SIEM Security Information and Event Management Guide

January 23, 2020 Eric Dosal Eric Dosal

7 Min Read

We’ve talked about SIEM solutions a few times in the Compuquip blog. However, a lot of people still have questions about SIEM—including what it is, how it works, and what the best SIEM solutions are.

To help you understand SIEM software better so you can use it to make your cybersecurity measures more effective, the Compuquip team decided to assemble a guide to SIEM solutions:

What is SIEM?

SIEM is an acronym for Security Information and Event Management. This term refers to a variety of network data logging tools that can be used to collect information about activity on a network and generate reports about that activity.

How Does SIEM Work?

The specific working of SIEM tools will vary from one to the next. However, the basic model of SIEM behavior is to collect log and event data from host systems, information security tools, and other applications on the network and present it in a unified view.

Basically, a security information and event management system should be able to collect data from a bunch of disparate sources on a network and put it into one place so you don’t have to go hunting all over for it. From there, different SIEM solutions may do different things.

For example, some solutions might present a chart showing various types of activity over a set period of time—such as a log of how many times a specific database was accessed, how frequently a password entry was rejected, the total number of system errors logged on specific devices, etc.

Other SIEM software solutions might take things a bit further, analyzing patterns in the data to “learn” what normal activity looks like on a network and generating an alert when abnormalities are discovered. Some might allow users to create custom alert thresholds for specific types of events, such as specific databases being accessed by any device/user combination outside of a particular whitelist of approved people and devices, for example.

A few SIEM solutions might even be able to trigger alerts for automated incident response solutions—removing the need for an information security engineer or IT staff member to manually respond to the alert.

Why SIEM Tools Are Important

SIEM security tools are important to businesses of all sizes. Using security information and event management systems to track important event logs and collate them into a single reporting dashboard allows organizations to better understand what’s going on with their cybersecurity infrastructure.

Even the most basic SIEM software solutions can help businesses spot abnormalities—such as sudden spikes in user login failures—that could be indicative of an attack in progress. This, in turn, helps to improve incident management by providing the crucial warning that action is needed.

Another reason why using an SIEM solution is important is because it helps provide forensic data that can be used to optimize information security architecture. This forensic data can tell a cybersecurity expert several things, including:

  1. The method behind an attack;
  2. What attackers did once they breached the network; and
  3. Where the attack originated from (on the network, from a specific server, etc.).

By studying past attacks, it’s possible to identify the specific vulnerabilities they leveraged to close those security gaps and prevent further attacks from succeeding. This is vital for optimizing cybersecurity. After all, what’s to prevent an attacker from trying the same trick again if the exploit they used isn’t fixed?

Limitations of SIEM

As useful as SIEM tools can be, there are a few limitations that can make them difficult to work with. One of the biggest problems many non-expert users have with these solutions is that they often present too much data for any one person to parse—not all of which is important, or even really useful.

This “junk data” that is collected and presented by SIEM software is often referred to as “noise.” The larger and more complex the network that is being monitored, the worse the noise problem will be. This is one of the major challenges of using security information and event management tools that so frequently deters companies from using them.

There are a few ways to alleviate this particular issue. One is to set alerts for the SIEM solution so that users can focus on the most important events and information. Another is to hire a third-party managed security service provider (MSSP) to help manage the solution—more on this later.

Use Cases for SIEM Solutions

There are many different potential use cases for SIEM tools in an organization. Here are a few examples:

Meeting Cybersecurity Compliance Standards

Many companies need to meet strict guidelines for storing and processing data. For example, PCI DSS (payment card industry data security standard), which applies to all companies that process payment card information, has a requirement for companies to “track and monitor all access to network resources and cardholder data.”

Using an SIEM tool to log all of the activity on the network allows businesses to easily meet this particular cybersecurity compliance requirement—as well as similar requirements in other compliance standards.

Forensic Data Analysis

As mentioned previously, SIEM solutions excel at collecting and collating security event information for future analysis. This forensic data can be used to discover critical flaws in the company’s security architecture so they can be closed.

This forensic data can also be used to showcase how well the company was adhering to critical cybersecurity standards—and whether the attack was reasonably preventable. This can be useful for avoiding liability issues.

