What is Security Information and Event Management (SIEM)?

As a managed services provider (MSP), a critical aspect of your job is keeping your customers safe from security threats. Security compromises can come from all directions, and your set of network security tools needs to be diverse. You need to know how to protect your systems (and your customers’ systems) from threats in real time—and, if a threat has already slipped through the cracks, how to analyze existing issues using historical data logs.

What is SIEM?

The goal of SIEM is simple: to manage the security of your system from a centralized interface. SIEM stands for Security Information and Event Management. This is a combination of SIM (security information management) and SEM (security event management), two major topics in the ITIL security world.

Although there’s a lot of overlap in the functions of SIM and SEM, each type of security management serves a unique function. SIM refers to data log analysis for improved security, while SEM includes a broader range of potential security events that could affect your network. Combined, these two concepts create SIEM—a comprehensive suite of security management tools designed for real-time threat prevention and historical diagnostics.

How Does SIEM Work? 

Any SIEM infrastructure aims to centralize multiple streams of incoming security data. At the core of SIEM is data log analysis, which allows you to keep track of data log entries and detect anomalies, latency, faulty codes, and other issues that might signal a security threat.

Your data log entries offer proactive insight into your real-time security landscape, but data monitoring isn’t enough to mitigate all potential threats. In case a system threat has already occurred, real-time analysis might be too late—you also need software to help you autopsy your historical data logs and troubleshoot existing errors. That’s why an effective SIEM toolkit involves both real-time and historical data log analysis.

Data log analysis is especially useful for detecting insider threats and system malfunctions, but a fully preventive security setup will also protect against outsider threats like viruses, malware, and other system security breaches.

SIEM software doesn’t just help to ensure security—it also aims to make security services a user-friendly process. Any effective SIEM monitoring toolkit should also make your security management a centralized process, providing a practical dashboard that allows you to interact with security metrics in simple language.

Because MSPs don’t have the time to manually monitor all SIEM metrics at once, alerts and reports can help to deliver aggregated data efficiently right to your inbox. Different SIEM providers use different approaches for reporting and alerts. Regardless of your alert setup, SIEM systems all pursue the same goal: to provide a helpful user interface, combined with comprehensive security management software.


Why is SIEM Important?

SIEM helps you to maintain a safe and healthy network. Your security is crucial for a successful IT setup and gathering network information proactively can help MSPs avoid disasters. Any businesses worried about the cost of SIEM should note that good security management offers the possibility of long-term profit gains.

When your applications are unreliable, slow, or otherwise unable to provide a successful user experience, your security issues can wreak havoc on your returns. That’s why protecting against security threats is an important way to maintain customer satisfaction for any modern business. Network security issues can quickly turn away potential customers and weaken the image of your brand. With a strong IT security management protocol, you can help ensure your customers encounter fast, reliable digital service from a trustworthy business.

In addition to customer satisfaction, SIEM can make or break your business when it’s time for your IT security audit. Depending on the industry, organizations may need to comply with industry-wide standards for systems security. Auditors may check regularly to ensure your IT security is in compliance with regulations like HIPAA (for the medical industry), SOX (for the financial services industry), and PCI DSS (for businesses using credit card transactions).

When you submit your IT security data for an industry audit, your business needs to be on top of its security game. Businesses that don’t meet industry security standards can quickly lose accreditation. By using centralized security management and intuitive templates, SIEM tools can help you compile security reports specific to your industry, and be a crucial tool to help you pass your security audit.


What Makes Up a SIEM tool?

Because SIEM serves a variety of functions, SIEM is more of a toolbox than a single tool. Described below are the main functions of any well-rounded SIEM security information and event management package.

