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What is security information and event management (SIEM)?

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Security information and event management (SIEM) is a term used to describe solutions that help organizations address security issues and vulnerabilities before they disrupt operations. 

With the help of automation, enterprises can use SIEM systems to streamline many of the manual processes involved in detecting threats and responding to incidents. SIEM software compiles and aggregates event data produced by security devices, network infrastructure, IT systems, and applications, so that this data can be used to rapidly create automated and manual security responses.

SIEM systems differ significantly between vendors and deployments, but they typically work together with other security systems, such as intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS). A SIEM system is primarily made up of 4 pillars:

  • Log management. The process of collecting, storing, and analyzing computer-generated log files to monitor and review system activity.
  • Event correlation and analytics. The real-time analysis and cross-referencing of log and event data to identify patterns, anomalies, and potential security threats.
  • Incident monitoring and security alerts. The consolidation of active processes for detecting and notifying administrators of unauthorized activities into a single dashboard.
  • Compliance management and reporting. The systematic process of collecting and analyzing data to ensure that an organization meets specified regulatory standards—and generating reports to document compliance. Since most of an organization’s data passes through its SIEM system, it’s also ideal for producing up-to-date compliance reports.

From aggregation to alert 

A SIEM system starts by monitoring hardware or software devices’ event logs, which generate an event every time the devices observe a change. The SIEM system does this by either accessing the device’s log files from storage or using an event streaming protocol to monitor network data. 

Once this event data is acquired, the SIEM system:

  • Sorts and aggregates the data in a log flow process. Although this process differs between SIEM systems, it typically begins by filtering out noise, such as reports from devices that are operating under expected parameters. 
  • Indexes the various event logs to sort the data into categories and enable searches and event connections.
  • Analyzes the collected event data to look for patterns and establish relationships that identify vulnerabilities and suspicious events.
  • Correlates the analyzed data with security threats based on rules, which are often manually provided by administrators. Each step in this process—sorting, indexing, and analysis—builds to correlation, which is the central security function of SIEM. 

For example, if the SIEM system sees a login attempt fail 1,000 times due to password error, it can correlate that activity to a type of security threat and create an alert, which can then be acted upon by a human expert or an automated system.

Types of SIEM hosting

Due to the sensitivity of the data being collected, SIEM systems have traditionally been hosted on-premise. However, maintaining these on-premise systems is expensive, as they require specialized software and supervision by security personnel. 

This complexity has led many organizations to look for different options. Like most systems in today’s hybrid cloud world, SIEM can be delivered through software installed on-premise, as a self-managed process on the cloud, or as a managed service (SIEM-as-a-Service) through a cloud provider or a managed security service provider. Many SIEM solutions can also be separated into a hybrid model, with some data—perhaps more sensitive information—residing on-premise while other data is stored in the cloud.

For example, an organization could use an on-premise service to collect and aggregate security data, while using a cloud-hosted SIEM-as-a-Service to perform the correlation processes. 

There is no single, correct way to host a SIEM solution. When deciding on a strategy, organizations should consider the following questions:

  • Does your organization have existing SIEM infrastructure, and is it compatible with hosted services?
  • Does your organization have any security concerns or regulations that prevent you from moving data off premise, into cloud environments? 
  • Do you have security staff who are SIEM experts or can be trained to become SIEM experts? Or is it more viable to rent SIEM functions as-a-Service?
  • Do you have an automation solution that works natively across an entire hybrid cloud environment, from on-premise datacenters, throughout clouds, and at edge locations?

Threat detection

By continuously analyzing log and event data to produce alerts, SIEM helps identify unusual or potentially malicious activities. This approach helps security teams detect threats—such as unauthorized access, data breaches, or malware attacks—and rapidly respond to mitigate the issues.

Data centralization

SIEM centralizes data from various systems and applications, offering a unified view of an organization's IT environment. This centralization simplifies system auditing, network optimization, and troubleshooting. It also provides insight into the performance and health of technology assets, supporting informed decision-making and long-term planning—often through a single dashboard.

Compliance management

Many regulatory requirements mandate rigorous logging and reporting of sensitive data. SIEM systems automate data collection and generate comprehensive compliance reports, helping organizations meet legal and regulatory standards.

Response quality

SIEM improves the speed—and quality—of incident responses. When a security incident occurs, understanding the context is crucial for effective resolution. SIEM systems provide detailed information—such as what happened before, during, and after an event—that incident response teams can use to take more targeted actions and resolve issues more efficiently.

Security teams can sometimes get overwhelmed by the large volume of data that SIEM solutions manage and aggregate, especially if they find they’re wasting time investigating incidents that are ultimately false positives. To get the full benefit of a SIEM system, alerts generated by the system must be validated effectively and remediated quickly.

Security automation can simplify the operation and maintenance of SIEM solutions. Automating tasks reduces manual overhead, allowing the system to run more efficiently and with fewer errors. It can also help reduce response times to detected threats and improve the consistency of security processes. By removing human variability, automation ensures that security protocols are followed more rigorously, enhancing the overall reliability of the SIEM system.

Automation streamlines collaboration between security operations (SecOps) and security analysts. By collecting active logging and information into one place, it can empower analyst teams to directly access data or remediate issues, making the response to security incidents faster.

Hear from 5 businesses about how automation has helped them streamline and scale security.

Red Hat® Ansible® Automation Platform is an agentless tool that makes automation accessible across an organization. Ansible Automation Platform uses playbooks, local directory services, consolidated logs, and external applications to help IT teams automate their security solutions. With Ansible Automation Platform, teams have more tools to investigate and respond to threats in a coordinated, unified way.

As a result, organizations can do more with their SIEM systems, including:

  • Remediate. Ansible Automation Platform allows an organization to automate investigation and remediation tasks from the SIEM.
  • Interoperate. Ansible Automation Platform is the connective tissue allowing many parts of SIEM systems to be stitched together. By automating security capabilities, organizations can more quickly unify responses to cyberattacks through the coordination of multiple, disparate security solutions.  
  • Consolidate and centralize logs. Integration with third-party, external log aggregation services helps security teams identify trends, analyze infrastructure events, monitor anomalies, and correlate disparate events.
  • Simplify. Ansible Automation Platform uses a simple, human-readable language, so there’s no need for specialized coding skills to ensure tasks are executed in the proper order. This approach allows security experts to interact with SIEM systems without specialized training.
  • Boost efficiency. An agentless architecture lets organizations deploy solutions more quickly without the vulnerability of agents to exploit or update. This approach reduces the SIEM system’s security exposure.
  • Modernize. Ansible Automation Platform allows organizations to integrate SIEM in DevSecOps workflows.

Event-Driven Ansible

Since SIEM systems generate analysis at volume, a solution is also needed to be able to process that data at volume. Event-Driven Ansible is an enterprise event-driven automation solution that includes features directly relevant to SIEM systems:

  • Event-Driven Ansible controller enables orchestration of multiple Ansible Rulebooks and provides a single interface to manage and audit every response across all event sources, such as SIEM systems.
  • Integration with automation controller in Ansible Automation Platform allows an organization to use existing workflows that it has already built, thus extending existing, trusted automation into event-driven automation scenarios.
  • Event throttling allows an organization to handle “event storms” using either a reactive approach or a passive approach. This approach allows greater control over when and how actions are executed in response to many events, such as a SIEM system generating many events during a security incident.

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