The History of “SEM, SIM or SIEM?”
To best describe the market today, it’s helpful to first revisit how the market has evolved.
Initially Security Event Management (SEM) tools were designed for threat management
against a noisy external threat environment that consisted primarily of worms. The
orientation of SEM tools was primarily network and system events combined with
real-time analysis to support incident response. There were also Security Information
Management (SIM) vendors that provided long-term storage of log files, historical
analysis and trending against a large database of data to support forensic activities.
So we had real-time analysis to support incident response and long-term storage and
historical analysis to support trend reporting and forensics.
Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) emerged as companies found
themselves spending a lot of money on intrusion detection/prevention systems (IDS/
IPS). These systems were helpful in detecting external attacks, but because of their
reliance on signature-based detection, they generated a large number of false positives.
First-generation SIEM technology was designed to reduce this signal-to-noise ratio and
helped to capture the most critical external threats. Using rule-based correlation, SIEM
helped IT teams detect real attacks by focusing on a subset of firewall and IDS/IPS events
that were in violation of policy. Although expensive and time-intensive to maintain and
tweak, SIEM investments continued as they solved a big headache of sorting through
excessive false positives and effectively protecting companies from external threats.
While SIEM was a step in the right direction towards improved management, the world
got more complicated when new regulations such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX)
and the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) required much stricter
internal IT controls and assessment. Virtualization became more prevalent as well, and
new security point solutions were introduced as the explosion of personal devices
entered the enterprise.
To satisfy these new requirements, organizations were required to collect, analyze,
report on and archive all logs to monitor activities inside their IT infrastructures. The
intent was not only to detect external threats, but also to provide periodic reports of
user activities and create forensics reports surrounding a given incident. Though SIEM
technologies collected logs, they processed only a subset of data related to security
breaches. They weren’t designed to handle the sheer volume of log data generated
from all IT components, such as applications, switches, routers, databases, firewalls,
operating systems, IDS/IPS and Web proxies.
Created to monitor user activities rather than external threats, Log Management
(LEM) products entered the market as a technology with an architecture to handle
much larger volumes of data and with the ability to scale to meet the demands of the
largest enterprises. Although companies implemented log management and SIEM
solutions to satisfy different business requirements, they also discovered that the two
technologies work well together. Log management tools were designed to collect,
report, and archive a large volume and breadth of log data, whereas SIEM solutions
were designed to correlate a subset of log data to point out the most critical security
events, and that hasn’t changed. Splunk, for example, is a log management solution
with a very small security use case. SIEM solutions continue to focus on aggregating
‘external’ data sources.
Unfortunately, both LEM and SIEM lack the security intelligence needed to detect threats
and effectively combat today’s attacks. To make matters worse, in tough economic
times or tight budgets influencing decisions, we can expect to see IT trying to stretch
its legacy logging technologies to solve even more problems (as demonstrated by the
convergence of SEM and SIM, which created SIEM). Now we’ve caught you up, let’s
talk about “What’s Changed?” and “Why?”
“What’s Wrong with SIEM?”
Fast-forward a decade—today we have many IT security teams that have made a
significant investment in both money and resources (people) to support traditional
SIEM products, only for the SIEM to show little-to-no material value on delivering on
the promise of security visibility. The reasons for these shortfalls are numerous.
It’s important to note that the risk that organizations feel is real, just as the threats
are very real. The reality is that the “actual” threat is usually much greater than the
“perceived” threat inside of most organizations.
The dirty little secret in the SIEM industry is that most SIEM solutions have a shelf life of
approximately 18-24 months before organizations give up and begin to look for another
SIEM solution. Most organizations cannot support these deployments and many SIEM
technologies fail not due to technology failures but because organizations simply don’t
have the time, money, resources or process to support the technology. It’s the inability
of organizations to Implement and Tune the technology and not the SIEM solution
itself that threatens the long-term value of traditional SIEM. In other words, the entire
category of SIEM is flawed in its approach, especially in the mid-market where resources
are often hard to come by. Let’s examine the specific areas that lead to these failures:
It is difficult to strike the right balance between correlation rules that catch all possible
attacks and correlation rules that produce too many false-positive alerts. Tuning often
requires a professional services engagement and on-going expenses, and industry
analysts report speaking with customers for whom, “…a year of tuning was required”. This
lack of balance will continue to plague the SIEM vendors as the complexity of managing
all of the changes in a typical network, including moves, adds, and edits to the data
sources (such as servers, devices, and applications) is not something they can solve.
