Everything you need to know about SIEM consolidation

by Jamiu Akande

Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) is a critical pillar of any good cybersecurity defence strategy. Designed to collate and analyse data from a range of sources, like networks and infrastructure, SIEM solutions are the most effective way to spot any potential security issues.

A comprehensive, well-configured SIEM gives an organisation visibility across their entire digital environment, enabling them to detect and mitigate any potential threats before they can do major damage.

Since ensuring top SIEM performance is all about coverage and gaining as much visibility as possible into the goings-on of your networks, you might think that having more than one SIEM solution in play would be a good move.

But in this case, less is most definitely more. In this article, we’re going to talk about SIEM consolidation and why it’s a smart move for businesses looking to tighten up their cybersecurity posture.

What is SIEM consolidation?

Firstly, let’s nail down exactly what SIEM consolidation entails. As the name suggests, SIEM consolidation is the process of streamlining and unifying disparate SIEM solutions into a single platform.

But how does one organisation end up operating multiple solutions doing the same job? One common reason is business growth. As an organisation expands, its digital environment needs to grow with it to facilitate additional applications, workflows, and users. And these new aspects of the IT system need to be protected. It can be tricky to enlarge the footprint of an existing SIEM, and if an organisation feels it needs to protect its new systems quickly, they may find it easier to simply deploy a new, separate SIEM to ensure they’re covered.

Another common scenario Mergers or Acquisitions as this often means inheriting IT systems, including SIEM solutions. Then comes the challenge of auditing this mixed bag of apps and infrastructure, streamlining and integrating where necessary to create a comprehensive system that works for all aspects of the new, unified organisation.

Operating several individual SIEM systems, each covering different departments or areas of an IT system, can get complicated very quickly. Without a centralised view of potential security events, things may get missed, systems become unoptimised, and running costs rise to unsustainable levels.

That’s where SIEM consolidation comes in.

The objective of SIEM consolidation is to eliminate these inefficiencies by integrating systems into an all-inclusive SIEM platform that covers the entire organisation’s environment.

As with any kind of solution integration, SIEM consolidation can be a challenging project. It involves meshing together multiple systems, workflows, and rules, normalising data, ensuring compatibility, and configuring proper access controls and other aspects of governance.

But with thorough planning and support from SIEM experts, SIEM consolidation can vastly improve an organisation’s ability to detect and respond to threats, reduce running costs, and fortify its overall cybersecurity posture.

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The benefits of SIEM consolidation

Why is SIEM consolidation worth doing? Let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits that consolidating disparate SIEM solutions can bring.

  • Simpler management

For even the most effective cybersecurity team, managing multiple SIEM systems can feel like spinning plates: difficult, time-consuming, and very precarious.

Managing, monitoring and maintaining multiple systems is no easy feat, and this additional complication can eat up a lot of resources and make it harder to ensure top performance in the process.

A single SIEM solution that covers the entire environment will also need careful management, but running one system, no matter how complex, instead of a handful makes this significantly simpler.

  • Lower running costs

Sure, a good SIEM system can be pricey, but running several SIEM systems at once is even more so.

Licencing fees, hardware costs, and maintenance expenses all add up when you have multiple solutions on the go. Consolidating these systems can help reduce costs, especially when you consider that many SIEM vendors will offer discounts for solutions containing and processing large amounts of data, which is far more likely if it’s all in one place.

  • Better visibility and threat detection 

Anomalies and patterns are far easier to spot if you’re only looking at one interface. With more than one SIEM running, it’s more likely that sources of data or corners of a network will fall through the cracks.

Operating a single, comprehensive SIEM offers greater visibility, ensuring that all relevant data streams are ingested and correlated together. This gives cybersecurity teams a unified view of events and data logs from across the organisation, enabling more thorough and accurate analysis.

This improved visibility means leaders have a much better understanding of their organisation’s security posture, potential vulnerabilities, and risks presented by ongoing threats. Empowered by this data, teams can make more informed decisions, prioritise security investments, and allocate resources effectively.

And all of that adds up to better threat detection, faster incident response, and reduced impact from security breaches.

  • Improved operational efficiency

Streamlining workflows and other security operations is a great way to improve efficiency. With a single SIEM system, the need to manually correlate and analyse data from multiple solutions is greatly reduced, giving security teams more time to respond to potential threats.

  • More straightforward compliance

Making sure all your cybersecurity tools and processes comply with data regulations and privacy laws is crucial. It can also be complicated, laborious, and severely problematic if it’s not done correctly.

