Security information and event management (SIEM)

At the most basic level, SIEM solutions perform data aggregation, consolidation, and sorting functions in order to identify threats and help your organization adhere to data compliance requirements. This article discusses what SIEM is, why it matters for securing an enterprise, and the cybersecurity use cases it can enable.

Written by Renga Padmanabhan

With remote work steadily on the rise since 2020, cybersecurity attacks and their impact have risen exponentially. The fact that so many office-based companies have chosen to move to hybrid work models to retain talent has expanded the attack surface beyond what a corporate office-based network can secure. Keeping in mind that the average cost of a cyber data breach in the United States in 2022 was $9.44 million, it’s not surprising that the IT spending and projected demand for cybersecurity solutions have grown in response, with forecasts predicting a cost of $345.4 billion by 2026.

Security information and event management (SIEM) is one of the vital components any company should factor into their cybersecurity equation. This article discusses what SIEM is, why it matters for securing an enterprise, and the cybersecurity use cases it can enable.

What is SIEM?

A SIEM software solution combines information collection and event logging from multiple systems to allow better awareness of your enterprise environment.

Let’s take a look at how a SIEM solution works behind the scenes to achieve these capabilities.

Comprehensive event logging across hardware and software

SIEM allows you to get insights from multiple assets deployed across your infrastructure. For example, event logging could be aggregated across hardware and software layers (such as firewalls, networks, hosting equipment, and antivirus systems) to analyze and detect potential abnormal behavior within the enterprise.

Some of these data collection activities could be achieved through the use of hardware and software agents installed on these systems. However, some SIEM solutions can work seamlessly without agents using instrumentation at the operating system level.

Combination of security events and security information

SIEM does not stop at collating and aggregating event data from multiple sources in the network. It also enables aggregation and analysis of potential security issues throughout the enterprise by combining individual incidents into correlated insights for threat detection.

It also helps you to investigate a potential security incident through its timeline, from early warning signals to the actual threat detected, so your security team can learn and preempt such events.

Real-time threat analytics and forensic capabilities

SIEM can provide real-time data logging capabilities from multiple systems and the ability to quickly understand user behavioral patterns to classify and detect deviant behavior. At the same time, it should save your security team precious time and effort by automating event analysis and enabling them to go after genuinely critical security occurrences faster.

Rule management and alerting

Your team’s ability to create application security rules and alerts will depend on their knowledge and awareness of their technology landscape. SIEM can help you customize and evolve your rules around abnormal behavior to keep up with the unique usage patterns within your enterprise.

Reporting and compliance

Finally, SIEM equips your security team with robust support around reporting and maintaining essential compliance regarding standards like PCI DSS, SOX, and GDPR, relieving you of the burden of compiling these reporting requirements manually.

How to effectively configure a SIEM security solution

You are convinced that a SIEM solution will put your security team on the right footing. You have also narrowed down your SIEM solution of choice and have decided to implement it in your organization. 

It sounds like a well-executed plan, right? Not quite.

You also want to pay close attention to the different components that will integrate with your SIEM solution. After all, your SIEM solution’s ability to analyze and detect threats based on the logged data would depend essentially on the quality and sources of the data.

To make sure you get started on the right note, let’s examine a few strategies that can help ensure that you implement and adopt your SIEM successfully within your security team.

Get organizational buy-in

Your SIEM solution can fail to provide value if you don’t have the support of the different parts of your organization to share and divulge event and logging implementation details.

To successfully adopt a SIEM solution, you need to ensure that all application and endpoint teams are aligned with your choice of SIEM. They should also formally endorse you so that, as a group, you can work together to stop all internal and external threats before they cause damage to the organization.

Understand SIEM security implementation protocols

SIEM security solutions used as part of a compliance strategy will typically need to comply with the guidance of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) on log management. NIST provides security protocol audit and accountability implementation guidance with the SP 800-53 releases — namely with the NIST SP 800-53 AU-2 control specification.

