SIEM vs Log Management

Arfan Sharif - February 10, 2023

As cybersecurity evolves, so do the methods and range of attacks. SecOps teams are being continuously challenged to defend an organization’s assets against internal and external threats. While SIEM platforms attempt to provide a holistic view of the enterprise’s security posture and insights into incidents and anomalies, log management platforms are primarily designed to collect any kind of data, in addition to providing optimized storage, search, aggregation and visualization capabilities.

Log management and Security Information and Event Management (SIEMs) solutions can often be complementary and sometimes competitive. However, this does vary depending on the type of solution being considered. SIEM and log management platforms often overlap in that they both process event data, and can often be used to meet the same use case. And there are those who want the flexibility to design their own SIEM using a modern log management platform, which often involves having a really good understanding of the core concepts of the platform and its inner workings.

To provide a more complete understanding of SIEMs and log management tools, let’s divide their features into three categories: features primarily found in SIEMs; features primarily found in log management; and the advantages of using the two together.

SIEM vs Log Management Definitions

What is a SIEM?

Security information and event management (SIEM) is a tool that collects machine data from your IT systems, then analyzes and correlates it to detect any security threats.

What is SIEM Logging?

SIEM software collects logs from multiple sources and forwards them to a central logging system. Most SIEM platforms have built-in integrations to retrieve logs from a wide range of systems. There may also be a repository of community-built apps or integrations for some lesser-known systems.

Common types of SIEM integrations include:

  • Agents: The SIEM software’s log collector agents are installed on target source servers and run as separate services. These agents read various logs and send the contents of those logs to the SIEM solution.
  • API Connections: Logs are collected via their API endpoints and using API keys. These can be typically third-party, cloud applications.
  • Application integrations: These are located on the SIEM side. The data sent from source systems can be in any format and can use specific protocols. These integrations can work with the data generated by the source system so the relevant fields can be extracted and appropriate visualizations for use cases can be created, many integrations would also have out of the box visualizations for various use cases.
  • Webhooks: This is often a method used to send data out of the SIEM solution to another platform which can be triggered based on a rule, a typical example of this would be an integration for Slack where an alert is send to a particular slack channel to notify a team of an issue which may need to be investigated .
  • Custom-written Scripts: Engineers may run scheduled, customized scripts that collect data from source systems, and then format the log data and send it to the SIEM software.

What is a Log Management System?

A Log Management System (LMS) is a software solution that gathers, sorts, and stores log data and event logs from a variety of sources in one centralized location. Log management software systems allow IT teams, DevOps and SecOps professionals to establish a single point from which to access all relevant network and application data. The data should immediately be searchable, which means the IT team can easily access the data they need to make decisions about network health, resource allocation, or security.

Log management tools are used to help the organization manage the high volume of log data generated across the enterprise. These tools help determine:

  • What data and information needs to be logged
  • The format in which it should be logged
  • The time period for which the log data should be saved
  • How data should be disposed or destroyed when it is no longer needed

Features and Capabilities

Primary Features of a SIEM:

  • Correlation rules
  • The ability to search limited amounts of data
  • Selective ingest of security-related logs
  • Security-related reporting features

In theory, SIEMs are designed to filter data into actionable alerts for the user. However, multiple layers of alerting and complexity often result in “a stack of needles” versus “finding the needle in the haystack”. SIEMs can become expensive to deploy, operationalize, and maintain due to the inherent complexity.. They often make compromises in speed and fidelity because they are attempting to be exhaustive in their scope of features. Through their pricing models, SIEMs often place pressure on not including all possible data sources.

Primary Features of a Log Management Solution:

  • Reduced overhead for log management
  • Inclusive of all data sources (IT, Security, DevOps, Business Analytics)
  • Highly-performant architecture
  • Long-term data retention
  • Extensive query, aggregation, and visualization features
  • Use cases based on needs and outcomes
  • Data analysis and correlation capabilities

Modern log management tools emphasize bringing in data from a wide variety of sources as quickly as possible, and providing users with a comprehensive way to search their data as soon as it comes in. They are built to collect and store millions of events per second, and compress and store them efficiently. The core strengths of log management address many of the concerns with SIEMs. They provide a full picture of all data from a system at a lower cost with less maintenance, and they’re able to store it longer than a SIEM.

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Benefits of using log management and SIEMs together:

  • Flexible searching at scale in conjunction with targeted alerting
  • The ability to search extremely high volumes of data
  • Meeting compliance rules and requirements
  • Provide alerts and automation
  • Reduce spend by migrating high-volume data to log management

1.  Extensive use of log data:

Both tools make extensive use of log data. SIEMs focus on curating, analyzing, and filtering that data before it gets to the end-user. Log management focuses on providing access to all data, and a means of easily filtering it and curating it through an easy-to-learn search language.

2. Threat Hunting use cases:

Both SIEMs and log management can be used for threat hunting. SIEMs typically take longer to alert users to threats, and may miss some threats because they don’t have a complete data set. Log management can alert users to threats more quickly, and can support a more hands-on and comprehensive approach to threat hunting.

3. Audits and reporting:

Both SIEM and log management platforms can provide audits and reports. However, SIEM platforms are often limited to security-focused data, while log management platforms often have a much larger spectrum of data.

4. Alerts and automation:

Log management and SIEMs both provide alerts and automation. Powered by real-time search results, log management takes less time than SIEMs to share alerts and trigger responses. SIEMs provide a more complex way of managing your automation response by allowing you to build playbooks of automated responses supplied by the SIEM vendor, the SIEM option often allows utilization of many pre-built integrations with SOAR vendors.

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Arfan Sharif is a product marketing lead for the Observability portfolio at CrowdStrike. He has over 15 years experience driving Log Management, ITOps, Observability, Security and CX solutions for companies such as Splunk, Genesys and Quest Software. Arfan graduated in Computer Science at Bucks and Chilterns University and has a career spanning across Product Marketing and Sales Engineering.