SIEM Security Explainers:
SIEM vs. SOC: 4 Key Differences and How They Work Together
What Is SIEM?
Security information and event management (SIEM) is a software solution or platform that aggregates and analyzes activity data from various resources across your entire IT infrastructure. SIEM systems collect security data from network devices, servers, domain controllers, and more, providing a real-time analysis of security alerts generated by applications and network hardware.
SIEM tools operate on rules-based and statistical correlation algorithms to establish relationships between log entries. These tools have two main objectives: providing reports on security-related incidents and events, such as successful and failed logins, and sending alerts if analysis shows a potential security issue.
With SIEM, organizations can gain valuable insights into their security posture, identify trends, and detect threats or anomalies that could indicate a security incident. It’s the heart of an organization’s ability to proactively monitor and respond to security threats.
What Is a Security Operations Center (SOC)?
A SOC is a centralized operational unit that deals with security issues on an organizational and technical level. The SOC is responsible for the continuous monitoring and improvement of an organization’s security posture while preventing, detecting, analyzing, and responding to cybersecurity incidents with the aid of both technology and well-defined processes and procedures.
The SOC team consists of security analysts, engineers, and managers who work together to ensure that incidents are detected quickly and remediated efficiently. Their responsibilities extend beyond mere detection, including threat hunting, forensic analysis, and incident response.
Unlike SIEM, which is a tool, a SOC is a team or a department within an organization. It’s a holistic approach to cybersecurity, integrating a variety of tools (including SIEM), processes, and a strong team of security experts.
SIEM vs. SOC: Five Key Differences
While SIEM and a SOC are both crucial elements of an organization’s cybersecurity framework, they serve different purposes and have distinct operational focuses, functionalities, responses to threats, scopes, and complexity and cost.
1. Operational Focus
The operational focus of SIEM and a SOC varies significantly. SIEM, being fundamentally a tool, focuses on collecting and correlating data from different sources, generating alerts based on predefined vendor or correlation rules, and providing reporting capabilities. Its main goal is to provide visibility into an organization’s security posture.
On the other hand, a SOC, as a team, focuses on using various tools (including SIEM) and processes to detect, analyze, and respond to cybersecurity incidents. The SOC team is responsible for creating and implementing security strategies, managing security tools, and ensuring a swift response to security threats.
Learn More: in our detailed guide to SIEM Security
When it comes to functionality, SIEM provides a bird’s eye view of an organization’s security events. It collects log and vendor alert data, correlates them to identify patterns or anomalies, and generates its own alerts for potential security incidents.
A SOC is responsible for managing, investigating, and responding to these alerts. The SOC team uses the data provided by SIEM and other security tools to investigate potential threats, perform in-depth analysis, and take necessary actions to escalate or remediate threats.
3. Response to Threats
SIEM tools are designed to centralize event data from multiple security and network tools, detect potential security incidents, and generate insights, alerts, and actions back into the infrastructure. However, traditional SIEM systems do not take any action on these alerts. Advanced SIEMs provide both insights on threat information as well as automated threat response capabilities.
On the other hand, the SOC team is responsible for responding to these alerts. It analyzes the events, determines the severity relative to its own environment, decides on the appropriate response, and takes actions to escalate the events to IT or other sources, or in some cases, remediate the threats. The SOC team may also be involved in recovery efforts post-incident, including damage control, analysis of the incident, and improvement of security measures.
While SIEM has a narrow scope, focusing purely on security event management and information, the SOC has a broader scope across organizational security. The SOC team is responsible for all aspects of an organization’s security, often including strategy, implementation, and management. It also deals with requirements from compliance, risk management reporting, and other areas related to information security.
5. Complexity and Cost
SIEM solutions can have a significant cost in CapEx, depending on the size of the organization and the amount of data to be analyzed. They require a high level of expertise to set up, manage, and tune to ensure they are effectively detecting threats and reducing false positives. However, this cost and complexity is significantly reduced with the advent of modern, cloud-based SIEM services.
