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SIEM is not a product, its a process...

Published: 2015-11-20
Last Updated: 2015-11-20 11:19:22 UTC
by Xavier Mertens (Version: 1)
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This famous Bruce’s quote is so true that we can re-use it to focus on specific topics like SIEM (“Security Information and Event Management”). Many organizations already deployed solutions to process their logs and to generate (useful - I hope) alerts. The market is full of solutions that can perform more or less a good job. But the ROI of your tool will be directly related to the processes that you implement next to the hardware and software components. I’ll give you two examples.

The first one is the implementation of a mandatory strong change management procedure. Recently, I faced this story at a customer. I call this the “green status” effect: If the security monitoring tool does not report alerts and and you assume that everything seems running fine, you'll fail! Because your SIEM quality is directly depending on the quality of the data send to it. Within the customer infrastructure, some critical devices were moved to a new VLAN (new IP addresses assigned to them) but the configuration of the collector was not changed to reflect this important change. Events being sent to a rsyslog instance and split based on the source IP address, the new events were not properly collected. They lost many alerts!

The second example focus on assets management. Many SIEM vendors propose compliancy packages (PCI, HIPAAS, SOX - name your favorite one). The marketing message behind those packages is “be compliant out of the box”. Really? Have a look at the following correlation rule extracted from a PCI compliancy package from a well-known SIEM solution (translated in human readable format):

if the target is not :
    known as a regular destination from the DMZ
    OR known as a trusted target
    OR known as a “cardholder” target
AND IF the destination port is not known as allowed (via an Active List)
AND IF the traffic is not coming from a VPN device
AND IF the traffic is not coming from a SIEM device
AND IF the source is flagged as an attacker from the DMZ

Based on this rule, we must:

  • Define trusted hosts
  • Define “cardholder” hosts
  • Define the list of allowed ports
  • Categorize the VPN, SIEM devices

This means that to make this rule effective, there is a huge classification job to perform to fill the SIEM with relevant data (again!). Deploying a SIEM is not just a one shot process. You’ve to carefully implement procedures!

  • New devices must be provisioned in the SIEM configuration
  • Changes must be reflected in the SIEM configuration. 
  • Implement controls to detect unusual behavior (waiting for alerts is not enough)

Happy logging!

Xavier Mertens
ISC Handler - Freelance Security Consultant
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