security information and event management

Understanding Security Information and Event Management (SIEM)

Andrew Douthwaite

May 30, 2024

Online security is an important part of any business enterprise. Many everyday operations have been moved online, and that introduces the potential for hackers and other bad actors to access sensitive data more easily than ever before. As organizations move their workloads to the cloud and more employees make the shift toward remote work, a plethora of security services have been devised and updated to handle the threats that go hand-in-hand with this remote access. Security Information and Event Management, or SIEM, is one of the most powerful.

Understanding how SIEM products monitor network activity and help to protect our organizations’ sensitive information can give us a significant leg up in detecting and responding to threats. Today, we’re going to look at what SIEM is, how it works, its benefits and limitations, and how you can make the most of this important security tool.

What is Security Information and Event Management?

The term SIEM, pronounced sim, was coined by Mark Nicolett and Amrit Williams. The pair proposed this new security information system, based on two established technologies already on the market. Security Information Management (SIM), which collects and analyzes application and device log data, and Security Event Management (SEM), which monitors networks and devices for activity and events in real time, are powerful security tools on their own, but the combination provides next level protection against threats in the digital world. 

Security Information and Event Management software gives us the ability to both monitor network and device activity, and to analyze log data at the same time, giving security teams better visibility into everything happening on the network. This allows preventative defense measures to be more effective, and makes it easier for network administrators to respond to incidents before they can cause too much damage.

How SIEM Works

Security Information and Event Management systems are designed to aggregate data, sift through these complex data sets, and report information regarding potential threats in real time, so that our security teams can interpret the information and act upon any potential incidents. This proactive approach, combined with real time reporting, allows organizations to research potential breaches and take steps to minimize effects before any real damage is done. Here’s how it works:

SIEM software analyzes activity from multiple different resources across your IT infrastructure. These resources may include personal devices (endpoints), servers, application and device logs, and more. 

As network information and behaviors are analyzed, the software creates behavioral baselines that represent normal network activity. This baseline provides a reference against which to detect abnormal behaviors and identify potential threats before they have the chance to infiltrate systems and access data. This early detection is key in preventing data loss and reputational harm as a result of security breaches or other security incidents. Let’s look at some key functionality that you can expect out of an SIEM solution.

Log Management

The basis of any Security Information and Event Management solution is to continuously monitor all activity within the network and report any anomalies. This real time analysis and reporting alerts security teams to anything that doesn’t look right, and provides them with the time and information they need to respond to perceived threats before network integrity is compromised.

Event Correlation

One of the core security features of SIEM solutions is the ability to identify and understand patterns. This pattern recognition, or event correlation, allows the software to see when something isn’t right and may constitute a security concern. If that deviation in the pattern is deemed to be a threat through a certain set of criteria having been met, the software collects the data related to the threat and alerts the security team.

Incident Monitoring and Security Alerts

Through continuously monitoring network activity, SIEM solutions are able to identify abnormalities and alert in-house security teams with audits of all activities surrounding the incident. This provides security teams with tremendous insight into how activities occur and how to prevent them in the future.

Compliance Monitoring and Reporting

Certain industries, such as healthcare, finance, IT, energy, and aviation, require very stringent compliance and regulatory monitoring. SIEM gives you the tools to ensure your organization is meeting these regulatory requirements and generate reports if something doesn’t measure up. Many SIEM solutions even come equipped with standard add-ons designed to generate industry specific reports. Keeping your organization compliant has never been easier.

SIEM as Security Information and Event Managament –ar 4:3 Job ID: 7e4cba99-f7fa-437e-8ee2-646fcc0bea8b

Benefits of SIEM

Utilizing SIEM software delivers a number of benefits that organizations can leverage to strengthen their overall security posture. Some of the greatest benefits come in the form of:

  • Providing real time threat identification and response opportunities in easy to understand language through a centralized portal
  • SIEM technology often utilizes artificial intelligence to provide advanced threat protection
  • Keeps companies compliant through advanced auditing and reporting procedures
  • Gives organizations greater visibility into network activities, such as connected devices, user behaviors, and application activity
  • Provides organizations with the ability to better detect new or unknown types of threats

Limitations of SIEM

With all the benefits that go along with adding a layer like SIEM to your security stack, there are some limitations that a few users may experience. If not properly implemented and utilized, you may find that it isn’t meeting your needs in a few areas. These areas may include:

  • SIEM is a complex system that may give inexperienced users trouble when implementing and using it for the first time.
  • Some businesses lack the resources to implement a successful SIEM campaign. It takes an investment in both time and money, as well as a skilled workforce to get it right.
  • To get the biggest benefit from SIEM, data from all layers of network and information security should be onboarded into the system. This can present a challenge for some users.
  • Not all SIEM solutions are equipped to handle rapid scaling as well as others. If your business is in a period of exponential growth, scalability is something you should speak to your SIEM provider about

The degree to which you experience benefits or limitations with your SIEM tech depends largely upon how well you implement and use this piece of technology. Getting this right requires some planning before diving in.

