Security Experts:

To Reach SIEM's Promise, Take a Lesson From World War II

With two of the largest public cloud providers having launched their cloud Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) products and an inevitability that the remainder of the top 5 cloud providers will launch their own permutations some time this year, 2019 is clearly the year of the cloud SIEM.

For an on-premises technology that has been cursed with a couple decades of over-promising, under-achieving, and eye-watering cost escalation, modernizing SIEM into a cloud native security technology is a watershed moment for the InfoSec community.

The promise of finally being able to analyze all the logs, intelligence, and security data of an enterprise in real-time opens the door to many great and obvious things. We can let the SIEM vendors shout about all the obvious defensive value cloud SIEM brings. Instead, I’d like to focus on a less obvious but arguably more valuable long-term contribution that a fully capable cloud SIEM brings to enterprise defense.

Assuming an enterprise invests in bringing all their network logs, system events, flow telemetry, and security events and alerts together into the SIEM, businesses will finally be able to track threats as they propagate in an environment. Most importantly, they’ll be able to easily identify and map the “hotspots” of penetration and compromise, and remedy accordingly.

Cloud Computing and SIEMA unified view will also allow analysts and security professionals to pinpoint the spots where compromises remain hidden from peering eyes. As enterprises strive to deploy and manage an arsenal of threat detection, configuration management, and incident response tools in increasingly dynamic environments, visibility and coverage wax and wane with each employee addition, wireless router hook-up, application installation, or SaaS business connection. Those gaps, whether temporary or permanent, tend to attract an unfair share of compromise and harm.

In World War II, a gentleman by the name of Abraham Wald was a member of Columbia University’s Statistical Research Group (SRG). One problem SRG was tasked with was examining the distribution of damage to returning aircraft and advise on how to minimize bomber losses to enemy fire. A premise of the research was that the areas of bombers that were most damaged and therefore susceptible to flak should be redesigned and made more robust. Wald noted that such a study was biased to only aircrafts that survived their missions and, if you were to assume that damage was more uniformly distributed to all aircrafts, those that returned had actually been hit in the less vulnerable parts. By mapping the damage done to the surviving aircraft, the “undamaged” areas represented the most vulnerable parts of the aircrafts that didn’t survive to return.

Wald’s revelations and work were seminal in the early days of Operational Research – a discipline of applying advanced analytical methods to help make better decisions. I expect cloud SIEM and the integration of AI systems to usher Operational Research and its associated disciplines into the information security sector. Securing an enterprise is a highly complex and dynamic problem and, because Operational Research is focused on optimizing solutions for complex decision-making problems, it is well suited to finding solutions that balance the multi-faceted aspects of business continuity and risk.

As we’re in the early days for cloud SIEM, I’ve yet to see much in the area of employing native AI to address the cold-spots in enterprise threat visibility. The focus to-date is applying AI in threat hunting and automating the reconstruction of kill chain associated with an in-progress attack and supplementing that visualization with related threat intelligence and historical data artifacts.

Putting on a forecasting hat, I expect much of the immediate adoption and growth of cloud SIEM will be driven by desire to realize the promises of on-premises SIEM, in particular, using supervised-learning systems to automate the detection and mitigation of the threats that have pestered security operations teams for twenty-plus years. Infusing SIEM natively on the cloud provider’s platform also creates end to end visibility into security related events inside a business’ environment and pieces in valuable intelligence from the cloud provider’s operations – thereby harnessing the “cloud effects” of collective intelligence and removing the classic requirement for a “patient zero” to initiate an informed response.

What I hope is, once engineering teams have matured those hunting and mitigation capabilities by weaving in AI decision systems and real-time data processing, the “science” of information security can finally come up for air and move forward.

Leveraging the inherent power and scale of public cloud for real-time analytics of enterprise security data at streaming rates means that we’re at the cusp of finally calculating the ROI of each security technology deployed inside an enterprise. That alone should have many CISOs and CFOs jumping for joy. With all the enterprise security data flowing to one place, the cloud SIEM also becomes the anchor for IT operations – such as tracking the “meantime between failures” (MTBF) of protected systems, providing robustness metrics for software assets and system updates, and surfacing the latent risks of the environments being monitored.

75 years may separate War World II from cloud SIEM, but we’re on the cusp of being able to apply the hard-earned learnings from Abraham Wald in our latest adversarial conflict – the cyberwar.

view counter
Gunter Ollmann is currently the CSO of Microsoft’s Cloud and AI Security division. He is a seasoned information security leader who has defined and trailblazed new security markets through his work with globally recognized companies, including Microsoft and IBM X-Force, and startups, including IOActive and Damballa. As a seasoned C-level executive and technologist, Mr. Ollmann has been instrumental in several dozen M&A deals (as acqui-hire, acquirer, consultant, or adviser) ranging from tens-of-millions to billion dollar transactions.