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Security Information Management (SIM) solutions

© March 2008 Michael Desrosiers
Michael Desrosiers

This month's topic is Security Information Management (SIM) solutions, and some of the emerging security information management options that are available with them.

It all started with a couple of security log management applications. Pulling log data from switches, routers, firewalls, and databases may seem a fairly mundane activity, but it's also become a very critical one. Now it seems, SIM vendors are ready to take over your entire enterprise. IBM, Symantec, TriGeo, LogRhythm, EMC Focuses enVision, ArcSight and eiQnetworks to name a few, have all thrown their hats into the ring. Why is SIM, a market that appeared to be all but dead at the end of 2006, suddenly so hot again? And what should you or your organization know about this solution?

After several years of focusing on compliance and breach management, many Fortune 1000 types are now looking to automate compliance and cut costs. At the same time, many businesses are looking for ways to assess the costs and the benefits of security, leading to a new emphasis on risk management. Risk Management has replaced compliance as the action item that organizations are talking about, regarding IT security. And this is the precise area that SIM tools are uniquely qualified to handle and assist you with.

Some of the vendors are even stretching risk and compliance management into the much broader concept of IT governance and the establishment, monitoring, and enforcement of IT and business policies across the entire enterprise. The acronym GRC (governance, risk, and compliance), has become a hot buzzword not only in security, but in business. Some of the larger vendors, including IBM, have created business units dedicated solely to GRC. SIM tools, which evolved from the old system log file analysis applications still used by many security pros, have the ability to track, store, and analyze data about "events" in the enterprise network. Historically, SIM products have been used primarily to detect and determine the source of suspicious behavior in enterprise systems, but many vendors have extended that capability to include detection of any policy violation, including compliance and non-security events.

Other vendors are positioning their SIM products with less features, but with greater depth. Arcsight, for example, is adding the ability to not only track events in the enterprise, but also to identify the business role of the person who initiates them. With this approach in mind you are not just viewing security events, but are tracking new compliance problems, and will also do some benchmarking on how the organization is performing against your existing policies and asset controls. A roles based approach helps the organization monitor not just how its systems are doing, but how its employees are currently using those assets. Still other emerging security management solutions work more at the lower end, helping administrators to set and enforce policies at the perimeter endpoint.

So with so many divergent approaches to SIM and security management, here are some simple tips for a solution that fits your needs. The one that you will choose will depend on which of those functions you will need the most.

1) Look for a tool that can help set policy;
2) Look for a solution that can enforce that policy;
3) Find a way that the SIM can analyze it;
4) And most importantly, find a tool that can monitor it.

Some platforms will likely be used primarily for setting and enforcing anti malware and malicious software policies in workstations, which will be strong in identity management and access management. Traditional SIM tools that do event management and log file analysis, on the other hand, are better at monitoring and measuring policy compliance and risk. Tools that do real time event reporting and correlation can be very useful for monitoring your environment, while tools that do more historical analysis might be more helpful for measurement of compliance, or for predicting future trends that might indicate you're about to go out of compliance. In either case SIM tools work best as a means for benchmarking an organization's performance against security policies, rather than as a means of warning the company of new or potential threats against it.

There you have it. Many organizations are looking towards SIM technology to protect their corporate assets and streamline their IT operations. Beyond technology installations however, deploying a SIM involves an overall operational challenge that cannot be ignored. This will drive what controls are required to manage these risks in compliance with the level of diligence that is required by the organization. The original intent of SIM tools, were that they would help you spot threats in real time. That conceptual ability did not quite work out. But if you look at them as a way to monitor and measure your current policy compliance, they can do even more.

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or to inquire about an on-site presentation, please feel free to call me at 508-995-4933 or email me at mdesrosiers@m3ipinc.com.

Michael Desrosiers
Founder & Principal Consultant
m3ip, Inc.
We Manage Risk, So You Can Manage Your Business

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