Everything You Need to Know About SIEM with the Top 5 SIEM Solutions on the Market in 2021
Do you run a business and are worried about its security? Or are you an InfoSec professional looking to expand your knowledge? Well, you're in luck! In this article, I discuss a security solution known as SIEM that is made to improve the security of any enterprise.
Table of Contents
- What is SIEM?
- How Does SIEM Software Work?
- Need for SIEM Software
- Benefits and Drawbacks of SIEM Software
- What to Look for in a Good SIEM Software
- How to Successfully Implement SIEM Software
- Top SIEM Tools on the Market
What is SIEM?
Security Information and Event Management is software used by IT professionals in a corporate environment to monitor activities and manage threats within the IT environment. The tool uses security logs and events to provide an insight into the organisation’s information security capability.
It combines both Security Information Management (SIM), which deals with a collection of logs files for analysis, and Security Event Management (SEM), which works on real-time monitoring and detection of issues.
The basic function of SIEM tool is to gather relevant security or log file data from multiple sources, detect any unusual activity, and take necessary action. For example, in case a system gets compromised in an attack, the SIEM will log all activities on that system, generate a report, and notify the security team immediately.
Image Source – manageengine.com
Sources for all data in the SIEM tool can be employee systems, security systems, networks, servers, and even peripheral devices connected to the network. All data collected from these sources is analysed, and a report is generated based on the activity.
In simple terms, SIEM tool simply compares all activities happening in the organisation with a set of rules that define the norm. If there are any deviations from these rules, it is reported.
How Does SIEM Software Work?
Every computer system in an organisation runs many applications, has connected peripheral devices, and all these generate multiple log and event data. The SIEM collects all such data generated by the systems & applications in an organisation and unifies them in a single, centralised platform.
The tool also gathers event and log details from all firewalls, antiviruses and even intrusion detection systems.
Once the SIEM software has all these logs, they are sorted into a defined set of categories such as login attempts, malware activity, access controls etc. After completion, the SIEM uses various predefined rules sets to identify any activity that breaks the norms of the system, creating a potential threat.
Image Source – varonis.com
For example, a system trying to install an application that either doesn't have admin approval or is flagged by antiviruses would be a potential threat and could've been part of a phishing attack.
Another example would be an unusual number of failed logins to access a particular resource. While a few failed attempts wouldn’t be an issue, a large number could potentially indicate a password attack on the system.
In both cases, the SIEM would detect the unusual activity, generate a report with gathered logs and alert the security team for further action.
Generally, the more data the SIEM gathers, the better it becomes at detecting potential threats.
Need for SIEM Software
For the past few years, cyber-attacks have been at an all-time high. The recent ransomware attack by hacker group ‘DarkSide’ cost the victim Colonial Pipelines, one of the largest oil pipelines in the US, almost $4.4 million in ransom.
Similarly, another ransomware attack, by the REvil hacker group, against JBS Foods resulted in a ransom payment of $11 million, which is by far the most enormous ransom to be ever paid in such a scenario.
Most of the ransom paid by Colonial Pipelines was recovered, but JBS Foods still lost all the ransom paid. Colonial pipelines also incurred quite a lot of losses due to their halt of operations during the ransomware attack.
These are only 2 of the dozens of cases happening all over the world, some paying ransoms in the few millions.
With more and more organisations being targeted by such hacker groups, the need for SIEM software only increases. Even though SIEM tools have been around for the past decade, never has their demand been so high.
SIEM is important since it helps to detect malicious incidents that might have otherwise gone undetected. It gathers and filters down all organisational data to a prioritised form based on the security issues they could potentially cause.
Image Source – Vault Infosec on Medium
In case of an actual attack, the SIEM can record all activity, events, resources, and basically the entire timeline of the attack.
The SIEM can also help to maintain compliance in the organisation by collecting log details from all sources and generating necessary reports. The lack of SIEM software would mean that the admin team would end up spending time manually gathering all the log data.
The main components of SIEM software that organisations look for are:
SIEM software, due to its ability to gather events and data from all sources, can identify changes in the usual activity, thereby identifying malicious activity. Since it collects all the information from various sources, it can also reconstruct the entire timeline of the attack for later analysis.
It is to be noted that SIEM software cannot take offensive action against an attacker on its own. But it works in conjunction with other software such as firewalls and intrusion detection systems that can.
The SIEM alerts all such systems and even the security team, who then take necessary action against the attack taking place in order to mitigate the damage caused.
The SIEM is capable of doing so mainly because it keeps a tab of the normal functioning of the whole organisations IT environment so that any irregularity caused by the attack is clearly detectable.
