Log Management and SIEM: Using Both for Enterprise CyberSecurity

By Dave Armlin, VP Customer Success, ChaosSearch

Properly analyzing the massive amounts of data created by network access and the associated security tools has become a very tedious chore.

Today’s cybersecurity professionals are seeking ways to better deal with the massive influx of information so that they can make intelligent choices when it comes to the cybersecurity posture of their networks.

Selecting the proper tools is an important task which merits investigation. A good cybersecurity tool also helps identify potential threats and vulnerabilities while also reporting on trends that impact the organization’s cybersecurity hygiene. After all, it is impossible to manage attack surfaces without understanding how potential threats impact a network.

SecOps teams often use multiple tools and attempt to integrate them to create a complete view of what is happening across their networks, but integrating these tools often proves to be a critical challenge.

Further complicating the situation: today’s networks are heterogeneous, have multiple entry points, often integrate with cloud-based applications, offer data center delivered services, and now include applications that run at the edge of the network. In other words, Enterprise networks have become increasingly complex, more difficult to manage, and generate massive amounts of transactional data.

Since identifying threats and understanding trends has become one of the most powerful practices in the world of cybersecurity – knowing which monitoring tools to use is paramount. This post will discuss two must-haves: SIEM and Log Management.

Popular Cybersecurity Tools: SIEM and Log Management Applications

Two of the most popular tools for cybersecurity analytics in use today are SIEM (Security Incident Event Management) and Log Management. Both help us better understand exactly what is happening across the network and the potential impact that this network activity has on the company’s security posture.

Although SIEM and Log Management tools take different approaches to analysis, using these tools together gives better visibility into the cyber hygiene of a complex network.

SIEM and Log Management overlap in several areas when it comes to achieving visibility. Understanding where the technologies differ and can complement each other, is key to maintaining the cyber hygiene of any Enterprise. Let’s get started.

What is SIEM?

SIEM software primarily gathers and aggregates data from multiple sources on a network and then visualizes that data to expose inconsistencies that indicate cybersecurity issues.

A SIEM solution uses many different underlying technologies to analyze and prioritize the massive amount of data that moves through the network devices. So it should be set up to gather information from the appropriate components that handle connectivity. Those devices can be physical or virtual appliances located in data centers, branch offices, cloud service providers, hosting sites, and so on.

Ultimately SIEM solutions rely on the logging mechanisms of those devices to provide data for analysis.

From the outset, SIEMs were designed to surface the most important security incidents and events in an Enterprise. SIEMs use automation to ease the burden on cybersecurity professionals, using algorithms to filter through millions of events, categorizing, identifying, and comparing those incidents against defined policies. This helps teams to determine if the incident was severe enough to trigger an alarm and take action.

What’s more, SIEM software offers reporting capabilities that categorize security-related events such as failed logins, potential malware activity, and potential data exfiltration. It also can help manage compliance issues since policies can be created to detect potential compliance failures.

SIEM Software has many strengths that make it a good fit in the typical Enterprise for cybersecurity hygiene. The better products in the market excel at data analysis and correlation, indexing, and categorizing events. Most SIEM solutions can work with numerous data sources and include advanced automation tools.

However, those features often come at a high cost, meaning that some businesses may have to make trade-offs.

Common Compromises When Deploying a SIEM

  • Limiting the number of data sources: A SIEM is often optimized for gathering logs from security appliances only, meaning other devices on the network may not be included in the analysis. What’s more, many SIEM vendors charge per data source, meaning that for budget reasons, users may limit integration.
  • Limiting the number of reports: SIEMs often have predefined reports that focus purely on security events, limiting the applicability for further forensics.
  • Navigating costly integration issues: SIEMs often require custom integration to work with cloud or on-premise security appliances. If an appliance is not natively supported, coding may be required to include the log data.
  • False Positives: The complexity of SIEMs, along with integration challenges, can lead to missed security events or generate false positives. Without the full context of a security event, a SIEM may create a situation that is time-consuming to track down.
  • Complexity: Effectively using a SIEM may require extensive training and hiring additional cybersecurity staff.

Ultimately, SIEMs are complex tools that require extensive integration and the expertise to be fully effective.

What is Log Management

Log Management solutions prove to be highly customizable and offer numerous capabilities. They collect, aggregate, store (long-term), archive, analyze, search, and report computer-generated log data.

These tools (or software) process all of the logs created by devices, applications, systems, networks, software, users, and anything else that may make a log entry – helping to ensure no critical information is lost.

Aggregating data across the IT environment, log management software gathers information from operating systems, firewalls, servers, switches, routers, etc. Since each collection point may use a different format for a log, log management tools usually offer a way to normalize data, so that a single unified index can be used for analysis. This allows cybersecurity professionals to search data as soon as it is processed by the system.

Now essential for cybersecurity, log management platforms are especially useful for forensic analysis and understanding how data moves across the network. Cybersecurity professionals can use these platforms to delve into events that may have happened days, weeks, or even months ago.

SIEM vs. Log Management: Cybersecurity Use Cases

SIEMs and Log Management have some different use cases and are actually complementary to each other when it comes to the critical function of cybersecurity.

In the following scenarios, we’ll review the pros and cons as well as the best way to deploy both.

1. Compliance Management

Many businesses in highly regulated industries must report on their adherence to various compliance rules at specific intervals.

  • SIEMs may offer a detailed compliance report showing policies enforced and, if there were any failures, what actions were taken.
  • Log Management solutions provide forensic data that demonstrates a historical view of actual events related to compliance.

Using both tools together simplifies the process of compliance reporting and helps businesses to meet their auditing objectives.

2. Threat Hunting

Today’s businesses are constantly under attack, and threats can be a daily occurrence.

However, blended threats, which often use multiple attack vectors or are part of a larger attack, are often harder to detect and mitigate. A SIEM system may only offer a warning when a threat becomes active.

  • SIEMs may alert the organization of a threat and even provide an indication of a compromise, but it may take a deeper look to find the origin of the compromise.
  • Log Management systems can be used by the team to proactively search through archival data to find early indications of threats, even before a truly malicious payload may have been delivered.

READ: Threat Hunting Frameworks and Methodologies: An Introductory Guide

3. Cyber Hygiene

Avoiding threats or compromises is one of the biggest challenges faced by IT today.

Threats come in all forms, ranging from zero-day vulnerabilities to malicious code, to lateral movement. Understanding how those threats impact the network and drilling down into root causes is often the job of a forensics team.

  • Log Management offers historical data and a broader scope – bringing additional capabilities to IT. These range from cyber forensics to performance management, to infrastructure management and anomaly detection.
  • SIEMs only offer information from security-related logs, meaning that a forensics team has limited visibility into the network infrastructure. That can prove quite limiting, especially when dealing with zero-day threats and compromises.
  • SIEMs are very good dealing with real-time cybersecurity issues and are a valuable tool for identifying and containing threats.
  • Log Management tools expand the view into more data sources, allowing a team to look for patches, or microcode insertion, or any number of other attacks that may not be seen by a SIEM.

In closing, cyber professionals often need to create “what-if” scenarios to track down and expose weaknesses that may be missed by a SIEM. The analytics offered by Log Management tools make it possible to build reports that offer “what-if” analysis, reports that are critical for effective threat hunting.

Combining the capabilities of a SIEM with a Log Management solution gives today’s cybersecurity professionals a multi-pronged approach with which to respond, mitigate, and prevent network attacks.


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