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What Is Security Information and Event Management (SIEM)?

A cyberattack is expected to occur every 11 seconds in 2021 — nearly double the frequency just a year earlier. These incidents often involve breaches of sensitive proprietary information and cost the organizations involved millions of dollars.

Despite all the resources being devoted to improving cybersecurity, new threats continue to arise faster than defense capabilities. Security operations teams are confronted with the significant challenge of safeguarding enormous stores of data in a wide range of formats, including both unstructured files (pdf documents, pictures, scans, presentations, etc.) and structured data (such as SQL Server and Oracle databases).

There’s never been a more important time for enterprises to adopt robust solutions that can help them identify, prioritize and respond to suspicious behavior in their IT environments as quickly as possible. One option is security information and event management (SIEM) technologies. In this article, we’ll guide you through what you need to learn about SIEM to decide if it is the right solution for you.

What is SIEM?

SIEM tools are software platforms that aggregate event log data across multiple systems and applications, servers and security devices. The historical log data and real-time events can be combined with contextual information about users, assets, threats and vulnerabilities as well. The data is correlated and analyzed using rules that help identify threats like malware activity, failed login attempts or escalation of privileges. When the SIEM identifies a potential security issue, it alerts the appropriate security teams or other designated stakeholders.

SIEM platforms can help with network security event monitoring, user activity monitoring, historical analysis, incident analysis and compliance reporting. Most SIEM solutions combine the capabilities of security event management (SEM), security information management (SIM) and security event correlation (SEC) into a single solution.

Why companies buy SIEM solutions

Companies invest in SIEM solutions primarily to take advantage of the security benefits SIEM provides. Here are the top SIEM capabilities they look for:

  • Basic security monitoring — Searching through the pool of logs and providing reports is the simplest use case for SIEM. Organizations can get answers to questions like “Who logged into the system during these hours?”
  • Threat detection — SIEM solutions can help organizations discover internal and external threats by delivering near-real-time security event monitoring, automated alerting, and analysis of application or user activity.
  • Security incident investigation and response — SIEM solutions enable search through historical data to respond to security incidents and perform forensics analysis.
  • Compliance oversight — In addition to security needs, organizations also use SIEM technology to meet the reporting requirements of compliance standards like HIPAA, PCI/DSS, SOX, FERPA and HITECH.
  • Log retention — Long-term storage of logs is often required for forensic purposes and to comply with industry standards like PCI DSS, HIPAA, and SOX. Organizations often generate a high volume of log data daily, and SIEM solutions can help with log retention.

SIEM deployment models

There are two main options for deploying and running SIEM solutions:

  • Traditional — The vendor supplies the software and often provides support as part of the purchase or as part of a separate support contract, but the day-to-day functions are in the hands of the buyer. This approach can be attractive to organizations that want to maintain full control over their network security.
  • Software as a service (SaaS) — Other organizations want the SIEM managed as a service. The vendor provides the underlying architecture and handles back-end details. The buyer runs the day-to-day operations, including updates, fine-tuning and incident response. Some of the main SaaS SIEM vendors also provide managed security services (MSS) and managed detection and response (MDR).

The drawbacks and limitations of SIEM

SIEM can be a valuable component in a mature security strategy. But before you leap into a SIEM purchase, it’s critical to look into the key limitations that could leave your organization vulnerable to cyberattacks:

  • SIEM solutions are complex and expensive. SIEM tools are complex to operate, so they require a high IT security maturity level and specialized (and therefore costly) IT team expertise. They also require frequent fine-tuning and other management, since both your IT environment and the threat landscape are constantly changing.
  • SIEM solutions often generate numerous false alarms. Organizations typically purchase SIEM products expecting reliable security alerts that provide the threat intelligence required to respond promptly and prevent breaches. However, without proper tuning, SIEMs tend to generate a never-ending flood of alerts — often up to 4,000 a week — and don’t always provide the meaningful data required for proper analysis and response. IT teams end up spending enormous amounts of time chasing down false positives and worrying that true security incidents are being overlooked.
  • SIEM tools are not designed to identify vulnerabilities. SIEMs collect, correlate and analyze event data in order to detect active threats. However, they are not designed to identify security gaps to help organizations reduce their attack surface, which is a critical part of a risk-based security strategy, as recommended by frameworks like NIST CSF.
  • SIEM tools don’t provide details on data sensitivity. This limitation is critical in two scenarios — when the SIEM is used for compliance purposes and when it is used for security and incident response:
    • Many compliance standards require far more than posting a privacy policy. In particular, organizations must be able to detect and report breaches within a limited timeframe. With only a SIEM solution to help, security teams have to manually check whether a breach involved data regulated by a particular mandate, which puts the organization at additional risk of steep compliance penalties.
    • Without clear information about whether a particular security incident involved sensitive data, you risk wasting your time on less important events and letting critical attacks continue unchecked.