Compliance with Regulations
The log gathering capability of the SIEM can be used to maintain regulatory compliance in a regulated organisation. The logs collected can be monitored to make sure that all sources – host systems, applications, and any other software in security systems, are maintaining compliance with the defined regulations.
A failure of the organisation in a compliance audit will cause a loss of revenue along with hefty fines imposed by the regulatory authority. The worst-case scenario of such a failure would be the loss of any licensing owned by the organisation.
In the absence of SIEM software, the organisation would require manual labour that can gather all log events and details from the aforementioned sources. This is especially difficult due to the variety in operating systems, software and even peripherals used in the organisation.
As described before, SIEM system is able to effectively detect and report any malicious incident with utmost accuracy and speed. This allows incident responders to step in at the early stages of the attack and being able to mitigate quite a lot of the potential damage from the attack.
The SIEM software helps the incident handlers to even visualise the route of the attack in the organisation's network, allowing them to pinpoint and contain it. Since the SIEM can recreate the attack timeline, the security team is also able to identify affected systems and patch them accordingly.
Again, the lack of the SIEM software would require other intrusion detection systems that would lack the reporting and recording capabilities of SIEM. This would mean that an attack would cause more damage, and it would take more time for the incident response team to identify and patch the affected systems.
Benefits and Drawbacks of SIEM Software
Image Source – imperva.com
As discussed before, SIEM software has a lot of importance in a corporate IT environment; But it also has quite a few drawbacks as well that are to be considered before implementing it. First, let’s look at some benefits of installing SIEM software in your organisation.
Benefits of SIEM
- Being able to gather logs and monitor systems and applications continuously, the SIEM has quick threat detection and incident response times in case of an attack
- Makes the analysis of the overall organisational data and security systems easier by generating reports from logs from various sources
- Provides alerts to corresponding teams in case of a threat incident
- A large amount of data is supported, and as data size grows, the efficiency of the software also grows
- Can monitor the entire organisation network as well as connected systems and applications to maintain compliance with regulations
- Able to perform a detailed forensic analysis of an attack and recreate the whole attack timeline as it keeps collecting events and data from various network sources
- Manual labour required is reduced along with the time needed for detailed log analysis
Even though the SIEM has many more benefits besides the above, it isn’t without drawbacks. We look at a few disadvantages below.
Drawbacks of SIEM
- Due to its complex nature, the software needs high initial investment in terms of costs, time, as well as trained professionals for installation and implementation
- SIEM software itself is expensive, ranging in hundreds of thousands of dollars, plus it has quite a lot of associated costs involved, such as training professionals for maintenance or hiring trained professionals
- Maintaining a dedicated team of professionals for the software is resource consuming and very expensive, and it takes talented individuals to analyse and integrate the reports generated by the SIEM
- Even though the software can identify threats to the organisation, there will be quite a lot of false positives reported as well that will take up quite some time to tweak
- If the SIEM software isn’t maintained and monitored properly, it might miss potential threats and even ongoing attacks in the organisation network
However, in large scale enterprises and organisations, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks as these organisations have enough costs and resources to be spent on such software. Such organisations might also have other supporting software already running, such as firewalls or Intrusion Detection Systems.
But when you compare this scenario to small businesses or organisations, they quite often lack the resources to install SIEM software or manage a specialised team for it. These more often try to all the SIEM functions manually or outsource it to a security company.
What to Look for in a Good SIEM Software
- Real-Time Monitoring
- Threat Detection
- Response Times
- User Interface
- Log Management
Every enterprise organisation that requires SIEM software can't just out of the blue purchase any software available on the market. It has to first make some educated decisions regarding the requirements of the organisation and also whether the SIEM software meets these requirements.
While there are quite a lot of selection criteria for SIEM software, every SIEM has to meet a few specific core criteria to be able to be profitable. Please consider the following criteria while picking SIEM tool for your organisation.
The core requirement of SIEM tool is that it should be able to collect log and event data to be analysed in real-time. The SIEM should also be able to monitor users for any suspicious activity without any delays and in real-time.
Image Source – solarwinds.com
This is a core feature since a lack of real-time monitoring will cause delays in detecting any threats or attacks against the organisation. The security team would not be able to respond to such an attack in time, and the organisation might end up losing a lot of money.
Furthermore, a lack of real-time detection might also cause failure in regulation compliance which can again lead to a loss of profits and even fines imposed by a regulatory authority.
The point I am trying to make here is that never compromise on the monitoring capabilities of the SIEM tool. Even though there aren't a lot of tools that don't offer real-time monitoring, you should always make sure it is available.
