More Than Meets the Eye: Five Common Misunderstandings About SIEM Solutions

May 12, 2017
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2 min read

Security information and event management (SIEM) is top-of-mind for many chief information security officers (CISOs). There are many common challenges related to the implementation of SIEM, some of which are rooted in false expectations and inconsistent views. This is a good reason to address five of the most common misunderstandings associated with SIEM, which regularly come across in discussions I have with customers.

Five Misconceptions About SIEM Solutions

1. SIEM Is Just a Tool

SIEM describes a management functionality designed to identify security events by aggregating and analyzing real-time and historic data from distributed systems. But in reality, SIEM is widely associated with a piece of technology.

This is not necessarily wrong, but it is only a part of the story. In many security programs, the implementation of SIEM is considered a strategic goal and suggests that a piece of software can solve all our problems. In fact, the true intention behind SIEM is to strengthen the organization’s security intelligence capabilities, including governance and processes.

2. SIEM Is Only for Audit and Compliance

The main benefit of SIEM goes far beyond reports based on historic data. SIEM aims to empower organizations to detect threats and attacks before they cause serious harm. But this capability does not simply appear when a SIEM solution is implemented; it requires analysts to shift away from a compliance-centric view of security and establish a risk-aware culture.

3. It Will Prevent Attacks

The idea that SIEM solutions are designed to prevent attacks is a widespread misunderstanding. In truth, the main purpose of SIEM is to detect activities that might be part of an attack. SIEM solutions can detect suspicious or unusual activities and deliver this information to security analysts, who then decide how to respond to or remediate any associated vulnerabilities. The subsequent incident response is at least as important as the detection capabilities of an SIEM tool.

4. SIEM Is a Silver Bullet

An SIEM solution is no silver bullet; it requires continuous conditioning and tuning to work effectively. Data must be defined and collected, and the appropriate correlation rules applied. These definitions are known as SIEM use cases.

To be effective, use cases need to reflect the organization’s risk profile, which is a result of a risk assessment process such as threat modeling. But don’t underestimate the effort needed to define and continuously update use cases.

5. The Solution Won’t Impact the Organization

The good thing about a formal and automated SIEM process is that it dramatically increases the visibility into your environment. However, there is a risk that organizations will get overwhelmed by this visibility if large volumes of vulnerabilities or even persistent threats are discovered within a short time.

Enterprises must be prepared to handle this data and shift workloads accordingly. My recommendation is to start by implementing and activating the most critical use cases to ensure that there are enough resources to both analyze and remediate severe threats.

Generating Maximum Value

The most critical task of an SIEM solution is to generate value by improving the organization’s overall security posture as quickly as possible. This might rule out traditional waterfall-based project approaches, so organizations have to seek more agile methods to stay on track.

Read the IT Executive Guide: Transitioning from SIEM to Total Security Intelligence

Reto Zeidler
Associate Partner Security Services, IBM

Reto Zeidler is is an associate partner for IBM Security Services and is an expert in strategy and security intelligence and operations. Since 1998, he has w...
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