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Understanding and Selecting SIEM/LM: Use Cases, Part 2

By Adrian Lane

Use Case #2: Improve Efficiency

Turn back the clock about 5 months – you were finalizing your 2010 security spending, and then you got the news: budgets are going down again. At least they didn’t make you cut staff during the “right-sizing” at the end of 2008, eh? Of course, budget and resources be damned, you are still on the hook to secure the new applications, which will require some new security gadgets and generate more data.

And we cannot afford to forget the audit deficiencies detailed in your friendly neighborhood assessor’s last findings. Yes, those have to be dealt with too, and sometime in the first quarter, because the audit is scheduled for early May. This may seem like an untenable situation, but it’s all too real. Security professionals now must continue looking for opportunities to improve efficiency and do more with less.

As we look deeper into this scenario, there are a couple of inevitable situations we have got to deal with:

  • Compliance requirements: Government and industry regulations force us to demonstrate compliance – requiring gathering log files, parsing unneeded events, and analyzing transactions into human-readable reports to prove you’re doing things right. IT and Security must help Audit determine which events are meaningful, so regulatory controls are based upon complete and accurate information, and internal and external audit teams define how this data is presented.
  • Nothing gets shut down: No matter how hard we try, we cannot shut down old security devices that protect a small portion of the environment. Thus every new device and widget increases the total amount of resources required to keep the environment operational. Given the number of new attack vectors clamoring for new protection mechanisms, this problem is going to get worse, and may never get better.
  • Cost center reality: Security is still an overhead function and as such, it’s expected to work as efficiently as possible. That means no matter what the demands, there will always be pressure to cut costs.

So this use case is all about how SIEM/LM can improve efficiency of existing staff, allowing them to manage more devices which are detecting more attacks, all while reducing the time from detection to remediation. A tall order, sure, but let’s look at the capabilities we have to accomplish this:

  • Data aggregation: Similar to our react faster use case, having access to more data means less time is wasted moving between systems (swivel chair management). This increases efficiency and should allow security analysts to support more devices.
  • Dashboards: Since a picture is worth a thousand words, a well architected security dashboard has to be worth more than that. When trying to support an increasing number of systems, the ability to see what’s happening and gain context with an overview of the big picture is critical.
  • Alerts: When your folks need to increase their efficiency, they don’t have a lot of time to waste chasing down false positives and investigating dead ends. So having the ability to fire alerts based on real events rather than gut feel will save everyone a lot of time.
  • Forensic investigations: Once the problem is verified, it becomes about finding root cause as quickly as possible. The SIEM/LM solution can provide the context and information needed to dig into the attack and figure out the extent of the damage – it’s about working smarter, not harder.
  • Automated policy implementation: Some SIEM/LM tools can build automated policies based on observed traffic. This baseline (assuming it represents normal and healthy traffic) enables the system to start looking for _not normal activity, which then may require investigation.

This use case is really about doing more with what you already have, which has been demanded of security professionals for years. There have been no lack of tools and products to solve problems, but the resources and expertise to take best advantage of those capabilities can be elusive. Without a heavy dose of automation, and most importantly a significant investment to get the SIEM/LM system configured appropriately, there is no way we can keep up with the bad folks.


Use Case #3: Compliance Automation

You know the feeling you get when you look at your monthly calendar, and it shows an upcoming audit? Whatever you were planning to do goes out the window, as you spend countless hours assembling data, massaging it, putting it into fancy checklists and pie charts, and getting ready for the visit from the auditor.

Some organizations have folks who just focus on documenting security controls, but that probably isn’t you. So you’ve got to take time from the more strategic or even generally operational tasks you’ve been working on to prepare for the audit. And it gets worse, since every regulation has its own vernacular and rule set – even though they are talking about the same sets of security controls. So there is little you can leverage from last month’s PCI audit to help prepare for next month’s HIPAA assessment.

And don’t forget that compliance is not just about technology. There are underlying business processes in play that can put private data at risk, which have to be documented and substantiated as well. This requires more domain expertise than any one person or team possesses. The need to collaborate on a mixture of technical and non-technical tasks makes preparing for an audit that much harder and resource intensive.

Also keep in mind the opportunity cost of getting ready for audits. For one, time spent in Excel and PowerPoint massaging data is time you aren’t working on protecting information or singing the praises of your security program. And managing huge data sets for multi-national organizations across potentially hundreds of sites requires ninja-level Microsoft Office skills. Drat, don’t have that.

As if things weren’t hard enough, regulatory audits tend to be more subjective than objective, which means your auditor’s opinion will make the difference between the rubber stamp and a book of audit deficiencies that will keep your team busy for two years. So getting as detailed as possible and backing up your interpretations of the regulations with data helps make your case. And providing that data takes time. Right, time you don’t have.

So this use case focuses on the need to automate compliance, provide mechanisms to automate preparation to the greatest degree possible, and standardize the formats of the reports based on what works. We are trying to move from many audits and many redundant preparations, to one control and one report supporting many regulations/audits.

The features in most SIEM/LM sets to address this use case are:

  • Data aggregation: Once again, having centralized access to data from many devices and computing platforms dramatically reduces the need to manually gather information, and lets you start focusing on analysis as quickly as possible.
  • Pre-built compliance reports & polices: Of course, you aren’t the only company dealing with PCI, so these vendors have built reports for the leading regulations directly into their products. To be clear, it’s not like you can hit a button and make the auditor go away. But you at least have a place to start with data types mapped to specific regulations.
  • Secure archival of events: Substantiation is all about the opinion of the auditor and your ability to convince him/her that the controls are in place and effective. Having an archive of relevant events and other analysis provides a means to use data (as opposed to speculation) to prove your point.
  • Workflow and collaboration with SoD: Compliance reporting is a process which requires management and collaboration. SIEM/LM tools generally have some simple workflow built in to track who is doing what, and make sure folks don’t step on each other’s toes during preparation. They also help enforce separation of duties (SoD) to ensure there is no question of the integrity of the reporting.

Based on what we are seeing, most SIEM/LM projects aim to address one of these three scenarios. But knowing what problem you are trying to solve is only the first requirement before you can select a product. You need to get everyone else on board with the decision, and that requires business justification, which is our next topic.

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