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The Difference Between SIEM and SOAR (Why Do I Need SOAR, If I Have SIEM?)

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SOAR and SIEM

If you have been involved in the IT and cybersecurity industry for a while, you have most likely come across the terms SIEM and SOAR before, but there is still much confusion by many professionals about what their specific uses and purposes are. So, what are they? What do they do? Are they the same thing? Do you need one, the other, or both within your security operations infrastructure? Below we will explain the basics behind them, their differences, and how they can work seamlessly together to accelerate security operations in terms of their incident response processes and tasks.

What is SIEM?

SIEM stands for security information and event management. This refers to technologies that collect and store security data. Examples of data that a SIEM could collect include from firewalls, intrusion detection systems, network appliances to name a few. Gathering, parsing and storing this data is the information management element.

How Does a SIEM Solution Work?

SIEM aggregates and correlates all of this gathered data by further identifying and analyzing it. Often this is done with the help of special analytics and machine learning software. A SIEM tool checks data for patterns that might indicate an attack and correlates event information between devices for any anomalous activity, issuing an alert if necessary.

SIEM and SOAR - Why Do I Need SOAR, If I Have SIEM?

To be able to differentiate between normal and suspicious activities, the SIEM tool needs regular upgrades and tuning, and this should be done by analysts and engineers. Once a SIEM is properly tuned, responding to the alerts generated by a SIEM still remains a manual process. Each alert must be reviewed and investigated by an analyst to determine if the event is a false positive, or an actual incident which warrants further investigation and remediation. During an actual incident, the investigation and remediation activities will also be a manual process.

While many SIEMs possess a wide spectrum of capabilities that go beyond our expectations, they were not created to unify people, processes and technologies within a security operations center (SOC). This is where a SOAR solution comes into play and can be used effectively in conjunction with a SIEM tool. While the SIEM detects the potential security incidents and triggers the alerts, a SOAR solution then takes these alerts to the next level, responding to them, triaging the data and taking remediation steps where necessary. SOAR can therefore add significant value to the existing SIEM solution potentially already being used.

Let’s emphasise here that despite the important function of a SIEM solution, even the most highly skilled analysts will need different aids and interfaces during the process of analysing the alerts generated by the SIEM, such as vulnerability management or threat intelligence to connect the dots around the security threat. Also within today’s threat prone organizations, there is usually an insufficient number of security analysts available to cope with the ever growing volume of alerts being generated by the SIEM tool. In most cases a large percentage of these alerts will be false positive, ultimately resulting in valuable time and effort being wasted with manual human processes and tasks, while that one real threat could easily slip through the net unnoticed.

What is SOAR?

Security orchestration, automation and response (SOAR), terminology adopted by Gartner, is an approach to security operations and incident response used today to improve security operations efficiency, efficacy and consistency. To better understand what this means, let’s look at its components separately:

  • Security Orchestration - the coordination of various desperate security tools and technologies being used within the tool stack (typically from various vendors) to seamlessly integrate and communicate with each other to establish repeatable, enforceable, measurable and effective incident response processes and workflows. People and processes must also be orchestrated properly to ensure maximum efficiency.

  • Security Automation - the method of automatically handling tasks and processes without the need for manual human intervention, reducing the time these take by automating repeatable processes and applying machine learning to appropriate tasks. Automation usually takes place through the use of playbooks and runbooks (the former containing linear tasks, and the latter containing decision based conditional actions) to reduce or eliminate the mundane actions that must be performed.

  • Security Response - the approach to addressing and managing the security incident once an alert has been confirmed, including triage, containment, remediation and more. Today, many actions, such as quarantining files and disabling access to compromised accounts, to name a few, are performed automatically, so incidents that once posed a real threat can be quickly resolved.

How Does a SOAR Solution Work?

SOAR solutions enable security teams to automatically gather the context needed to further investigate alerts generated from across their ecosystem. By using a SOAR platform, security alerts can be automatically responded to, with all the tools and technologies needed seamlessly orchestrated together to provide individual pieces of the puzzle. The most appropriate response steps and actions are then executed through the triggering of various playbooks and runbooks to suit different threats. This ultimately ensures that all alerts are responded to, while freeing up valuable analyst time to enable them to work on higher priority or more complex and proactive tasks, such as threat hunting, only stepping in to make a human decision in the mostly automated process as and when required.

Acting as a force multiplier, SOAR allows security teams to do more with less resources, while providing features to automate, orchestrate, respond and measure the full incident response lifecycle, including detection, security incident qualification, triage and escalation, enrichment, containment and remediation. Some of the key benefits of utilizing SOAR technology include reducing the time from breach discovery to resolution, minimizing the risk resulting from security incidents, improving the overall effectiveness and efficiency of SOC operations, while increasing the return on investment for existing security technologies.

Marriage of SIEM and SOAR - The Formula to Success?

Although it’s still possible for some SOCs to still function without having a SIEM or SOAR solution in place, many security teams will agree that the success formula is to have both. The amount of security events being generated on a daily basis will likely be a key determining factor for implementing a SIEM tool, and the ability to respond to all of these alerts effectively will likely be a deciding factor when choosing whether to implement a SOAR solution.

For a large organization potentially receiving hundreds of alerts per day with a limited workforce, integrating a SIEM tool with a SOAR solution combines the power of each to create a more robust, efficient and responsive security program. Taking advantage of the SIEMs ability to ingest large volumes of data and to generate the alerts, the SOAR solution can then be layered on top of the SIEM to manage the incident response process to each alert, automating and orchestrating the mundane and repetitive tasks which would otherwise take many human analyst hours to complete.

SOAR solutions, including IncMan SOAR from DFLabs, support SIEM integrations such as ArcSight, Elastic, FortiSIEM, LogPoint, McAfee, RSA and Splunk to name a few, and together they ensure that no alert goes untouched. More importantly, working alongside a SIEM, a SOAR solution ensures all alerts are dealt with in a timely manner and are acted upon following a standard set of consistent and repeatable practices, and this factor becomes more essential when it comes to complying to regulations in order to meet incident notification and breach reporting requirements.

You can read more about how the combination of a SIEM tool and SOAR solution can transform your organization’s security operations and incident response capabilities by reading our recent white paper “How to Leverage Your Existing SIEM Tool with SOAR Technology”. Alternatively you can see our IncMan SOAR solution in action with a SIEM tool by arranging a one-to-one personalized demo.

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