Are you lowering your expectations to meet your SIEM performance?

It’s an old story. Admin meets SIEM. Admin falls in love with the demo provided by the SIEM vendor. Admin commits to a 3 year relationship with SIEM.

And now the daily grind. The SIEM requires attention, but the Admin is busy. Knowledge of what the SIEM needs in order to perform starts to dissipate from memory as the training period recedes in the past. Log volume constantly creeps up, adding to sluggishness.

Soon you are at a point where the SIEM could have theoretically performed but actually does not. It’s a mix of initial underestimation of hardware needs, increasing log volume, apathy and dissipation of knowledge about SIEM details.

How now?

In most implementations, this vicious cycle feeds on itself and the disillusionment reinforces itself. The SIEM is either abandoned or the user is resigned to poor performance.

What a revoltin’ development.

It doesn’t have to be this way, you know. Our SIEMphonic offerings were designed to address each of these problems. Don’t just buy a SIEM, get results!

Maximize your SIEM ROI

Aristotle put forth the idea in his Poetics that a drama has three parts — a beginning or protasis, middle or epitasis, and end or catastrophe. Far too many SIEM implementations are considered to be catastrophes. Having implemented hundreds of such projects, here are the three parts of a SIEM implementation which if followed will in fact minimize the drama but maximize the ROI. If you prefer the video version of this, click here.

The beginning or protasis

  • Identify log sources and use cases.
  • Establish retention period for the data set and who gets access to which parts.
  • Nominate a SIEM owner and a sponsor for the project.

The middle or epitasis

  • Install the SIEM Console
  • Push out and configure sensors or the log sources to send data
  • Enable alerting and required reporting schedules
  • Take log volume measurements and compare against project disk space requirements
  • Perform preliminary tuning to eliminate most noisy and less useful log sources and type
  • Train the product owner and users on features and how-to use

The end or catastrophe

  • Review log volume and tune as needed
  • Review alerts for correctness and establish notification methods, if appropriate
  • Establish escalation policy – when and to whom
  • Establish report review process to generate artifacts for audit review
  • Establish platform maintenance cycle (platform and SIEM updates)

SIEM and Return on Security Investment (RoSI)

The traditional method for calculating standard Return on Investment (RoI) is that it equals the gain minus the cost, divided by the cost. The higher the resulting value, the greater the RoI. The difficulty in calculating a return on security investment (RoSI), however, is that security tends not to increase profits (gain), but to decrease loss – meaning that the amount of loss avoided rather than the amount of gain achieved is the important element.

Following the standard RoI approach, RoSI can be calculated by the sum of the loss reduction minus the cost of the solution, divided by the cost of the solution. In short, a high result is better for RoI, and a low result is better for RoSI.

This is where it gets difficult: how do you measure the ‘loss reduction’? To a large extent it is based on guesswork and surveys. Bruce Schneier in The Data Imperative concluded, “Depending on how you answer those two questions, and any answer is really just a guess — you can justify spending anywhere from $10 to $100,000 annually to mitigate that risk.”

What we find as a practical outcome of delivering our SIEM-as-a-service offering (SIEM Simplified) is that many customers value the anecdotes and statistics that are provided in the daily reports and monthly reviews to demonstrate RoSI to management. Things such as how many attacks were repulsed by the firewalls, how many incidents were addressed by criticality, anecdotal evidence of an attack disrupted or misconfiguration detected. We publish some of these anonymously as Catch of the Day.

It’s a practical way to demonstrate RoSI which is easier to understand and does not involve any guesses.

Will SIEM and Log Management usage change with the economic slowdown?

When Wall Street really began to implode a couple of weeks ago one of the remarkable side-effects of the plunge was a huge increase of download activity in all items related to ROI on the Prism website. A sign of the times as ROI always becomes more important in times of tight budgets, and our prospects were seeing the lean times coming. So what does the likelihood of budget freezes or worse mean for how SIEM/Log Management is used or how it is justified in the enterprise?

Compliance is and will remain the great budget enabler of SIEM and Log Management but often a compliance project can be done in a far more minimal deployment and still meet the requirement. There is, however, enormous tangible and measurable benefit in Log Management beyond the compliance use case that has been largely ignored.

SIEM/Log Management for the most part has been seen (and positioned by us vendors) as a compliance solution with security benefits or in some cases a security solution that does compliance. Both of these have a hard ROI to measure as it is based on a company’s tolerance for risk.  A lot of SIEM functionality, and the log management areas in particular, is also enormously effective in increasing operational efficiencies – and provides clear, measurable, fast and hard ROI. Very simply, compliance will keep you out of jail, security reduces risk, but by using SIEM products for operations you will save hard dollars on administrator costs and reduce system down-time which in turn increases productivity that directly hits the bottom line. Plus you still get the compliance and security for free effectively. A year ago when we used to show these operational features to prospects (mostly security personnel) they were greeted 9 out of 10 times with a polite yawn. Not anymore.

We believe this new cost conscious buying behavior will also drive broader rather than deeper requirements in many mid-tier businesses. It is the “can I get 90% of my requirements, and 100% of the mandatory ones in several areas, and is that better than 110% in a single area?” discussion. Recently Prism added some enhanced USB device monitoring capability in EventTracker. While it is beyond what typical SIEM vendors provide in that we track files written and deleted on the USB drive in real-time, I would not consider it to be as good as a best of breed DLP provider. But for most people it gets them where they need to be and is included in EventTracker for no additional cost. It is amazing the level of interest this functionality receives today from prospects while at the same time you get correspondingly less interest in features with a dubious ROI like many correlation use cases. Interesting times.

-Posted by Steve Lafferty