Security information and event management (SIEM) combines security information management (SIM) with security event management (SEM) to enable organizations to improve their threat detection and incident response processes.
SIM focuses on the collection and long-term storage of log data for future analysis and reporting. This can include information on pretty much anything that happens on a network, from operating system startups and shutdowns, to file changes, to capacity limits. Also sometimes referred to as “log management”, SIM is an ongoing process of data collection that enables security teams to view log data from a central console, and use this data to visualize their organization’s state of security and produce comprehensive audits.
SEM focuses on collecting and analyzing system events and alerts—such as anomalous login attempts, privilege escalations or malware activities—to help security operations center (SOC) teams identify threats, vulnerabilities and risks across their organization’s digital environment.
Modern SIEM focuses on the security monitoring and analysis of real-time system events as well as the tracking and storage of historical log data to enable security teams to quickly identify security incidents, contextualize and remediate them, then take action to prevent the incident from recurring.
A SIEM solution can help make these processes more efficient, making data more accessible through normalization and reducing incident response times via automation.
But what is a SIEM solution, how does it work, and how should you go about implementing one?
How Does SIEM Software Work?
A SIEM solution deploys agents to aggregate log and event data from various sources across your organization’s IT environment, including networks, host systems, infrastructure, applications and endpoints, as well as third-party security tools. The agents forward this data to a central repository, where the platform normalizes it to make it easier for your security team to compare security information from different sources that may have originally been presented in different formats.
Once normalized, the SIEM tool analyzes the security data in real-time to detect anomalous behaviors that could indicate the presence of a security threat. If suspicious behaviors are detected, the SIEM solution sends security alerts to your SOC team, along with contextual information that can help the team carry out a forensic investigation of those behaviors. This knowledge can help security teams remediate threats more quickly and effectively.
As well as data aggregation, real-time monitoring and threat detection, the strongest SIEM tools provide security orchestration capabilities such as threat response workflow automation, which enable security teams to automate menial tasks so they can focus their human resource on active remediation. They sometimes also offer suggestions as to how a security team should respond to individual incidents, based on a risk assessment of each incident and a triaging process that prioritizes alerts according to their severity.
What Are The Benefits Of SIEM Systems?
There are three main benefits to using SIEM systems: first, they enable you to proactively detect threats to your environment; second, they help make your incident response processes more efficient; and third, and make it easier to keep on top of compliance requirements. Here’s how:
Proactive Threat Detection
SIEM tools proactively collect data from across your organization’s entire infrastructure and centralize it, giving your security team a central, holistic view of all security events across your IT environment. This means that they’re much more likely to pick up on security incidents that may otherwise get lost in a sea of noise.
As well as collecting and logging event data, modern SIEM solutions use machine learning-based analytics to analyze that data for anomalous and potentially malicious activity. This helps SOC teams identify and respond to threats before they can cause damage, rather than becoming aware of them much later in the attack timeline, and only because of the disruption caused.
Finally, SIEM solutions also help organizations to prevent future threats. By combining log and event data with contextual threat intelligence, they’re able to provide a timeline of each attack, helping your security team to determine how the initial breach occurred and how the attack spread. This enables them to make informed decisions on how to improve your organization’s security infrastructure to prevent repeat incidents in the future.
Efficient Incident Response
Security incident response is one of the most commonly-cited areas of skill shortage in the cybersecurity industry—and the lack of knowledge in this space means that it often takes organizations longer that it should to identify and respond to threats, simply because they don’t have the right resource available. In fact, it takes an average of 287 days to identify and contain a data breach—that means, if your systems were breached in January, the average organization wouldn’t be able to contain that breach until October, giving the attacker a lot of time to damage and steal data.
By detecting and analyzing threats automatically, a SIEM solution can help to greatly reduce the time it takes your security team to detect and respond to an incident. The team is told what the incident is and how severe a security risk it poses, enabling them to focus their efforts on the remediation process, rather than getting bogged down sifting through data stores, searching for anomalies. Some SIEM tools also allow admins to configure the automatic remediation of certain threat types.
But that isn’t the only way that SIEM solutions help make your organization’s incident response processes more efficient; they can also reduce the amount of time your SOC team spends barking up the wrong tree. False positives account for 45% of all security alerts, and take just as long to investigate as actual attacks. By analyzing each anomaly and assigning it a risk score, SIEM tools help security teams work out which alerts are genuine threats that need to be investigated, and which are false alarms.
In recent years, many organizations have been put under pressure by industry and regulatory bodies to meet—and prove that they are meeting—certain standards designed to ensure the protection of their data, their employees’ data and their customers’ data.
A SIEM solution can also help your organization to prove that it’s meeting industry and regulatory compliance requirements by generating reports—both scheduled and in real-time—of data logs and security events. Instead of having to collect and normalize that data manually for an audit, your security team can simply log into their SIEM tool’s central dashboard and generate the necessary reports in a matter of minutes.
What Are The Limitations Of SIEM Systems?
While SIEM solutions have many benefits, there are also a few challenges that come with using one:
- Lengthy implementation processes. SIEM tools can take a long time to deploy because they have to integrate with each part of an organization’s IT infrastructure. Because of this, many smaller organizations—or those with less available security resource—choose to outsource their SIEM to a managed security services provider (MSSP), which takes care of the deployment and ongoing management of the solution for them.
- Alert fatigue caused by false positives. This challenge is often one faced by organizations that don’t give their SIEM solution feedback on the alerts it provides them, or those that haven’t configured the behavior profiles properly to reflect their IT environment. When properly configured, a SIEM tool should help to reduce false positives by assigning a risk score to each incident, and triaging incidents based on the threat they pose.