Growth is always the primary objective of every organisation, be it an IT provider, or a Tech manufacturer or even a social media company. An organisation is always expected to grow. This growth should always be applicable to the SIEM solution that is picked for the organisation as well.
As an organisation grows, the data produced and events triggered will definitely scale up. A good SIEM software should be able to scale up with the organisation and manage the increased overhead without failing.
If SIEM does not scale up as required, you would be required to spend even more money out of your pockets to purchase a new SIEM. With these things being as expensive as they are, it isn’t feasible to be always buying a new SIEM with the slightest growth of the system.
SIEM software that can't detect threats is like a smartphone that can't connect to the internet. It looks fantastic and has a lot of functionality, but there's no point in owning it.
Image Source – innominds.com
Just because SIEM tool gathers log and event data from your organisation systems and applications does not mean it can detect threats. Just because it can generate reports about various data points in the organisation doesn’t mean it can detect threats.
A good SIEM software should be able to analyse the data it collects, compare it with the predefined normal behaviour, and then be able to find any unusual activities. These unusual activities, while not always a threat, is an excellent place to start.
Once the SIEM can detect unusual activity, it's only a matter of fine-tuning until it can detect proper threats and minimise the number of false positives.
So, if you are spending hundreds of thousands on SIEM software, you have to ensure it can identify threats from all the data it collects. On top of threat detection, it is also favourable for the SIEM to be able to recreate the entire timeline of an attack.
Response time of SIEM is an add-on on top of the Threat Detection discussed earlier. While being able to detect a threat or attack is fundamental for SIEM, it is pretty much useless if it can’t report the threat on time.
If an attack is reported even 10 minutes after it is initially detected, it can cause significant damage that would have been otherwise avoidable. This feature ties in directly with the real-time monitoring discussed earlier in this section.
It is always ideal to have the shortest response times for SIEM. As soon as a threat is detected, it has to take necessary action and report to the security team.
While SIEM itself can’t defend against an attack, it has to report the attack along with logs to the security team and even any additional security defence systems in the organisation network such as firewalls, antiviruses, IDSs etc.
You might be wondering why I have included something as trivial as the user interface in this list. But let me tell you, never underestimate a user-friendly interface! It can sometimes be the saving grace of your organisation.
Image Source –ossec.net
Sometimes it doesn't matter how advanced SIEM is. It might have the latest technology implementations but can still end up failing because the UI was too complicated. A simple and easy to perceive UI goes a long way when it comes to SIEM software.
Human beings, when in a situation of panic and rush, tend to miss a lot of information in front of them, even if it is easily seen. This also applies to software that they use, such as the SIEM. No matter how well trained the user might be, they will panic and miss data reported by the SIEM unless it's easily represented.
This is where the user interface of SIEM software shines. If all the data collected and reported by the software is presented to the user in an easy-to-read format without over-complications, they always tend to work well.
In an organisation, as they expand, they might opt to add more security systems into their network infrastructure, such as advanced intrusion detection systems or security software. If the SIEM tool implemented in your organisation can integrate and work in conjunction with such tools, it will further improve the security of the infrastructure.
This is applicable even if you’re trying to add SIEM software to your infrastructure that already has other security systems and tools.
While this feature of SIEM is not mandatory, it is a good thing to have. It isn't quite mandatory because some organisations might not be looking to add any additional features, or maybe they have a good enough team to manage such cross-communication.
For proper functioning of the SIEM software and all integrated software as well as the security team, logs of different sources are very important. Logs form the base of all security monitoring activities in the whole system.
Unless an abnormality in logs isn’t detected, it is quite impossible to identify a threat in the organisation’s IT infrastructure.
For this reason, SIEM software should be able to collect logs from all sources such as host devices, applications, and any other system that generates a log. All such collected logs should then be stored in centralised storage, allowing easy access by concerned persons.
The SIEM should also analyse all collected logs to identify any potential threats through logs that deviate from the norm.
Everything that happens in an organisation is to be reported to superiors and even regulatory authorities (sometimes governments). When I say reporting, I don't mean verbally; I refer to a detailed written (or printed) report with all required details explaining whatever is in the report.
Image Source – logsign.com
Hired a new employee? Report. Bought some stationary? Report. Replaced printer toner? Report. While it isn’t always as exaggerated, it is always necessary to report all activity in an organisation.
So, it is only fair to expect the SIEM software to deliver the same. The reporting capability of the SIEM software is, at the end of the day, what decides its overall efficiency. The SIEM software should be able to produce reports of all the logs it gathered and analysed, any potential threats that may exist, and even active attacks in the organisation IT infrastructure.
