What is SIEM? 
Subscribe to the IBM newsletter Explore IBM Security QRadar
Office building with lights on at night

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, combining security information management (SIM) and security event management (SEM) to enable real-time monitoring and analysis of security-related events, as well as 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.

Click-through demo

See how IBM Security® QRadar® SIEM identifies and investigates anomalous behavior.

How does SIEM work?

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

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 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 in order to correlate their internal security data against previously recognized threat signatures and profiles. Integration with real-time threat feeds enable teams to block or detect new types of attack signatures.

Event Correlation and Analytics

Event correlation is an essential part of any SIEM solution. Utilizing 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 resond (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.

Explore SIEM solutions
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, HIPPA, 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 may be, taking proactive steps to monitor for and mitigate IT security risks is essential. SIEM solutions benefit enterprises in a variety of 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 utilization while meeting strict compliance reporting standards.

AI-driven automation

Today's next-gen 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 significantly 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 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 recreate 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 ensure 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 will be 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 ensure teams are able to respond quickly to any security incidents that require intervention.

  8. Automate where possible using artificial intelligence (AI) and security technologies such as SOAR.

  9. Evaluate the possibility of investing in an MSSP (Managed Security Service Provider) 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 functionality.
MSSP Program benefits
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.

Related solutions
IBM Security QRadar SIEM

The market-leading IBM Security QRadar SIEM is now available as a service on AWS.  Run your business in the cloud and on premises with visibility and security analytics built to rapidly investigate and prioritize critical threats.

Explore QRadar SIEM
Threat management

Too often, an uncoordinated collection of threat management tools built over time fails to deliver a comprehensive view that delivers secure operations. An intelligent, integrated unified threat management approach can help you detect advanced threats, quickly respond with accuracy, and recover from disruptions. 

Explore threat management services
IBM Security QRadar SOAR

Improve security operations center (SOC) efficiency, respond to threats faster and close skill gaps with an intelligent automation and orchestration solution that timestamps key actions and aides threat investigation and response.

Explore QRadar SOAR
Resources IBM Security Framing and Discovery Workshop

Understand your cybersecurity landscape and prioritize initiatives together with senior IBM security architects and consultants in a no-cost, virtual or in-person, 3-hour design thinking session.

X-Force Threat Intelligence Index

Find actionable insights that help you understand how threat actors are waging attacks, and how to proactively protect your organization.

What is user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA)?

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

Take the next step

Cybersecurity threats are becoming more advanced and more persistent, and demanding more effort by security analysts to sift through countless alerts and incidents. IBM Security QRadar SIEM makes it easy to remediate threats faster while maintaining your bottom line. QRadar SIEM prioritizes high-fidelity alerts to help you catch threats that others simply miss.

Learn more about QRadar SIEM Request a QRadar SIEM demo