Organizations rely on the data collection, normalization and retention capabilities of
the SIEM for the purpose of correlation. Without very strong (i.e. custom) correlation,
detecting and responding to threats is impossible. And, if an organization wants to ensure
the fidelity of their correlation logic, it must verify its custom correlation every time there
is a change on the network. For example, it’s not uncommon to see a routine update
to a data source (for example, due to an OS/firmware update) dramatically impact the
fidelity of the correlation rules/alarms/logic. This happens when updates are performed
to network devices, servers (physical and virtual), antimalware, applications, and so
forth. Organizations are very dynamic, and the network infrastructure is always evolving.
Ease of Use
As stated before, SIEM solutions have been around for almost a decade. These same
solutions were built to serve the largest of enterprises where resources and “dedicated”
headcount are more the norm. Understanding “whom” these solutions were designed
to serve, the vast majority of SIEM solutions are very difficult to use. Sadly, security
pros have resigned themselves to accept this as just another part of the job. But that
doesn’t have to the case.
Trending and analytics
If the tuning/correlation doesn’t get you the failure, then consumable analytics will.
SIEMs often have a selection of canned reports but new report creation is not flexible
to adjust to rapidly changing conditions in today’s environments. Canned reports can
be useful, and may look great initially, but relying on a canned report to understand
the end-to-end implications of a security event from the edge router to the application
simply doesn’t work. In a world where threats are increasingly dynamic, reporting must
also be dynamic.
The “Rules-based” approach
When a correlated security event is presented to the security analyst, it’s reasonable to
expect the analyst to limit his or her investigation to the data sources reported by the
alert. A “Rules-based” approach supports only a go-forward view of security data—if
you get a correlation rule wrong, you can’t adjust the model and re-analyze the data,
because events that didn’t match the old rule have already been discarded. Not the
desired outcome, and certainly not for what these traditional SIEM solutions cost.
SIEM is expensive. It’s expensive because large enterprise organizations continue to
pay hefty prices for these solutions. SIEM has, in most cases, been cost-prohibitive for
the mid-market customer who is looking to secure their organization. Costs associated
with a traditional SIEM deployment include:
››Initial Licensing Costs
››Ongoing Management Costs
››Integration of data sources from disparate security technologies
››Training of personnel/incoming personnel
The hidden costs are what usually result in the demise of the traditional SIEM deployment—
the very real and painful costs associated to deploying, integrating, using, managing,
training, tuning, cursing, and potentially expanding the deployment.
These are the areas that have led to such dissatisfaction with the traditional SIEM
approach. These are very real and evident in almost every organization that has had
experience with SIEM. AlienVault only had to listen to its customers to know that
something had to change. This was the primary driver in introducing the Unified Security
Management (USM) platform.
The Alternative: Unified Security Management
IT organizations of all shapes and sizes have embraced USM to reduce the cost, improve
security visibility and accelerate threat detection and remediation. They need access
to security solutions that offer significant time-to-value returns, while improving their
overall security posture.
At AlienVault we’re committed to unifying best-of-breed technology with shared global
threat intelligence for truly open and collaborative security.
AlienVault’s Unified Security Management™ (USM) platform gives organizations a
solution that offers an effective alternative to the most sophisticated and expensive
enterprise-level security products.
AlienVault has included five essential security capabilities managed by a single console,
providing everything you need for complete security visibility and threat intelligence.