How to Successfully Implement SIEM Software
- Requirements Gathering
- Correlation Rules
- Test Runs
- Data Collection
- Incident Response Plan
- Further SIEM Refining
By now, you must have a good idea of what SIEM is, its different benefits and drawbacks, as well as qualities of a good SIEM implementation. In this section, we will look at how you can successfully implement SIEM software in your organisation's IT infrastructure.
Just because you found a good quality SIEM tool doesn’t mean that it is exactly what your organisation needs! You have to also look at whether it meets all the requirements of your IT infrastructure.
The main steps to follow while implementing SIEM software are below.
First and foremost, you have to establish the requirements of your organisation, including the decision of whether it requires SIEM software at all. You may also choose whether or not to implement the SIEM as on-premise software or a hosted software.
You also need to list out the requirements for the SIEM software regarding the industry use cases, compliance requirements, scale of the SIEM, as well as reporting capabilities. It might be a good idea to review your pre-existing security protocols and systems to ensure proper support for the SIEM implementation.
Requirements of the organisation form the basis for the selection of the right SIEM software. If, in case, the requirements weren't formulated right, the SIEM will not function to its best efficiency after deployment.
This will then require a new SIEM to be purchased, which taking into account the hundreds of thousands in price and over 90 days of deploy time, is always not feasible.
Next, you have to prepare a set of correlation rules that define the normal working behaviour of the various systems in the infrastructure. These are what SIEM uses to compare the log details it collects to identify threats.
For example, you might want the SIEM to identify an abnormal number of access failures as a potential threat. This might be a wrong password entered by a user to access a PC, or a wrong key-card used at the entry of the building and such.
These correlation rules form the basis for the SIEM to function properly to identify threats, and if they aren't defined properly, the SIEM can miss potential threats or report plenty of false positives.
Once the requirements and correlation rules have been gathered and setup, it is time for you to select an implementation matching the requirements and have a trial run. The test run will help determine whether or not the SIEM software runs as per requirements in compliance with the correlation rules.
The test run also provides an opportunity to gather as much data as possible to get a proof of concept as well as a clear image of how the system will run after deployment.
While it is not possible to run the SIEM test run across all the sources of the organisation, it is best to run it prioritised on the critical sources that are most vulnerable to threats and malicious attacks.
Avoiding a test run might save some time during deployment but will definitely cause many unforeseen issues in the future which could have been otherwise avoided. This mainly includes a non-match of the organisation requirements and even a lack of important functionality.
The more data SIEM software has, the better will be the efficiency it works at. Unless SIEM software has a bit of data to start with, it will not know what to do with the data it later gathers from all the log sources in the infrastructure.
While it is best to start with the major and more obvious sources that would have a higher risk of threats, the less important sources should not be ignored. A prioritised system should be even more important in an organisation that can't afford to spend a lot of time gathering such data from various sources.
Incident Response Plan
Most SIEM systems have a real-time monitoring capability built-in that creates immediate alerts in case of an attack in the IT infrastructure. This allows the deployment of a rapid response or incident response team to contain the attack and mitigate damages.
Such a response, there needs to exist an Incident Response Plan in the organisation that is to be followed by all concerned teams and even security systems in the case of such a breach or attack that is detected.
While creating a thorough incident response plan, a few things need to be kept in mind:
- Who is responsible for what in the event of a security breach?
- How will the threat be reported to the concerned team?
- Who is in-charge of informing the customers, stakeholders, and law enforcement about the attack?
- How will the events be prioritised and documented during the attack?
- Are there backups and recovery procedures in place?
Without such a plan, removing a threat and mitigating the damage caused is near impossible since no one would be aware of what they need to do.
A well-prepared incident response plan will allow the incident response team to dissolve and remove the threat quicker with minimal damage. Once everyone knows what to do and how to do it, half of the issues during the attack can be solved.
It is also generally a good idea to simulate a breach in the IT infrastructure to train the incident/rapid response team so that they can work together quite efficiently when the real thing happens.
Further SIEM Refining
SIEM software isn't something that you deploy and then forget about it. It is more like a blade and requires constant polishing to keep it sharp. A dull blade can’t even slice through paper.
With the above analogy in mind, you have to keep refining your SIEM deployment constantly to keep it up to date with the latest trends in malware and attacks types. With the constant evolution of malware adopted by hackers, at least a weekly update would be necessary.
Refining SIEM involves periodic tests, modelling attacks, customising correlation rules, and evaluating the reports and analysis generated by the system. Besides this, the SIEM system keeps giving itself positive feedback using past events and historical data.
Keeping the SIEM software at its best ensures a quick response to any threats and attacks made on the organisation’s IT infrastructure.