  • Log Collection and Management
    The most important component of SIEM security management is log collection and management. Data logs collect your network operations data in real time, and it’s your job as an MSP to keep up with log entries. Your data log contains historical records of every query that has retrieved information from your system, which makes it a good starting point for troubleshooting when something goes wrong.The issue with system performance might be in the data log itself, or your data anomalies might be a symptom of other types of network malfunction. Poorly written queries and data bottlenecks can lead to latency and ineffective application performance. If this is the case, an analysis of your data log can quickly lead you to a solution. In a more sinister scenario—say, your system has been compromised by an insider threat—detecting and tracing anomalies in your data log is also the key to a speedy solution. Because your data log is the master vault for all your system’s operations, it’s the most sensible point of analysis for security troubleshooting.SIEM software uses log data in two major ways. First, SIEM tools monitor your data entries in real time, running live metrics and detecting abnormalities when data appears unusual. You can configure SIEM software to trigger alerts for anomaly detection, which help you identify security threats before they impact your functionality. Secondly, SIEM tools can help you perform an autopsy when a security threat has already occurred. You can analyze aggravated metrics and reports to help you troubleshoot historical threats, if you don’t understand exactly what happened. Recording historical data logs is also the central component of security compliance audits in many different industries—HIPAA, for example, may request data logs up to six years old.
  • Correlation
    Correlation builds off of your data log metrics to help you draw conclusions. Standard SIEM software progresses past simple data collection and centralization—SIEM automatically correlates your data in order to identify trends. When your system is processing large quantities of data, it’s too time-consuming to perform a manual analysis of every individual process. Security protection software bridges the gap between data log monitoring and data log troubleshooting. Your SIEM infrastructure establishes relationships and trends among your data points, which form the backbone of a successful threat detection program.Correlation for your data logs isn’t just for historical data. SIEM tools can also correlate data entries in real time. This allows your security software to establish relationships among actions as they occur, and to detect anomalies as soon as they exceed a safe threshold based on past data trends. Because your data correlation is always evolving, SIEM threat detection becomes smarter the longer it runs. As you continue to deploy your SIEM infrastructure, it becomes an increasingly effective way to detect even the most subtle security threats.
  • Usability
    Usability is a critical component to any SIEM tool because actually understanding your correlated data is important. Just because your SIEM software can establish data trends and detect anomalies doesn’t mean it automates your entire troubleshooting process. Even with the most precise security alert system, SIEM is ultimately a tool that aids MSPs in fixing customer network problems.That’s exactly where usability comes in. SIEM tools employ a variety of user-friendly features to improve MSP user experience and make troubleshooting an intuitive process. Instead of analyzing long lists and charts of compiled data, SIEM software can enable MSPs to utilize intuitive dashboards to track data log metrics. Rather than trying to parse through large datasets manually, SIEM software can generate color-coded graphs of trends and correlations. When you need to analyze a data log report, SIEM software offers intuitive reporting templates. SIEM data log analysis helps you to identify security threats, but a usable interface is what makes it efficient and effective.
  • Alerting
    Another important job for any successful SIEM tool is to successfully alert you when threats are detected. SIEM tools often employ data log monitoring tools alongside firewalls and other threat-detection tools to offer a holistic security alert system. More sophisticated SIEM programs allow you to specify critical thresholds for security metrics, and to receive customized alerts for only the most critical events. Because SIEM monitoring uses real-time data analysis, 24/7 alerts can share important security information as soon as it happens. Many SIEM tools allow you to configure alerts for direct delivery via SMS, email, or another convenient inbox.
  • Compliance Reporting
    As mentioned briefly before, another important function of your SIEM infrastructure is to help make sure any necessary security audits go smoothly. With many industries requiring complex IT security standards be met, producing a reliable compliance report can be a major source of stress for MSPs and business leaders alike.With a strong SIEM program, your tools can work for you to streamline the compliance reporting process. SIEM software comes equipped with customized reporting templates, which help you with audit reporting and can minimize the stress associated with compliance. A SIEM program with built-in IT security compliance reports makes it possible for you to simply plug data into your industry-specific template and customize from there.

What Are the Best SIEM Products? 

A successful SIEM toolkit will have a plan of attack for each of the major SIEM areas of functionality: log collection and management, correlation, usability, alerting, and compliance reporting.

For MSPs debating which SIEM product to use, your first consideration should be whether you prefer a SIEM open source software or a closed source option. Because it’s free, open source software can be an appealing option for new businesses, small enterprises, or other organizations that are wary of the paywall associated with closed source options.

Open source SIEM options tend to be more difficult to set up, less user-friendly, and more time-consuming to manage than closed source software. A major advantage of closed source SIEM tools is their advanced alerting, usability, and detailed compliance reporting. Even though open source software doesn’t require a down payment, open source tools come with difficulties that may make closed source software more cost-effective in the long run.

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