These capabilities include Asset Discovery, Vulnerability Assessment, Threat Detection,
Behavioral Analysis, and Security Intelligence. These integrated features are powered
by up-to-the-minute threat intelligence from AlienVault Labs and our Open Threat
Exchange™—the world’s largest crowd-sourced collaborative threat repository.
AlienVault offers the only Unified Security Management solution to unify these five
essential security capabilities. With essential security controls built-in, AlienVault USM
puts complete security visibility within fast and easy reach, which translates into rapid
time to value. Whether large or small, all organizations need the complete visibility
USM offers to:
››Detect emerging threats across your environment
››Respond quickly to incidents and conduct thorough investigations
››Measure, manage, and report on compliance (PCI, HIPAA, ISO, and more)
››Optimize your existing security investments and reduce risk
USM also offers simplicity, streamlined installation and use, and the ability to update
all the security functions concurrently. These concurrent updates allow AlienVault to
do something no other solution on the market can do—AlienVault Labs threat research
team can write, maintain and verify all the needed correlation delivering the highest
levels of security visibility.
AlienVault believes to simplify security, you must simplify the solutions designed to
deliver security visibility. AlienVault is fanatical about putting users first in everything
we do. We strive every day to deliver powerful functionality that is easy to use with
one of the fastest and longest lasting ROIs in the market.
AlienVault Labs Threat Intelligence and Open Threat Exchange
One of major challenges smaller IT organizations have is being able to conduct the
research needed to keep up with the constant evolution of the threat landscape.
Fortunately, you have AlienVault on your side.
Think of our Labs team as an extension to your IT team. AlienVault understands that
threat experts are very difficult to find. It’s an enormous financial commitment to have
threat experts dedicated to researching the latest threats and how to detect them, as
well as being constantly engaged in dialogue with other threat experts around the
trends that are being observed in the market.
The AlienVault Labs Threat Intelligence team maximizes the efficiency of your securitymonitoring
program, by delivering the following directly to your AlienVault Unified
Security Management (USM) installation. This team of security experts delivers updates
to the product every 30 minutes that include 8 coordinated rule-sets that unify your
entire technology stack:
››Network-based and Host-based IDS signatures — which detect the latest threats
in your environment.
››Asset discovery and inventory database updates — identifies the latest operating
systems, applications and device types
››Vulnerability database updates — dual database coverage to find the latest
vulnerabilities on all your systems
››Report modules and templates — providing new ways to view data in your environment
››Incident response templates / “how to” guidance for each alarm in USMEvent Correlation
Another area where AlienVault’s integrated, security-focused design has an advantage
over other tools is event correlation. AlienVault understands that most organizations
don’t have the time, resources or expertise in-house to monitor changes to the threat
landscape as well as manage all the technologies they have deployed in their environment.
AlienVault delivers actionable security intelligence by automating the event correlation
››Data Collection — Identify log data for automatic import and integration, from both
the technologies included in the USM platform and third party tools via plug-ins
−−Customers can utilize our extensive library of plug-ins or create their own for
custom applications and legacy devices
››Normalization — Parse, normalize, and integrate log data into built-in SIEM analysis
››Cross Correlation — Apply 1,700+ correlation rules to asset, vulnerability, network
traffic, and threat data››Alarms & How to Respond — Assess severity, with detailed context-specific
››Emerging Threat Detection — Automatic updates of new correlation rules and
signatures for new threats, assets, vulnerabilities, and more
Traditional SIEM solutions would leave all this work up to you to perform. In other words,
you would be responsible for the SIEMs ability to detect threats — you would need to
write the correlation rules, do the research, integrate threat feeds, etc. If your team is
putting out other fires or you fundamentally believe that you should be leveraging the
investments made at monitoring your environment instead of managing your SIEM;
USM is the right solution for you.
AlienVault understands that most organizations don’t have the time, resources or
expertise (in some cases) in house to develop, manage and monitor all of these areas
of their environment. With this easily consumable threat intelligence fueling your USM
platform, you’ll be able to detect the latest threats and prioritize your response efforts.