Managing data and meeting compliance requirements is much easier if your data is in one place. A unified SIEM platform helps organisations be more methodical and consistent when auditing, monitoring, and reporting on event data, helping it to adhere to directives set out by regulations such as PCI DSS, HIPAA, and GDPR.

  • Greater scalability

Growth is always a good thing in business, but often growth is what leads to an organisation running multiple SIEMs in the first place.

A single, consolidated SIEM provides the business with greater scalability—especially if it’s a newer, cloud-based solution that’s built to be easily scalable and flexible as an organisation’s needs change.

With just one SIEM deployed, businesses can adapt and expand their security infrastructure when necessary. Plus, a consolidated SIEM is more easily integrated with other security technologies and threat intelligence sources, which helps with compatibility as other data streams and applications are added to the stack. This goes a long way towards future-proofing the organisation’s security capabilities and helping them stay abreast of developing threats.

Common challenges in SIEM consolidation

Of course, consolidating multiple SIEM solutions isn’t always easy. You’re bringing together complex workflows, disparate configurations, and what often amounts to colossal quantities of data, and these distinct but equally critical aspects of your new SIEM aren’t going to simply slot together like jigsaw pieces.

There’s likely to be duplication of data and workflows, performance disparities, and compatibility issues, but these obstacles can be mitigated with careful planning and expert guidance.

Here are a few potential snags to prepare for so you can put your SIEM consolidation project on track for success:

  • Data normalisation and integration issues

Bringing together multiple SIEM systems requires integrating data from a wide range of sources that might use different data formats or protocols. These can include network devices, servers, applications, and other security tools, to name just a few.

Not only that, but each SIEM system may have different data normalisation processes, making it even more challenging to align and standardise the data so that it can be analysed and correlated together for full visibility.

Making sure this data is standardised, compatible and integrates effectually is a complex undertaking, and one that can throw some seriously big spanners into the works if thorough mapping, transformation and integration are not carried out in the early stages of the project.

  • System compatibility

It’s not just the data from the various SIEMs that has to be compatible. The technologies at work under the hood of each legacy solution may not work seamlessly together either. Integrating these incongruent systems and bridging any gaps so that they can function collectively may require extensive custom development or the implementation of middleware.

  • Maintaining performance and scalability

While there are plenty of benefits to consolidating your SIEM solutions, centralising all that data and functionality can lead to teething problems when it comes to performance.

The volume of event data that’s being ingested and processed will increase massively, which can compromise performance if the increased workload hasn’t been accommodated and prepared for.

This expansion of capacity can also affect scalability, which can in turn hamper your ability to react to changes in business needs.

  • Governance

Each individual SIEM that’s being consolidated is likely to have its own set of governance policies and access controls, particularly if they’ve previously been used in different parts of the business where rules (and how well they’re upheld) may vary.

Ensuring the security of your new, consolidated SIEM system will mean defining new governance policies and setting up appropriate access controls and permission levels. Carrying over existing policies and configurations is likely to lead to vulnerabilities, putting your organisation at risk of data breaches and both internal and external threats.

  • Skill gaps and the effective use of new capabilities

If multiple SIEM solutions have been in use across an organisation, your security team’s SIEM skillset is going to be patchy at best. While your team may have pockets of expertise stemming from their experience with these different solutions, it’s likely that they’ll need thorough training on how to operate and manage the new solution.

If you’re going to go through the SIEM consolidation process, it’s likely that you’re moving to a new platform in the process; probably one with functionality and capabilities that your team isn’t used to using on a daily basis.

The good news is that their knowledge of SIEM concepts should be pretty solid, but you’ll need to make sure they understand any new features, processes, and analysis techniques that will be in play once the consolidation project is complete.

Failure to provide sufficient training on the new system can lead to the innovative new features you sought being underutilised. For instance, many next-generation SIEM solutions feature machine learning capabilities to help detect anomalies and automation to action incident response without manual intervention.

While the objective of such features is often to reduce the workload of IT staff, they need to know how to leverage them; otherwise, valuable insights may be overlooked. If a team is not trained on these functionalities and continues to rely on manual processes, workloads can actually increase.

Overall, if your team is not fully equipped with the knowledge it needs to leverage these capabilities, they’re effectively rendered redundant, limiting the overall effectiveness of the platform and seriously hampering the organisation’s ability to tackle threats.