Fortunately, popular SIEM solutions provide regular updates to comply with the latest NIST guidelines. Understanding and staying abreast of all NIST protocol changes will help your security team understand regulatory requirements.

Implement complementary systems to your SIEM solution

A SIEM solution implemented along with a security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR) solution can be a decisive factor in preempting threats to your organization.

In addition, a SOAR solution’s ability to proactively analyze your event logging data to automate responses to potential threats can become a solid forensics-action tag response team.

How does SIEM empower your security team?

If you implement a SIEM solution effectively, your security team will be well-equipped to handle a gamut of security-based scenarios and prepared to thwart such attacks in the first place. Some of the scenarios that SIEM can prepare security teams to detect effectively are listed below.

Credential compromise

SIEM solutions with analytical threat detection capabilities let your security team understand which access events are ordinary and legitimate, and which may be a potential attack to gain access to critical infrastructure. Using rule correlation and machine learning techniques to investigate related events also helps trigger alerts for potential threats.

Failed access attempts

SIEM solutions allow your security team to look at multiple event logs across disparate applications to trace the timeline of an attack. It also notifies your team, which is especially useful if you don’t have an established security response team that works around the clock.

For example, if a user tried to authenticate multiple times, was successful on the fifth attempt, tried to change credentials immediately, and downloaded a large file of customer data, SIEM enables your team to quickly follow the breadcrumbs across different systems to correlate these events as abnormal behavior.

Role-based or account attribute-based changes

Role and account change scenarios typically occur under the radar when an attacker has had sustained access to your organization’s infrastructure for an extended period of time and uses the access to move within your organization. Such attackers can also access different applications using a set of accounts for critical infrastructure and data assets.

Looking only at application logs might not indicate potential anomalies, but viewing a combination of event logs across the network might reveal a persistent attack pattern. A sophisticated SIEM solution can help you uncover such patterns.

Token-based usage

Token-based usage scenarios typically occur when attackers use tokens to access essential APIs or services while using a compromised user’s credentials. Event logging at the level of the operating system is able to log token usage, but is not able to differentiate between legitimate usage and impersonation by an attacker. A SIEM with user entity and behavior analytics (UEBA) capabilities across systems can correlate and detect abnormal account behavior for such scenarios.

SIEM: The sum of its parts makes it a whole

The ability of your SIEM solution to integrate into your applications and network endpoints is the deciding factor for your ideal solution. Every network endpoint platform behaves and logs event information uniquely, and Tailscale is no exception.

Tailscale enables secure enterprise network deployments and includes audit logs for the data plane (for network activity and connections) and the control plane (for admin activity). Logs can be accessed in the admin console via the Tailscale API, and will soon allow for log-streaming, which will allow you to configure Tailscale to send log information to your centralized data repository, or directly to your SIEM or BI system for further analysis.

If you’re interested, you can read more about how Tailscale works behind the scenes, and download it to try for free.

Get started with Tailscale today.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some common questions about SIEM, and their answers.

What types of attacks can a SIEM detect?

A SIEM solution can trigger alerts when unusual access requests could indicate a potential attack. SIEM solutions also allow your security team to look at multiple event logs across disparate applications to trace the timeline of an attack and to identify persistent attack patterns that might otherwise go unnoticed. Furthermore, a SIEM with user entity and behavior analytics (UEBA) capabilities across systems can correlate and detect abnormal account behavior that could indicate a token-based attack.

What are some strategies to consider when implementing a SIEM?

Before deploying a SIEM, be sure to get buy-in from every application and endpoint team to ensure they work together to maximize the SIEM’s effectiveness. If you intend to use a SIEM as part of a compliance strategy, make sure your choice of SIEM complies with the security protocol audit and accountability implementation guidance set forth by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) on log management. Also consider complementing your SIEM with a security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR) solution, which can be another decisive factor in preempting threats to your organization.