Specifically, you’ll extend your security program with:
››Real-time botnet detection — identifies infection and misuse of corporate assets
››Data exfiltration detection — prevents leakage of sensitive and proprietary data
››Command-and-control traffic (C&C) identification — identifies compromised
systems communicating with malicious actors
››IP, URL, and domain reputation data — prioritizes response efforts by identifyingknown bad actors and infected sites
››APT (Advanced Persistent Threat) detection — detects targeted attacks often
missed by other defenses
››Dynamic incident response and investigation guidance — provides customized
instructions on how to respond and investigate each alertOpen Threat Exchange
Adding to the difficult is that the adversary is doing something that company security
teams are not doing—actively collaborating. The industry’s inability to share information
about attack vectors gives the adversary an advantage. Most threat intelligence networks
are closed and limited to only certain industries, vendors, or government agencies. For
the first time, AlienVault’s OTX enables anonymous sharing of threat intelligence with
anyone who joins.
AlienVault Capabilities Matrix
CAPABILITY ALIENVAULT SIEM
Asset Discovery — Discover and track hosts, services, and installed software present in the
environment for improved correlation and context for incident response ü
Vulnerability Assessment — identify vulnerabilities in the monitored environment and track historical
record for compliance purposes ü
Threat Detection — monitor the environment for threats, identifying known attack vectors, attack
patterns, payload signatures and behavioral identification of exploits and malware. ü
Behavioral Monitoring — monitor the ongoing behavior of observed systems to provide context for
forensic investigation and identification of potential security incidents ü
Security Intelligence — aggregate and analyze information from all the security controls and
environment in order to correlate disparate behavior and provide a platform for forensic investigation. ü ü
Threat Intelligence — emerging threat analysis and research, which leverages more than 8,000
global collection points across more than 140 countries to analyze over 500,000 malware samples
and over 100,000 malicious IP addresses daily within the world’s largest crowd-sourced threat
intelligence exchange—Open Threat Exchange (OTX)
TECHNOLOGY ALIENVAULT SIEM
Passive Network Discovery — identify hosts with passive network monitoring ü
Active Network Scanning — actively scan the network to identify and version running services
without local access to the machine ü
Host-based Software Inventory — provide full binary-level inventory of software packages running on
Continuous Vulnerability Monitoring — using data from the asset discovery capabilities, correlate the
latest known vulnerability feeds with the existing asset inventory information to identify vulnerable
services without active scanning
Active Network Scanning — actively scan the network to identify vulnerable services. Both
authenticated and unauthenticated scanning is available depending on the target. ü
Network IDS — perform deep-packet inspection of the network traffic in order to identify attacks,
behaviors of compromised systems, policy violations, and more. ü
Host IDS — monitor the operating system level activity of a host to identify indicators of compromise,
such as rootkits, malware, or abuse of system services ü
File Integrity Monitoring — monitor changes to critical files to identify potential security issues on
critical hosts. ü
Wireless IDS — monitor environments for rogue access points to identify potentially unauthorized
access to networks. ü
Netflow Analysis — identify network activity throughout your environment. Identifies protocol usage,
and volume of traffic between hosts in monitored environments. ü
Service Availability Monitoring — identify service availability in the environment to detect disruptions
in availability, which could indicate a successful attack or compromise. ü
Log Management — provides a consolidated interface for reporting and querying activity occurring in
the monitored environments. Critical for most compliance use cases. ü ü
OTX is an element of AlienVault’s USM platform’s security intelligence capability. OTX
is a framework for a unique and powerful collaborative defense capability that the
AlienVault Labs threat research team validates and curates. It incorporates a data from
more than 140 countries and a broad range of devices (firewalls, proxies, web servers,
anti-virus systems, and intrusion detection/prevention systems).
This data is automatically cleansed, aggregated, validated, curated and published by
the Alienvault Labs threat research team. In addition to providing data for the regular
updates of the USM platform, OTX enables collaborative security intelligence to spread
among many industries and countries, composed of organizations of all sizes. This
sharing limits the attacker’s ability to isolate targets by industry or organization size,
improving the security of anyone who participates.