can shake off alert fatigue. In the beginning, when numerous alerts come in, the first priority is to automate the analysis and grouping of these alerts. Next, tracking responses makes it possible to identify repeated actions and simply automate them.
Automations at first will be simple, such as restarting a server. Over time, patterns of those simple tasks surface, allowing several steps to be executed simultaneously. Numerous alerts can then be understood and analysed this way, while only a few uncommon cases need to be analysed manually. Overall, overcoming alert fatigue does not involve shutting down alerts completely but developing an assembly line that processes most of them instead.
Alert fatigue is a problem that affects many organisations worldwide. A flood of alerts can result in operations, and IT teams ignoring or overlooking alerts that they should be paying attention to. If your business is showing signs of alert fatigue, SendQuick’s solutions can help nip it in the bud before it overwhelms your IT team and affects the rest of your operations.
With our slew of IT alert management solutions, you can now centralise your IT alerts and get instant notifications anywhere and at any time, so you can act on them and keep your IT systems running 24/7.