SIEM for startups: why should you care?

Security information and event management (SIEM) products came into the limelight during the early 2000s. They are widely regarded as something that only large enterprises need. While it’s true that deploying a SIEM system makes the most sense for big companies, startups and small and midsized businesses (SMBs) shouldn’t rule it out

This post defines SIEM and its core components, describes the potential that it has for startups and SMBs, and explains how small businesses and startups can deploy SIEM systems that suit them best. 

What’s a SIEM?

Before getting into why SMBs should consider SIEM solutions, let’s first clearly understand what SIEM is. 

Security information and event management (SIEM) focuses on managing an organization’s security incidents. It combines the functions of security information management (SIM) and security event management (SEM) and serves as a single touchpoint for your security management. It collects the relevant data—typically the machine data and system logs—from different sources across your IT, analyzes them, and reports any potentially suspicious activities. 

Most SIEM systems function on rule-based algorithms or correlation engines to identify when security incidents happen. When a SIEM system detects an issue, it logs the extra information and triggers corresponding alerts to the other security controls in the system. 

Core capabilities of a SIEM system

A SIEM system has many capabilities and features. In many cases, these features add as much value to startups as they do for big companies. Some of the core capabilities include:

Log management

Your network generates massive data all the time. SIEM tries to make sense out of such log files by collecting them from different hosts and storing them in a central repository. Once you establish a system of “true” log data, you can use it to compare a given stream of data and identify deviations. Log management also reformats and standardizes log files, making them easier to analyze.

Event correlation

Security event correlation is a crucial capability of any SIEM. Event correlation uses data points gathered through log management, analyzes them, and establishes relationships among such data. It gives logical analysis and context to events, which can help you identify potentially suspicious activities. If the SIEM detects any such activities, it notifies security analysts instantly. They can then take suitable control actions.

Threat detection

Scanning voluminous and disparate data sets to try to find threats can be laborious. That’s why threat detection is a popular feature of any SIEM system. Threat intelligence is dynamic and evolving. So, it’s important to stay updated and continuously build triggers corresponding to various alerts. The more data an organization produces, the more challenging it becomes to detect threats. Therefore, SIEM solutions are paramount because they make it easier to identify malicious activities.

Another preferred feature of a SIEM system is the ability to create precise dashboards. Such dashboards display security information in an easily understandable format. Also, custom reports can allow your security team to keep an eye on the organization’s security status at all times. Advanced SIEM tools use machine learning and user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA). These tools can assign risk scores and report behaviors when such scores surpass predetermined thresholds.

SIEM and SMBs: friends or foes?

Running a startup or an SMB can be tricky. More often than not, you’ll have many issues competing for your attention. You might think that cybersecurity is an item that you can afford to wait on or something that concerns only global enterprises, but you’d be wrong. Small businesses get attacked too. Also, big corporations generally have enough resources to insulate themselves from some of the damages in the event of a cyberattack, but small businesses usually don’t. This makes a strong case for startups and SMBs to embrace security solutions, including SIEM.

SIEM benefits for startups and SMBs

Contrary to popular belief, some core SIEM advantages apply to startups and SMBs as well as big companies.

For one, SIEM systems radically improve breach detection. They complement your existing firewall security and other security controls. Even startups generate an enormous amount of data through their daily operations. So, having a system that correlates such log information to try to identify breaches is pivotal. That’s exactly what a SIEM can do, and that’s why it’s important. 

What if a breach somehow happens despite all these measures? SIEM will help you handle such incidents too. It quickly identifies the affected systems and triggers workflows to notify the respective incident handlers. The system will also try to halt attacks that are still in progress and help you minimize the damage incurred.

Another major component of security that many startups and SMBs struggle with is compliance reporting. The consequences of noncompliance can include serious financial troubles. SIEM will help you save hours of effort and time by compiling and organizing the different logs required for compliance reports.

How can startups and SMBs implement SIEM?

Based on what you’ve learned from the previous section, it’s easy to see why large enterprises seek SIEM solutions. Most of them can afford to. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case with startups and SMBs. 

When you deploy a SIEM, you’ll have to configure it properly based on the network specifics and any other security tools you use. This process is time-consuming and is also likely to burn a big hole in your pocket. You may also need to train your people in setting up and monitoring the system to maximize the benefits. So, you’ll have to spend a nice chunk of your tight IT budget for a SIEM. And that’s enough for most small business owners to think twice.

However, news reports on security breaches show you how vital cybersecurity is. So, what do you do? Are there any alternatives? 

Thankfully, the answer is yes! If you run a startup, you have the following options at your disposal to implement SIEM.

Option 1: find a tooling alternative to big SIEMs

If a traditional SIEM is too expensive or resource-demanding, consider finding a security solution that fits your stage and budget. There are some good lighter SIEM alternatives like Elastic, or consider an Application Security Management solution that can act as a “security-team-in-a-box” for you, helping you detect threats in real-time without false positives. 

Option 2: Managed Security Service Providers (MSSPs)

If the initial cost of a SIEM solution is your biggest headache, then going for a managed security service provider is a potential alternative. You’ll basically be hiring a team of expert security practitioners to do the job for you. So, you won’t have to shell out money in building and training your in-house security team. However, the deployment costs and time will still be on you. Still, all things considered, it’s probably a good idea to go for MSSPs rather than ignoring your organization’s security.

Option 3: build your own SIEM

If for some reason you’re not willing to outsource a SIEM solution, you can also consider building one of your own. Not all functionalities of a SIEM are equally important to all sizes and types of business. So, building your own SIEM will let you narrow down and focus on functionalities that are the most crucial to your business. For instance, you can give more importance to areas such as monitoring and managing network connections, login credentials use and misuse, and so on. 

As you’d expect, building your SIEM will be hard, as it largely depends on the skills of your existing security team. But if done right, it’s a sure-shot way to add value and reputation to your organization. If you don’t have the expertise or resources to build your own, consider a different option.

Conclusion

SIEM systems have significant potential not just for big enterprises but also for startups and SMBs. Of course, small businesses face hurdles along the path. For example, there’s a demand for highly skilled security practitioners, which makes them expensive. Also, implementing SIEM can raise too many alerts, which can result in distraction. But the benefits are likely to outweigh the challenges and risks, even for startups and small businesses.  Security is an ongoing journey, but getting started on improving your security as a startup, at the capabilities that fit your stage, is the right way to go.


This post was written by Mark Robinson. Mark graduated from the SRR Engineering College and started his career as an engineer in the manufacturing industry. But he also has years of content writing experience as a freelancer under his belt, so he understands the importance of effective communication in the tech world. Off work, Mark is a sports enthusiast who loves to play chess.

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