Notifying Customers about Data Breaches

With the event log from an SIEM tool, it’s possible for a company to identify the specific databases, apps, and other network systems that have been compromised by an attack. This information could prove to be priceless for ensuring that the security team knows:

  1. Whose information was compromised;
  2. How severe the compromise is; and
  3. What steps should be taken to protect customers (based on the type of info compromised).

Countering Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs)

Advanced persistent threats are, by design, difficult to detect. These targeted cyberattacks attempt to compromise systems to steal sensitive data without alerting the victim to the breach. These attacks frequently involve the use of malware that sits on a system for a long period of time—and may even involve the migration of data from a secure database to a less secure server so it is easier to retrieve for attackers.

Security information and event management solutions can help companies spot APTs by watching for abnormal information access requests and data migration. Such activity, when detected, can be a major warning sign of an APT attack in progress.

Improving User Login Verification

With the right SIEM tool, it is possible for companies to improve their user account login verification. By providing additional context for account logins, such as tracking the number of failed login attempts for various systems, login IP addresses, and login times, it is possible to identify unusual behavior patterns that indicate a cyberattack.

For example, someone attempting to log in to a secure database or app outside of business hours from an unknown IP that can be traced back to a different country of origin could indicate an attack. This can be slightly more difficult to prove for companies with employees in multiple continents who have different “active hours,” though—or employees who frequently travel abroad for their work.

Popular SIEM Tools

There are numerous different SIEM software solutions on the market today that have varying built-in functionalities. Knowing some of the top SIEM tools and their capabilities can be useful for creating a benchmark to compare other solutions to in the future.

Here’s a short list of some of the top solutions on the market:

IBM QRadar

IBM is one of the more well-known names in the technology industry. Their QRadar SIEM solution is designed to “Detect known and unknown threats, go beyond individual alerts to identify and prioritize potential incidents, and apply AI to accelerate investigation processes by 50 percent.”

QRadar’s robust AI helps companies detect and counter insider threats, “zero day” attacks, and APTs more quickly. This, in turn, helps to minimize the impact of such attacks.

Splunk

Splunk offers many data-related solutions for enterprises—and is one of the leading companies in the field. Their SIEM tool leverages the company’s extensive experience in data analytics to create a solution that is both flexible and robust. It also integrates with other tools to help make customizing the solution simpler for users.

Splunk’s behavioral analysis helps companies simplify their security operations by more accurately detecting anomalies in network use patterns. The solution also helps companies prioritize their most critical security issues so the issues with the biggest impact on security can be fixed first.

LogRythm

LogRythm’s next-gen SIEM platform incorporates a variety of threat detection capabilities in a single solution. Some of its capabilities include network detection and response (NDR), security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR), user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA), and machine-based analytics.

While many of these tools have some overlap, they all help to improve various aspects of threat detection and response—as well as threat investigation. One particularly valuable tool included in the LogRythm kit is their geolocation-based threat detection. This helps to identify where threats are coming from so companies can better understand who’s targeting them and why.

What is SIEM Co-Management, and Why Should My Company Use It?

As mentioned earlier, SIEM co-management involves the use of an MSSP’s services to help manage and control an SIEM solution. However, it differs from fully-managed SIEM in that the MSSP works with the company’s IT/security team to ensure that the customer is kept in the proverbial loop regarding any cybersecurity issues.

There are several key advantages of using co-managed SIEM services from an MSSP:

  1. Instant Access to SIEM Experts. Because they have a larger team of dedicated experts, MSSPs are often able to provide expert advice on numerous SIEM tools. They can provide advice on which SIEM tools best fit a company’s needs as well as training, so the internal IT team can eventually manage the solution on their own.

  2. Being Able to Stay Informed. With a co-managed solution, organizations are explicitly kept “in the loop” regarding any developments with the SIEM solution—and what it detects. This helps the internal cybersecurity team stay informed of and involved with security incidents.

  3. Reducing IT Workloads. Bringing on a team of dedicated experts helps to alleviate some of the burden on an organization’s IT department. This allows IT staff to focus on their company’s core business rather than having to worry about cybersecurity—and at a fraction of the cost of hiring more internal security staff.

Is your organization in need of help with its SIEM solutions? Whether you need help picking a tool, configuring it to your needs, or sifting through all of the data it provides, Compuquip Cybersecurity is here to help. Reach out to us today to get started!

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