Top 5 SIEM Solutions on the Market
SolarWinds Security Event Manager
Image Source – solarwinds.com
A list of security software without an entry from SolarWinds is virtually incomplete. Even after the malware attack (by Cozy Bear APT) that happened last year, SolarWinds continues to be the ‘Top Dog’ in the enterprise security industry.
Even though SolarWinds only offers an entry-level Security Event Manager, it is one of the most competitive offerings in the SIEM market.
Equipped with the latest core features of SIEM software, the SolarWinds SEM comes with extensive user monitoring, log management, and reporting features. It also comes with a detailed real-time incident response allowing the use of Windows event logs to manage the infrastructure against future threats.
It also comes with a detailed yet straightforward user interface which looks pretty good and also allows ease-of-use to even newly trained professionals.
Splunk Enterprise SIEM
Image Source – splunk.com
If you are a security professional with a few years of enterprise experience, you would have definitely come across this platform. The Splunk SIEM is one of the world’s most popular enterprise SIEM software.
Functionally, the system can monitor network and machine data in real-time while simultaneously looking for any vulnerabilities. With an in-built analytics system, the Splunk SIEM also comes integrated with an Asset Investigator that together analyse and flag down malicious actions in the infrastructure that might cause future damage.
The feature that makes the Splunk SIEM stand out among its competitors is its ability to identify threats from user behaviour without using any logs. This ensures that a threat that manages to slip between the logs will definitely be caught by the behaviour analysis.
In terms of the user interface, the Splunk SIEM has a fantastic design with a customisable dashboard. It allows a user to initially look at an overview and then click on specific events to view in-depth analysis.
McAfee Enterprise Security Manager
Image Source – scmagazine.com
The McAfee ESM is best known for its in-depth analytics engine and is considered to be in its own league of analytics. It also allows real-time monitoring of users and all activity in the IT infrastructure that generates a log.
The software, with an active directory system, allows the user to gather logs from a wide variety of sources as well as applications. It also has an advanced correlation engine that allows a highly specified set of correlation rules for easier and quicker detection of any threats.
Being primarily designed with large networks in mind, the McAfee ESM is highly scalable and can integrate easily with other security products by McAfee. The tool also provides users access to the McAfee Enterprise Technical Support and McAfee Business Technical Support, making troubleshooting of any software issues much easier.
However, in terms of the user interface, McAfee is quite disappointing. The UI in McAfee is very cluttered and can easily overwhelm a user during stressful situations such as an ongoing threat attack.
But otherwise, it is an excellent SIEM platform and can meet a lot of organisational requirements.
LogRhythm NextGen SIEM
Image Source – logrhythm.com
LogRhythm is a pioneer and leading provider of compliance solutions, cloud security and were one of the first companies to build in the SIEM industry. So, it comes as no surprise that LogRhythm is a well known and trusted brand when it comes to enterprise security.
The LogRhythm NextGen SIEM is compatible with virtually every device and log types and can manage logs easily with its state-of-the-art engines. The platform even has various machine learning algorithms that are used for log analysis, behavioural analysis, and threat detection.
The advanced capabilities make it one of the most accurate and quickest SIEM platforms in the market now. It is also relatively easy to deploy due to the presence of a Deployment Manager that uses simple install wizards to setup log collection, monitoring and other related tasks.
The user interface, however, has a steep initial learning curve. But the learning curve becomes much less an issue due to the user manual that comes with it. The user manual has extensive explanations of the functionalities and even hyperlinks that take a user directly to the feature in question to improve understanding of the system.
Image Source – ibm.com
Even though IBM is quite new to the SIEM scene, its solution, the IBM QRadar, has built its way up the ladder and managed to become one of the best SIEM tools available in the market.
The software not only offers various log management, analytics and data collection functionalities but also comes with in-built risk management and intrusion detection functionalities.
QRadar also has one of the best analytics engines in the market, second only to the McAfee ESM.
The IBM QRadar employs a variety of artificial intelligence systems capable of risk modelling analytics that can simulate a potential attack against the infrastructure. These simulations serve as a positive feedback system allowing the SIEM software to predict the impact of an attack on the network.
The IBM QRadar is one of the most versatile solutions in the market and is a complete security system on its own.
SIEM software is a must-have for an organisation that takes IT security seriously. While it might not be the best choice for small scale businesses, it is pretty affordable and feasible for medium to large scale enterprises.
In the above article, we explored the SIEM software, its importance, along its benefits and drawbacks. We then discussed how to pick the right solution for your organisation requirements and then listed the top 5 SIEM solutions available in the market.
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