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What is SIEM?

Security information and event management, or SIEM, is a security solution that helps organizations recognize and address potential security threats and vulnerabilities before they have a chance to disrupt business operations.

SIEM systems help enterprise security teams detect user behavior anomalies and use artificial intelligence (AI) to automate many of the manual processes associated with threat detection and incident response.

The original SIEM platforms were log management tools. They combined security information management (SIM) and security event management (SEM) functions. These platforms enabled real-time monitoring and analysis of security-related events.

Also, they facilitated tracking and logging of security data for compliance or auditing purposes. Gartner coined the term SIEM for the combination of SIM and SEM technologies in 2005.

Over the years, SIEM software has evolved to incorporate user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA), as well as other advanced security analytics, AI and machine learning capabilities for identifying anomalous behaviors and indicators of advanced threats. Today SIEM has become a staple in modern-day security operation centers (SOCs) for security monitoring and compliance management use cases.

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How does SIEM work?

At the most basic level, all SIEM solutions perform some level of data aggregation, consolidation and sorting functions to identify threats and adhere to data compliance requirements. While some solutions vary in capability, most offer the same core set of functions:

Log management

SIEM ingests event data from a wide range of sources across an organization’s entire IT infrastructure, including on-premises and cloud environments.

Event log data from users, endpoints, applications, data sources, cloud workloads and networks, as well as data from security hardware and software, such as firewalls or antivirus software, is collected, correlated and analyzed in real-time. 

Some SIEM solutions also integrate with third-party threat intelligence feeds to correlate their internal security data against previously recognized threat signatures and profiles. Integration with real-time threat feeds enables teams to block or detect new types of attack signatures.

Event correlation and analytics

Event correlation is an essential part of any SIEM solution. Using advanced analytics to identify and understand intricate data patterns, event correlation provides insights to quickly locate and mitigate potential threats to business security.

SIEM solutions significantly improve mean time to detect (MTTD) and mean time to respond (MTTR) for IT security teams by offloading the manual workflows associated with the in-depth analysis of security events.

Incident monitoring and security alerts

SIEM consolidates its analysis into a single, central dashboard where security teams monitor activity, triage alerts, identify threats and initiate response or remediation.

Most SIEM dashboards also include real-time data visualizations that help security analysts spot spikes or trends in suspicious activity. Using customizable, predefined correlation rules, administrators can be alerted immediately and take appropriate actions to mitigate threats before they materialize into more significant security issues.

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Compliance management and reporting

SIEM solutions are a popular choice for organizations subject to different forms of regulatory compliance. Due to the automated data collection and analysis that it provides, SIEM is a valuable tool for gathering and verifying compliance data across the entire business infrastructure.

SIEM solutions can generate real-time compliance reports for PCI-DSS, GDPR, HIPAA, SOX and other compliance standards, reducing the burden of security management and detecting potential violations early so they can be addressed. Many of the SIEM solutions come with pre-built, out-of-the-box add-ons that can generate automated reports designed to meet compliance requirements.

The benefits of SIEM

Regardless of how large or small an organization might be, taking proactive steps to monitor for and mitigate IT security risks is essential. SIEM solutions benefit enterprises in various ways and have become a significant component in streamlining security workflows.

Real-time threat recognition

SIEM solutions enable centralized compliance auditing and reporting across an entire business infrastructure. Advanced automation streamlines the collection and analysis of system logs and security events to reduce internal resource usage while meeting strict compliance reporting standards.

AI-driven automation

Today's next-generation SIEM solutions integrate with powerful security orchestration, automation and response (SOAR) systems, saving time and resources for IT teams as they manage business security.

Using deep machine learning that automatically learns from network behavior, these solutions can handle complex threat identification and incident response protocols in less time than physical teams.

Improved organizational efficiency

Because of the improved visibility of IT environments that it provides, SIEM can be an essential driver of improving interdepartmental efficiencies.

A central dashboard provides a unified view of system data, alerts and notifications, enabling teams to communicate and collaborate efficiently when responding to threats and security incidents.

Detecting advanced and unknown threats

Considering how quickly the cybersecurity landscape changes, organizations need to be able to rely on solutions that can detect and respond to both known and unknown security threats.

Using integrated threat intelligence feeds and AI technology, SIEM solutions can help security teams respond more effectively to a wide range of cyberattacks including:

  • Insider threats: Security vulnerabilities or attacks that originate from individuals with authorized access to company networks and digital assets.

  • Phishing: Messages that appear to be sent by a trusted sender, often used to steal user data, login credentials, financial information or other sensitive business information.

  • Ransomware: Malware that locks a victim’s data or device and threatens to keep it locked, or worse, unless the victim pays a ransom to the attacker.

  • Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks: Attacks that bombard networks and systems with unmanageable levels of traffic from a distributed network of hijacked devices (botnet), degrading performance of websites and servers until they are unusable.

  • Data exfiltration: Theft of data from a computer or other device, conducted manually, or automatically by using malware.

Conducting forensic investigations

SIEM solutions are ideal for conducting computer forensic investigations once a security incident occurs. SIEM solutions allow organizations to efficiently collect and analyze log data from all of their digital assets in one place.

This gives them the ability to re-create past incidents or analyze new ones to investigate suspicious activity and implement more effective security processes.

Assessing and reporting on compliance

Compliance auditing and reporting is both a necessary and challenging task for many organizations. SIEM solutions dramatically reduce the resource expenditures required to manage this process by providing real-time audits and on-demand reporting of regulatory compliance whenever needed.

Monitoring users and applications

With the rise in popularity of remote workforces, SaaS applications and BYOD (bring your own device) policies, organizations need the level of visibility necessary to mitigate network risks from outside the traditional network perimeter.

SIEM solutions track all network activity across all users, devices and applications, significantly improving transparency across the entire infrastructure and detecting threats regardless of where digital assets and services are being accessed.

SIEM implementation best practices

Before or after you've invested in your new solution, here are some SIEM implementation best practices you should follow:

  1. Begin by fully understanding the scope of your implementation. Define how your business will best benefit from deployment and set up the appropriate security use cases.

  2. Design and apply your predefined data correlation rules across all systems and networks, including any cloud deployments.

  3. Identify all of your business compliance requirements and help ensure that your SIEM solution is configured to audit and report on these standards in real-time so you can better understand your risk posture.

  4. Catalog and classify all digital assets across your organization's IT infrastructure. This is essential when managing collecting log data, detecting access abuses and monitoring network activity.

  5. Establish BYOD policies, IT configurations and restrictions that can be monitored when integrating your SIEM solution.

  6. Regularly tune your SIEM configurations, ensuring you're reducing false positives in your security alerts.

  7. Document and practice all incident response plans and workflows to help ensure that teams are able to respond quickly to any security incidents that require intervention.

  8. Automate where possible using AI and security technologies such as SOAR.

  9. Evaluate the possibility of investing in a managed security service provider (MSSP) to manage your SIEM deployments. Depending on the unique needs of your business, MSSPs may be better equipped to handle the complexities of your SIEM implementation, as well as regularly manage and maintain its continuous functions.
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What the future holds for SIEM

AI will become increasingly important in the future of SIEM, as cognitive capabilities improve the system’s decision-making abilities. It will also allow systems to adapt and grow as the number of endpoints increases.

As IoT, cloud computing, mobile and other technologies increase the amount of data that a SIEM tool must consume. AI offers the potential for a solution that supports more data types and a complex understanding of the threat landscape as it evolves.

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UEBA is particularly effective at identifying insider threats that can elude other security tools because they mimic authorized network traffic.

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