Accordingly, to make a SIEM tool most effective, you need to assess what types of data you have, the threats you face and your weak points, and determine which data needs deep protection.

Is SIEM a good fit for your company?

Any software purchase should be assessed in the context of your specific IT infrastructure and business needs. In particular, before investing in a SIEM, be sure to consider:

  • The capabilities of the tools you already have — this might enable you to save your budget for crucial foundational technologies like data discovery and classification
  • Scale and complexity considerations, such as the types and locations of data sources
  • Deployment model (on-premises or managed SIEM solution)
  • Compliance requirements

Several overarching questions should be answered:

  • Is a SIEM solution manageable, scalable, sustainable, reliable and cost-effective for the company?
  • How will we support a given SIEM solution? Do we have the experience to get it up and going, or will we need to bring on a new hire to handle it (and is that talent readily available)?
  • Do we have established security processes and data-handling policies that can be easily applied to the SIEM configuration?
  • How will the SIEM meet our auditing and regulatory compliance needs?

In addition, carefully consider possible integrations between the SIEM and other solutions. For example, many SIEM solutions can be integrated with threat intelligence feeds that continuously provide indicators of compromise, such as URLs, email and IP addresses, and malware hashes known to be related to cyberattacks. (One example of a feed is the Ransomware Tracker and Internet Storm Center.)

How the Netwrix Data Security Platform helps

If you’re not very far along in your security journey, consider whether there is a better answer to your IT challenges than costly and complex SIEM software. Netwrix solutions can help you improve security, data privacy and compliance while avoiding SIEM-related headaches.

Using the Netwrix Data Security Platform, you can:

  • Accurately identify the sensitive data you process and store so you don’t waste time and effort on data that doesn’t need strong protection.
  • Minimize the risk of a breach by proactively spotting gaps in your IT security controls.
  • Detect true threats quicker and avoid alert fatigue.
  • Speed incident response with actionable context about each incident.
  • Restore operations faster by accurately prioritizing the recovery of the most critical assets.

If you do choose to invest in a SIEM, consider integration with the Netwrix Data Security Platform. SIEM solutions collect and report events as they appear in logs, so the output data is often cryptic and is missing critical details. The Netwrix platform enriches the output with critical details and ensures it is easy to understand. There are prebuilt generic add-ons for integration with SIEMs, as well as add-ons specifically designed for integration with the following SIEMs:

Read this eBook for further help determining whether a SIEM is the best answer to your IT security challenges and more details about how the Netwrix Data Security Platform will help you build a comprehensive security strategy.

FAQ

What is a SIEM and how does it work?

SIEM tools are software platforms that aggregate event log data from various cloud and on-premises systems, applications and devices. Once collected, the events are analyzed using rules designed to spot threats like malware activity or suspicious login attempts. When the SIEM identifies a potential security issue, it alerts the security team or other designated stakeholders.

What key capabilities should you look for in SIEM?

Top SIEM capabilities include data aggregation, event correlation, alerting on security events, log retention, and reporting for incident investigation and response.

Who can benefit from a SIEM solution?

Large organizations with complex, hybrid network infrastructures can benefit the most from SIEM solutions.

Does SIEM differ from log management?

A SIEM is a more robust solution. For example, log management does not provide advanced analytics or alerting, and doesn’t convert log data across disparate sources into a unified format. For a detailed comparison of the two technologies, see our blog post on SIEM vs Log Management.

What is the best SIEM solution?

The “best” SIEM solution is the one your organization uses to its fullest potential. Remember that SIEMs can help detect threats, provide information about them and automate some response processes, but that functionality by itself will not reduce your attack surface or help you recover from attacks.

What is SIEM threat intelligence?

SIEM threat intelligence includes correlation of logs and use of user behavior analysis to identify threats and send alerts. Many SIEM solutions can also be integrated with threat data feeds to expand the threat context.

What are threat data feeds?

Threat data feeds help organizations spot threats by continuously providing indicators of compromise, such as URLs, malware hashes, and email and IP addresses known to be related to cyberattacks.

What are threat intelligence sources?

Threat intelligence sources include third-party feeds, system logs, and open-source intelligence feeds such as the Ransomware Tracker and Internet Storm Center.

Elena has more than 8 years of experience in the IT industry. She started as a Public Relations Specialist at Netwrix, working on PR materials such as commentaries, articles and customer success stories. Then she transitioned to Content Marketing, where she is now responsible for delivering informative blogs and whitepapers. Elena also serves on the editorial teams for both the Netwrix Cyber Chief and SysAdmin magazines.