Archives for July 2015

The evolution of SIEM

In the last several years, a new “category” of log analytics for security has arisen called “User Behavior Analytics.” From my 13-year perspective, UBA is really the evolution of SIEM.

The term “Security Information and Event Management (SIEM)” was defined by Gartner 10 years ago. At the time, some people were arguing between Security Information Management (SIM) and Security Event Management (SEM). Gartner just combined the two and ended that debate.

The focus of SIEM was on consolidating and analyzing log information from disparate sources such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems, operating systems, etc. in order to meet compliance requirements, detect security incidents, and provide forensics.

At the time, the correlation was designed mostly around IP addresses, although some systems could correlate using ports and protocols, and even users. All log sources were in the datacenter. And most correlation was rule-based, although there was some statistical analysis done as early as 2003. Finally, most SIEMs used relational databases to store the logs.

Starting in the late 2000s, organizations began to realize that while they were meeting compliance requirements, they were still being breached due to the limitations of “traditional” SIEM solutions’ incident detection capabilities as follows:

  • They were designed to focus on IP addresses rather than users. At present, correlating by IP addresses is useless given the increasing number of remote and mobile users, and the number of times a day those users’ IP addresses can change. Retrofitting the traditional SIEM for user analysis has shown to be difficult.
  •  They are notoriously difficult to administer. This is due mostly to the rule-based method of event correlation. Customizing and keeping up-to-date hundreds of rules is time consuming. Too often organizations did not realize this when they purchased the SIEM and therefore under-budgeted resources to administer it.
  • They tend to generate too many false positives. This is also mostly due to rule-based event correlation. This is particularly insidious as analysts start to ignore alerts because investigating most of them turns out to be a waste of time. This also affects morale resulting in high turnover.
  • They miss true positives because either the generated alerts are simply missed by analysts overwhelmed by too many alerts, or there was no rule built to detect the attacker’s activity. The rule-building cycle is usually backward looking. In other words, an incident happens and then rules are built to detect that situation should it happen again. Since attackers are constantly innovating, the rule building process is a losing proposition.
  • They tend to have sluggish performance in part due to organizations underestimating, and therefore under-budgeting, infrastructure requirements, and due to the limitations of relational databases.

In the last few years, we have seen a new security log analysis “category” defined as “User Behavior Analytics (UBA), which focuses on analyzing user credentials and user oriented event data. The data stores are almost never relational, and the algorithms are mostly machine learning which are predictive in nature and require much less tuning.

Notice how UBA solutions address most of the shortcomings of traditional SIEMs for incident detection. So the question is why is UBA considered a separate category? It seems to me that UBA is the evolution of SIEM – better user interfaces (in some cases), better algorithms, better log storage systems, and a more appropriate “entity” on which to focus, i.e. users. In addition, UBAs can support user data coming from SaaS as well as on-premise applications and controls.

I understand that some UBA vendors’ short-term, go-to-market strategy is to complement the installed SIEM. It seems to me this is the justification for considering UBA and SIEM as separate product categories. But my question is, how many organizations are going to be willing to use two or three different products to analyze logs?

In my view, in 3-5 years there won’t be a separate UBA market. The traditional SIEM vendors are already attempting to add UBA capabilities with varying degrees of success. We are also beginning to see SIEM vendors acquire UBA vendors. We’ll see how successful the integration process will be. A couple of UBA vendors will prosper/survive as SIEM vendors due to a combination of superior user interface, more efficacious analytics, faster and more scalable storage, and lower administrative costs.