Best Practices and Implementation

In order to get the most out of any piece of technology, it’s essential that we recognize the strengths and weaknesses of the system, as well as how to best implement the program. Some organizations that adopt SIEM solutions have reported difficulty using the system, mainly in part to improper planning on the implementation phase and lacking clear vision in regards to their expectations.

Identifying your use cases and adhering to some simple best practices and SIEM implementation procedures will allow your organization to get all the great benefits you expect out of SIEM security solutions. 

Define your objectives 

You’ll get the most out of any new system through a clear understanding of your goals and objectives. Identify what it is that you want to monitor and what type of alerts are important to you. If you’re unsure, these objectives may be clarified through identifying which IT assets are the most important to protect, where potential threats may be most likely to cause damage, and industry compliance guidelines.

Connect your other security products

If you’re using layers of security products in addition to your Security Information and Event Management system, make sure everything is connected. Using your SIEM portal as a central location to aggregate all security information allows security teams to more easily identify behavioral anomalies and potential threats without sifting through multiple buckets full of dense information.

Create rules and automate workflows

Security Information and Event Management systems have the ability to produce a tremendous amount of data. The sheer volume can be difficult to navigate if you haven’t automated workflows and created rules to pare down this information so your security team is only alerted to pertinent threats.

A great way to create effective rules and automated workflows is to begin with the out-of-the-box rules and customize them as you see fit. This will help you design your own, more customized rules down the road and will limit the number of false positives your security team has to sift through.

Fine tune the system

As you use the system and your understanding of its benefits and limitations grows, you’ll likely find that some of the reports aren’t particularly useful or could be tweaked to deliver more pertinent information. Continually fine tuning your system’s rules and behaviors will further limit the number of false positives, and improve the quality of the information you receive.

Ensure sufficient data retention

Not all threats can be identified immediately. This means you should set up sufficient data retention rules that allow for retroactive monitoring when real time monitoring isn’t enough. The exact duration can vary from industry to industry, but when in doubt, defer to your industry regulatory requirements or your personal business needs.

Train your staff and identify a dedicated administrator

SIEM systems are set up to identify potential threats and alert security teams in a timely manner, but their effectiveness wanes if staff doesn’t understand how to absorb that information and act upon it. Proper training on usage and a clear action plan for incidents is key to maintaining effectiveness. 

Also, you’ll want to assign an administrator to ensure the system is maintained properly. This sets your security team up for success and improves the quality of the information they receive from the system.

Review the system regularly

The only way to know whether or not your Security Information and Event Management system is meeting your needs is to conduct regular reviews. Periodically checking in to see that your system still meets your needs and accomplishes your security objectives will allow you to see what kind of value you’re getting out of the system.

Design incident response plans

In the event that an incident occurs, it’s important that you know how to respond as quickly as possible to limit any potential damage. Designing and practicing response plans is akin to designing a fire escape plan for your home. When you know how to respond and have practiced the steps, you’re well prepared in the event that you need to make these important decisions quickly.

Why is a Robust Security Solution like Security Information and Event Management Important?

Monitoring our networks manually may be technically possible, but few organizations have the resources to make this a reality. Through the automation of systems to present stripped down security teams with useful information, we are able to identify and respond to threats and provide greater security without the need for large security teams. 

SIEM is a powerful addition to any cybersecurity ecosystem. As few security solutions can be considered stand alone products, each piece becomes a tool in the overall system that increases our chances of operating in the cloud without incident. As our companies grow, the introduction of additional endpoints only exacerbates the problem. Monitoring behaviors in real time and analyzing data logs gives us the best line of defense, and demonstrates SIEM’s importance.

Conclusion

Network and information security are more important now than they’ve ever been. In order to properly protect your important data sets and keep bad actors out, a robust security plan is of critical importance. The more layers you have, the better off you are.

Security Information and Event Management is a powerful tool in your ability to detect and respond to threats. But, like any software system, it’s only as powerful as your ability to use it effectively. Proper implementation and adherence to best practices will give you the best chances for success with this system. You can also get the benefits of Security Information and Event Management without a dedicated security team. For smaller organizations without the benefit of those large teams, enlisting the help of SIEM management services can put you on the same security level as the big guys, without an excessive price tag.

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