- Cost. The initial cost of a SIEM tool can be in the thousands of dollars, from purchasing the tool itself to paying the security staff to maintain it. While this cost is still significantly less than the average cost of a data breach—which currently stands at $4.62 million—some organizations may not be able to afford it all at once. These companies should consider investing in a SIEM solution as-a-Service, which allows them to pay for it via a regular subscription, or using an MSP or MSSP that will bundle SIEM services in with a wider security offering.
What Features Should You Look For In A SIEM Solution?
There are a lot of SIEM tools on the market, and it can be difficult to decide which one is the best fit for your business. To ensure you’re making the right choice, it’s important that you consider your budget, the type of deployment options offered, and the native features of each solution.
And while each solution is likely to offer slightly different capabilities to meet various use cases, there are some features that every SIEM tool should include:
Log Data Management
This is arguably the most critical feature of any SIEM solution; without properly collecting and managing log and event data, a SIEM tool can’t perform any of the analytics that will help you detect threats or respond to security incidents.
There are a few things that your chosen SIEM tool should do when it comes to managing log data:
- Aggregate log and event datafrom different sources across your infrastructure and store it in a secure, central repository for real-time analysis and historical reporting.
- Normalize that dataso that it’s more accessible, easier to visualize and easier to report on for compliance purposes.
- Analyze log and event data in real-time to detect any anomalous behaviors that could be linked to malicious activity.
Some SIEM solutions also provide integrations with third-party threat intelligence solutions to contextualize their log and event data amongst previously recognized threat profiles, helping teams to detect and remediate known threats and potential vulnerabilities more quickly.
Advanced Analytics And Threat Detection
SIEM solutions analyze log events to identify patterns of normal behavior and detect anomalous or malicious activity. Because they collect data from so many different sources, they can monitor for security-related incidents across all connected users, systems, applications and devices. This central network visibility greatly reduces an organization’s mean time to detect (MTTD) threats and mean time to respond (MTTR) to threats.
Different solutions offer different levels of analytics; the strongest solutions apply AI- and machine learning-based user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA) to identify anomalous user and machine behavior in the context of their “normal” baseline behavior. This helps them to pick up on indicators of sophisticated attacks that might otherwise go unnoticed, such as account takeover.
Some organizations may experience up to thousands of events on a daily basis, depending on the size of their IT environment. A strong SIEM solution should enable security teams to access that data in real-time, in a customizable view, from one central management portal.
The management portal or console should also provide customizable dashboards and reporting into an organization’s security posture—both current, for security purposes, and historical, for compliance purposes.
Your security team should also be able to use the management console to define profiles that outline your systems’ normal behaviors to help reduce false positives; if a certain IP address often transfers large amounts of data, for example, the SIEM tool might flag that as suspicious behavior each time, unless it’s told not to. From these configured baselines, your security team can then tell the SIEM tool what type of anomaly should been considered a security incident, and which ones it should send them alerts for. As we mentioned previously, some SIEM solutions leverage machine learning and automated behavior profiling to detect anomalies, but other do not—configuring behavior profiles is especially important in these cases.
Because they collect data from across an organization’s entire IT environment, SIEM systems can be an invaluable tool when it comes to auditing processes and proving adherence to regulatory compliance requirements.
When investing in a SIEM tool for a compliance use case, it’s critical that your chosen solution has robust reporting capabilities that enable you to generate reports using historical data to show how your security posture has changed over time, as well as real-time reports to show your current security posture.
Some SIEM solutions come with out-of-the-box reports designed specifically for compliance purposes, while others offer less comprehensive or intuitive reporting functionality. If your organization sits within a heavily regulated industry such as finance or healthcare, we recommend looking for a solution that offers on-demand reporting and granular report customization, as well as out-of-the-box dashboards purpose-built for compliance.
How Can You Implement A SIEM Tool?
There are a lot of things to think about when implementing a SIEM security solution. Here’s our checklist of actions that will help your SIEM implementation go more smoothly and ensure you set up your solution as effectively as possible:
- Scope your implementation. You need to understand what your use case is for using a SIEM solution, and outline how your organization should benefit from the deployment. That involves defining which logs the SIEM solution will monitor and which compliance requirements your chosen tool must support.
- Choose a deployment option. Most SIEM tools offer a variety of deployment options, including on-prem, cloud, SaaS, or any of the above but via an MSSP. The option you choose will depend on your budget, available security resource, ability to manage the solution in-house, and need for control over data residency.
- Configure correlation rules. SIEM software usually comes with pre-configured correlation rules that outline “normal” and “abnormal” behaviors, but your security team should check and fine-tune these to your environment to help mitigate the risk of false positives.
- Identify compliance requirements. You should already have checked that your chosen SIEM solution supports any compliance requirements that your businesses needs to adhere to but, once you’ve implemented your solution, you need to configure your reports to provide dashboards on the necessary compliance standards in real-time.
- Fine-tune your setup. You should regularly fine-tune your SIEM configurations to help the solution learn what behaviors are normal for your environment and enable it to detect genuine threats more effectively.
- Implement and test your incident response plan. Make sure your organization has planned exactly how it will respond to security incidents that your SIEM alerts you to. If you haven’t already got one in place, follow our guide on how to create an incident response plan, so that you aren’t caught off-guard when the alarm bells start ringing.
SIEM solutions enable organizations to improve their threat detection capabilities and reduce their incident response times, as well as make it easier to prove compliance with regulatory and industry standards.
But for that to happen it’s important that your organization configures your solution properly, and chooses the right SIEM tool in the first place.
To help you make that decision, we’ve put together a list of the ten best SIEM solutions currently on the market, including their key features and which type of business they’re best suited for. You can find a link to our guide below: