The Evolution of Security Threat Management: SIEM vs. MDR
Which One is Right for You?
by Vicki Chacon, Cybersecurity Solution Engineer
In today’s rapidly evolving threat landscape, organizations of all sizes face increasing cybersecurity challenges. Couple that with a cybersecurity skills gap that’s creating challenges around hiring full-time staff quickly enough (check out my colleague’s recent blog to help on this one), and it’s easy to see why many companies are in a bit of what I call, ‘OMG! scramble mode.’ Two popular options to consider to quell the panic are Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solutions and Managed Detection and Response (MDR) services: both viable options for security threat management.
In this blog, I’ll delve into the differences between these two approaches, highlighting their unique characteristics, benefits, and drawbacks. By the end, you’ll have a clearer understanding of which solution aligns best with your organization’s needs.
Before we get there, a quick anecdote: I was recently involved in prospect meetings where the client’s team confessed that, although they had not been breached, others in their industry have been, and they believe it’s just a matter of time before they are too. Much to their credit, they are getting proactive about their cybersecurity defense posture rather than waiting around for it to happen and then taking action. That prompted me to look at the various options for advancing their defense capabilities, and I urge every company to look at their defenses through similar a similar lens.
Why? Because this year, industry analyst Gartner, predicts that over half of U.S. workers will be remote. At the same time, 61% of organizations have already experienced a 25% increase in cyber threats or alerts since the beginning of the pandemic. It’s clear that as the threats continue increasing, our collective defense efforts need to do the same. So that leads me to the two modern options that are quickly evolving: SIEM versus MDR, so we’ll look at the pros and cons of both.
Understanding the Pros and Cons of SIEM Solutions
SIEM solutions are designed to centralize security event data from various sources, such as logs, network traffic, and system alerts. These systems provide real-time monitoring, event correlation, and reporting capabilities to help detect and respond to security incidents promptly. They are complex, robust software systems that have extensive features and capabilities and require time and expertise to optimize.
Pros of SIEM Solutions
- Improved threat detection: SIEM systems analyze large volumes of security events to identify potential threats that may have gone unnoticed.
- Compliance management: SIEM solutions assist in meeting regulatory compliance requirements by providing automated reporting and audit capabilities.
- Enhanced incident response: By aggregating data from diverse sources, SIEM solutions provide a holistic view of security incidents, facilitating faster incident response and investigation.
- Scalability: SIEM solutions can handle large volumes of data and adapt to growing organizational needs.
Cons of SIEM Solutions
- Complex implementation: Deploying and configuring SIEM solutions can be resource-intensive and require expertise to fine-tune rules and correlation logic. In some cases, configuring these solutions can take 12 months or longer and requires advanced knowledge of the solution’s capabilities in addition to the environment.
- High false-positive rates: Without proper tuning, SIEM systems can generate a significant number of false-positive alerts, leading to alert fatigue and reduced efficiency. “Alert fatigue” is a real and growing issue wherein resources are distracted and drained by many false positives, taking time and money away from finding and containing real threats, in addition to delaying progress on everyday tasks.
- Limited threat-hunting capabilities: SIEM solutions focus primarily on event correlation and analysis, lacking advanced threat-hunting features to proactively identify emerging threats.
According to a 2022 report by Gartner, SIEM solutions will remain an important part of security operations, with the market expected to reach $5.93 billion by 2025. SIEM solutions are maturing quickly and can be a tremendous help to bolster your cyber defenses, especially in organizations that have the time and resources to deploy on configuration and optimization.
Understanding the Pros and Cons of MDR Solutions
Managed Detection and Response (MDR) services are a direct evolution of SIEM solutions, combined with expert human analysis (aka specialty cybersecurity analysts) with advanced technologies to provide continuous monitoring, threat detection, and incident response support. MDR services offer a proactive approach to threat hunting and containment and help you launch an effective defense strategy in days rather than months or a year, or more.
Pros of MDR Services
- 24/7 threat monitoring: MDR services employ skilled security analysts who continuously monitor an organization’s network, endpoints, and cloud environments for potential threats.
- Rapid incident response: MDR services offer swift incident response capabilities, including containment and remediation, with the assistance of experienced security professionals.
- Advanced threat detection: MDR providers employ cutting-edge technologies, such as machine learning and behavioral analytics, to detect emerging threats and anomalies.
- Scalability and expertise: MDR services provide access to a team of cybersecurity experts, relieving organizations of the burden of hiring and training a dedicated internal security team.
Cons of MDR Services
- Cost considerations: MDR services are typically subscription-based, so there is an ongoing cost. That said, the monthly cost is typically far less than a large capital outlay required by SIEM purchase, so small- and mid-sized organizations with limited budgets may find this option attractive. Effectively being able to improve security without a large upfront investment offers almost immediate defense improvement and proactive threat monitoring.
- Trust and experience: organizations relying on MDR services must trust the capabilities and responsiveness of the service provider, as the majority of security functions are outsourced. That means it is important to seek a proven provider with references and seasoned cybersecurity analysts.
- Integration cautions: MDR services may require integration with existing security infrastructure and processes. Since these can be time-consuming and complex, it’s critical to be sure your provider has the depth and knowledge to help guide you through necessary integrations in order to get the most from their services, especially if you are short-staffed on the cyber skills front.
A report by IDC predicts that the global MDR services market will experience a compound annual growth rate of 32.2% from 2022 to 2027. Clearly, this evolution from SIEM to fully managed cybersecurity services with MDR is another twist in the threat defense landscape, and both are surely here to stay. The question is, which one is the better fit for you?
Choosing the right cybersecurity solution is crucial for organizations aiming to protect their digital assets from evolving threats. SIEM solutions and MDR services both offer valuable features, but their focus and implementation vary significantly, and they should be evaluated based on the unique needs of your organization.
SIEM solutions are well-suited for organizations that require compliance management, event correlation, and centralized security monitoring and have the in-house resources and expertise to properly support the implementation, configuration, and ongoing monitoring and management of the system. However, they often require extensive configuration and maintenance efforts, can take 12 or more months to configure and fine-tune to your environment, and in many cases, their effectiveness can be hindered by false positives.
On the other hand, MDR services offer proactive and expert threat detection, 24/7/365 monitoring, and expert incident response. They are particularly beneficial for organizations lacking internal cybersecurity expertise and can help limit false positives and the distractions of ‘alert fatigue’ since seasoned security analysts are managing the systems and filtering the data.
Ultimately, the choice between SIEM and MDR depends on an organization’s specific needs, budget, and internal capabilities, and in-house skillsets. You may also want to consider how much time and resources the leadership is willing to invest in cybersecurity, keeping in mind that those in-house resources are often focused on threat hunting and alerts rather than supporting your core business.
As the threat landscape evolves, it is vital to reassess your organization’s security posture periodically and consider the efficacy of your existing environment and cybersecurity tools in that process. Regularly engaging with industry experts and staying abreast of emerging technologies will enable you to adapt your cybersecurity strategy accordingly.