Many companies turn to security information and event management (SIEM) solutions to meet compliance requirements and improve their security posture. They are designed to give companies a centralized view of security events, intended to make it easier for them to detect and respond to threats accordingly.

But just how effective is SIEM compared to a managed detection and response (MDR) solution?

In this post, we’re going to look at MDR vs SIEM and see which is the best option for your organization.

What is SIEM?

SIEM stands for Security Information Event Management. IT business systems produce a lot of data from logs recording user and application activity, security devices output huge amounts of data that need to be analyzed, and all that data can contain indicators of compromise that are useful for threat detection.

SIEM tools are designed to ingest all that data and provide methods for analysis. They can usually accept a large range of log data types and other feeds and will allow users to configure rules that can be triggered by specific data and sometimes provide other types of analysis, such as machine learning.

They are potentially a very powerful tool in the fight against cyber threats. However, it’s important to think about SIEM as something you do – a process – not something you buy; the critical part of the acronym being ‘management’.

There are a few reasons why SIEM platforms are popular among businesses. Some of those reasons include:

  • A single pane of glass approach for security information
  • Significant customization and configuration options
  • Log data storage and archiving for compliance purposes

The global SIEM industry is worth approximately $4.2 billion, and that figure is expected to rise to $5.5 billion by 2025. With an estimated 92% of enterprises expected to adopt SIEM by 2021, do we have a clear market winner in the SIEM vs MDR battle? Not really.

What are the cons of SIEM?

While an effective SIEM solution can help organizations with threat management, there’s often a gap between expectations and what SIEM solutions actually deliver. This isn’t because SIEMs themselves are ineffective, but because SIEM isn’t always used effectively.

Companies often look at SIEM as a one-off technology purchase, underestimating the investment in time to achieve value and the management of something that needs to be maintained on an ongoing basis more than most technology tools.

SIEM systems may seem mostly automated, but they require a lot of heavy lifting from security experts to create new detection rules – based on multiple sources of threat landscape intelligence – trawl through false positives to tune existing rules, verify threats are not slipping through the net, and ensure data sources are comprehensive.

If you’re not doing this, SIEM solutions will be drawing attention to false positives while letting real security threats go undetected.

A report by IDG communications found that large businesses pay roughly $607,000 a year to manage their in-house SIEM solution. The same isn’t true for MDR.

How does MDR work?

As I mentioned earlier, the critical part of the SIEM acronym is in the M, and the same is true for Managed Detection and Response. Unlike traditional SIEM solutions, companies don’t implement and run their own MDR operations. Instead, they’re managed by an external team of security experts on the organization’s behalf.

[Related: What is Managed Detection and Response?]

Security Management vs Managed Security

One goal of MDR is similar to SIEM; to detect attacks. MDR should also go further, identifying latent risks in systems, applications, and activity that can lead to an attack.

MDR delivers rapid response to threats through end-to-end management of understanding new and emerging threats, building security methods and technologies to detect them, and operating a 24/7 security operations team to work with customers to mitigate them. In 2020, the average time it took businesses to identify and neutralize a data breach was 280 days.

With the help of MDR, that time can be reduced to a couple of hours though that rapid detection and delivery of actionable guidance or automated response to customers.

MDR also enables companies to reduce the likelihood of those attacks happening in the first place, by bringing together all the capabilities to detect and respond to attacks with security assessment services – such as vulnerability management. The same teams and disciplines that work to understand new and emerging threats can identify where customers are exposed to attack and provide early warning.

An effective MDR solution comes with a wide range of security tools for monitoring activity, detecting and eliminating threats, and safeguarding networks against future attacks. This means your organization benefits from around-the-clock protection, and you don’t have the overheads managing an in-house security team.

A key difference you’ll find when pitting MDR vs SIEM is how MDR takes a proactive approach to cybersecurity. While SIEM solutions collect and analyze logs (which MDR services should also offer), MDR actively investigates risk and threats across the full spectrum of attacker activity.

MDR vs SIEM: who wins?

There’s no denying that SIEM tools can be successful at keeping your systems protected. However, using SIEM properly, so you get the most out of your services, is expensive and time-consuming.

And the opposite is true for MDR. Because the security heavy lifting is provided by a third-party, you don’t have to worry about purchasing and updating as many security tools. You don’t have to worry about building your new cybersecurity infrastructure or creating a team of security experts to monitor your systems 24/7. All of that is covered by the MDR service provider.

Learn more about MDR and how it can keep you better protected by watching our 6-minute demo video on managed detection and response.

Dan Pitman
About the Author
Dan Pitman

Dan Pitman is a Senior Solutions Architect at Alert Logic and works with customers to develop and design security solutions to fit their needs on-premises, hybrid, and in the cloud. With over 20 years’ experience in technology spanning consumer support, development, infrastructure operations and security, Dan is passionate about technology and leads the way as a Solutions Architect in helping Alert Logic’s customers secure their systems.

Born and raised in South Wales, Dan enjoys returning to Alert Logic’s Cardiff Headquarters on a regular basis, working with the teams there continuously improving the customer experience.

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