  • Change management and establishing new workflows

Change management is one of the most challenging and elusive parts of any IT transformation project. Your team must be properly engaged with, informed about, and prepared for changes to minimise disruption and ensure maximum user adoption.

Rolling together existing SIEM systems will introduce major updates to processes and workflows—if not a complete reestablishment of the way your team works with its SIEM solution.

Failing to develop and communicate new workflows can have negative consequences and prevent the successful launch of your new SIEM solution.

Without well-defined workflows set out when the consolidated SIEM goes live, security teams might struggle to coordinate and collaborate with each other effectively. If your team doesn’t have a clear workflow for incident escalation, for example, with distinct, pre-assigned accountabilities, critical security incidents may not receive the prompt attention they require.

This lack of harmony and ownership among the team can cause delays in incident response, missed security events, and a greater risk of any vulnerabilities being exploited.

  • Adaptation of existing use cases

It can be difficult to adapt existing use cases when a new platform—with different functionality, capabilities, and ways of working—is implemented. When consolidating multiple SIEM solutions into one all-seeing, all-knowing system, it gets extra tricky.

Long-standing use cases will need to be modified to fit the consolidated platform, or possibly even completely redefined, so that the new system can appropriately and effectively respond to specific scenarios. Since these rules will define how the system identifies and responds to potential incidents, not properly translating and mapping them to the consolidated platform can lead to serious issues.

Any use cases that aren’t configured to the consolidated platform can, for example, result in potential security incidents going undetected. Even if a scenario and its associated rules worked perfectly in an older SIEM system, they may not deliver the same actions within the consolidated platform. If it hasn’t been suitably adapted and re-implemented to ensure consistent and reliable results going forward, it could miss critical threats or fail to correctly escalate them.

Maladapted use cases can also trigger false positives. Your team will have enough to deal with when the consolidated system goes live without being inundated with false positives. This can result in alert fatigue, overwhelming analysts and causing them to miss genuine threats.

How to ensure smooth SIEM consolidation

SIEM consolidation is a big undertaking, but the results speak for themselves. To help you on your journey to SIEM consolidation (and improved security posture), our expert team has put together a few tips:

Identify critical log sources early on

When consolidating your various SIEM systems into their new home, you need to make sure nothing gets left behind. Identifying your log sources before you start the move can help ensure that your consolidated system contains all the data it needs to effectively protect your entire digital ecosystem.

The following steps can help businesses identify critical log sources:

  1. Conduct a thorough analysis of your organization’s IT infrastructure and security requirements to identify all critical log sources. Don’t rely solely on what’s currently being fed into legacy SIEM systems, as this can mean any data streams previously missed will fail to be accounted for.
  2. Catch up with stakeholders, including security teams, IT staff, and department leaders, to understand which log sources are most critical to their operations. Things may have changed since the log sources were originally set up, so this is a good opportunity to update any requirements.
  3. Prioritise log sources based on the information you’ve gathered, ensuring priorities align with the potential impact log sources have on the organisation’s security posture.
  4. Create a plan to make sure all identified critical log sources are migrated according to priority, and that all data is integrated into the consolidated SIEM system.

Locate and centralise your knowledge bases

If you’ve been running multiple SIEM solutions for some time, you should have built up a good-sized knowledge base about each platform. Even if the SIEM system you’ll be using to cover of all your SIEM needs is entirely new to your organisation, you shouldn’t let your existing knowledge bases go to waste.

Speak to the teams that have used each respective SIEM and locate any knowledge bases or documentation they may have generated over time. Putting these all in one, centralised place that’s accessible to all users—preferably one that’s integrated with the consolidated SIEM itself—will help reduce the learning curve as your security team gets to grips with the new system.

Calculate new storage requirements and other changes

Consolidating all your SIEM operations into one solution will mean going back to the drawing board on several administrative and governance fronts. Storage requirements, for example, will need to be considerably increased to accommodate the amalgamation of your logs.

You may need to reassess encryption requirements too, if you want to ensure that all data streams are properly protected. The storage and movement of data processed by your new super SIEM should also be reviewed to make sure it complies with the necessary regulatory requirements.

Taking these steps early on in the process can help ensure that the consolidated SIEM system meets performance, security, and compliance requirements, ensuring your new solution, and the team using it, get off to the best possible start.

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As experienced cyber security experts, we can help you implement, consolidate, migrate or optimise your SIEM tool.

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By Jamiu Akande