A Beginner's Guide to Security Information and Event Management (SIEM)

Cybersecurity too frequently devolves into a hodgepodge of applications and activities. Learn how SIEM software can unify these efforts at your business.

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While multiple cybersecurity applications and protocols, including firewalls and strong password policies, work to prevent unauthorized network access, it’s a challenge to leverage their cumulative yet disparate data.

Security information and event management (SIEM) software helps prevent that scenario of, "Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing?" These applications aggregate network system data for analysis to identify threats, including everything from data exfiltration to privileged access abuse.

We'll go over SIEM security basics and benefits below so you can see how this software helps protect your business' enterprise network and proprietary digital assets.

Overview: What is SIEM software?

SIEM software combines two cybersecurity fields: security information management (SIM) and security event management (SEM). The former collects network data, such as log records, while the latter analyzes this information.

If you have a security operations center (SOC), SIEM drives your cybersecurity efforts. A designated SIEM administrator uses this software to:

  • Set network security policies
  • Collect and analyze data
  • Receive and respond to system alerts

The best SIEM software uses an array of features and activities to monitor your network for security vulnerabilities, including everything from log collection and retention to real-time alerts.

A chart showing 14 different SIEM activities and features.

SIEM incorporates multiple network activities and tools. Source: manageengine.com.

SIEM software monitors software, such as firewalls and web filters, and hardware, including servers and routers.

3 features of SIEM software

The backbone of your SIEM software is its dashboard. It monitors and analyzes every event on your network to facilitate the identification of, and subsequent response to, potential threats.

The SIEM dashboard below analyzed almost 115,000 events and found 22 anomalies requiring more attention. It also breaks out these problematic events by category: users, servers, websites, and shares. Levels and types of risk are displayed in the color-coded area graph at the bottom of the dashboard.

The LogPoint SIEM dashboard uses numeric data and an area graph.

Your SIEM dashboard analyzes network events to pinpoint potential threats. Source: LogPoint software.

Every network has too many ongoing events for human inspection of each one, so you need SIEM's security event monitoring for data collection, threat analysis, and incident response to focus on the most likely threats.

Data aggregation

SIEM software aggregates network logs, which are event record files, into a single database to start the threat-detection process. Network logs come from multiple sources, including:

  • Application servers
  • Databases
  • Routers
  • Security devices

After data collection, SIEM tools normalize this information in the database. While network logs collect uniform data, such as a network address, user, operation, and time, they may include a wide range of additional information. Data normalization uses a template to filter information and omit anything deemed irrelevant as per policies set by the SIEM administrator.

Threat analysis

Subsequent SIEM data analysis and security event correlation looks for threats in multiple locations: emails, cloud resources, applications, and endpoint devices. It also monitors user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA) for anomalies, such as zero-day threats that could indicate compromised accounts or other issues.

Identifying threats is critical, but doing it fast is important, too. Without SIEM software, potential and actual intrusions can go undetected for weeks or months. Thanks to SIEM's artificial intelligence (AI) analysis, your incident response time should decrease.

Incident response

Once SIEM software identifies an attack, suspicious behavior, threat, or vulnerability, alerts are sent to designated network security personnel. At this stage, SIEM automation further aids your mitigation efforts, including identifying attack routes through the network, the devices and applications affected, and actions to address in-progress attacks and compromised assets.

SIEM alerts can include predefined case management and investigation steps. This is important when data compliance is an issue because outside entities may define response, record-keeping, and reporting protocols.

3 benefits of SIEM cybersecurity

Perhaps you use identity management software with single-sign on (SSO) and multi-factor authentication (MFA) to secure your network. A SIEM application builds upon these tools to improve network security, cybersecurity performance metrics, and regulatory compliance.

1. Enhanced network security

One SIEM strength is the ability to pull together disparate information from multiple sources into a single cybersecurity dashboard. Based on SIEM administrator-defined rules and external threat intelligence feeds, pattern recognition algorithms extend your cybersecurity beyond traditional tools.

Areas of increased security include:

  • Internet of Things (IoT): Every business' enterprise network is expanding as more company, vendor, and customer devices connect to it. Many of these endpoints are not configured securely, but IoT vendors typically provide data log repositories that your SIEM can access to find external threats.
  • Insider threats: Your SIEM solution can find internal threats, such as malicious actors unexpectedly escalating user privileges or compromised insiders who have unknowingly introduced malware to the network.
  • Advanced threat detection: More granular data analysis can identify hard-to-find, long-term threats based on data transfer frequency, size, and location anomalies. These range from traffic due to backdoors, botnets, and rootkits to suspicious email forwarding to unknown recipients.

SIEM doesn't replace your other security applications; instead, it leverages their information to provide additional actionable insights based on in-depth analysis.

2. Improved cybersecurity performance

Cybersecurity is about finding and resolving threats, but it must also do this quickly and accurately. Multiple SIEM performance metrics track where your efforts are paying off and where more work remains to be done.

SIEM threat response metrics include:

  • Mean time to detect (MTTD)
  • Mean time to respond (MTTR)
  • Mean time to resolve (MTTR)
  • Percentage of false positives and false negatives
  • Ratio of security alerts to alerts mitigated

A recent IBM report concluded the average cost of a data breach in 2020 was $3.86 million and required 280 days on average to identify and contain. The faster you can identify each threat and intrusion impacts your bottom line by reducing recovery and liability costs.

3. Better regulatory compliance

While you want better network security for your own peace of mind, it's also important for regulatory compliance. Depending on your industry and type of business, you may have to follow multiple data protection standards.

Data protection regulations include:

  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): Limits the collection of personal data of E.U. citizens and how it's used
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA): Protects the privacy of patient medical records in the U.S.
  • Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS): Safeguards branded credit cards used in e-commerce transactions and other financial activities
  • Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX): Defines data access and reporting standards for U.S. accounting and management firms and public company boards

Regulatory fines can substantially increase the cost of a data hack. HIPAA non-compliance fines, for example, range from $100 to $50,000 per record, depending on a company's degree of negligence.

You can enjoy substantial financial savings due to better threat detection, faster incident response times, and enhanced regulatory compliance. SEIM software requires a significant investment, however, so you need a robust implementation plan to achieve the best results.

Unify your cybersecurity activities with SIEM

As your company grows, its digital assets — customer records, financial information, and proprietary knowledge — become more valuable and subject to increasing regulatory oversight. Don't wait until you're the victim of a data hack to strengthen your cybersecurity. Instead, implement a SIEM solution to proactively head off trouble.

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