A SOC, on the other hand, requires a significant investment in both CapEx and OpEx in terms of setting up a dedicated team, including hiring, training, and retaining skilled security professionals. It also involves ongoing costs for maintaining and updating security tools and processes. The number of people required is, of course, dependent on the SOC’s hours of operation as well as depth of bench needed for initial investigation versus in-depth threat hunting.
How a SOC Can Use SIEM Effectively
The relationship between SIEM and a SOC is symbiotic. While SIEM provides the necessary tools and processes, the SOC utilizes these resources to detect, analyze, and respond to cybersecurity threats. This collaboration is what powers a robust cybersecurity framework. Let’s break down their cooperation:
SIEM tools collect log and event data from across the organization’s network. These data come from various sources — firewalls, intrusion detection systems, antivirus software, and more. They also include user activity logs, system logs, application logs, and network traffic.
The SIEM system aggregates these data and formats them into a standardized form for further analysis. The SOC team is responsible for ensuring that all necessary data sources are connected to the SIEM and that the data collection process is running smoothly. It also regularly updates the data sources to ensure that the SIEM system is always equipped with the most recent security information.
Once the data are collected and formatted, it’s time for analysis. SIEM uses various algorithms and rule sets to analyze the data. It looks for patterns, anomalies, and indicators of potential security threats. For instance, it might flag multiple failed login attempts from a single IP address over a limited timeframe as a potential brute force attack.
The SOC team, meanwhile, works hand-in-hand with the SIEM system during this analysis phase. It provides the necessary context to the analysis, helping to reduce benign alerts. They also update the SIEM system’s rule sets based on the needs of the business as well as the latest threat intelligence.
Alert Consolidation and Generation
Post analysis, if a potential threat is detected, the SIEM system consolidates security alerts to generate meaningful events. These events are prioritized based on their severity, ensuring that the most critical threats are addressed first.
The SOC team reviews these events and decides on the appropriate course of action. It determines the appropriateness of the attack events, considers and dismisses benign alerts, and ensures that the remaining events represent potentially genuine threats. It also provides additional context to the events, such as information about the affected systems and potential impact.
Event Handling and Incident Response
Once an event is confirmed as a genuine threat, the incident response focals on the SOC team swing into action. The SOC team often follows a predefined incident response plan to contain and control the threat — or customizes its response plan appropriate to the type of attack. This could involve isolating affected systems, blocking malicious IP addresses, or even initiating a full-scale system shutdown.
The SOC team also communicates with other stakeholders during this phase. It informs management about the incident, coordinates with the IT team to implement technical measures, and liaises with HR, legal, and PR teams if necessary.
Remediation and Recovery
After the threat is contained, the focus shifts to recovery. The SOC team works to restore normal operations as quickly as possible. It works with IT and cloud services teams, providing the information to repair affected systems, recover lost data, and implement measures to prevent a recurrence of the incident.
Meanwhile, the SIEM system aids in this recovery process. It provides detailed logs and records of the incident, helping to identify exactly what happened and how. These insights are crucial in understanding the attack and in planning for future threats.
Continuous Monitoring and Improvement
The last stage in the SIEM vs. SOC synergy is continuous monitoring and improvement. The SIEM system provides continuous monitoring of the organization’s network, alerting the SOC to any potential threats. It also regularly updates its rule sets and algorithms based on the latest threat intelligence.
The SOC team, meanwhile, uses the insights gained from past incidents and response flows to improve its processes. It updates its incident response plans, trains its personnel on the latest threat trends, adjusts automation as it becomes available, and works towards improving the overall security posture of the organization.
Learn More: in our detailed guide to SIEM and SOC
Exploring SIEM and SOC with Exabeam
New-Scale SIEMTM includes three essential technology components: First, it can rapidly ingest, parse, store and search data at lightning speed. Next, you need a behavioral analytics product that can baseline “normal” behavior of users and devices, so that your SOC can detect, prioritize, and respond to anomalies based on risk. And lastly, your SOC needs an automated investigation experience to ensure you have a complete picture of threats across your environment.
Learn more about the Exabeam Security Operations Platform options to find the right product for your SOC depending on your organization, security stack, and needs.