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5/12/2009
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Sara Peters
Sara Peters
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SIEM Case Study: Israeli E-Government ISP

Want a case study on the slings and arrows of outrageous SIEM implementation? Sure you do. (Really. You do. Trust me on this one.)

Want a case study on the slings and arrows of outrageous SIEM implementation? Sure you do. (Really. You do. Trust me on this one.)Assaf Keren, information security manager at the Israeli e-government, recently briefed me on the challenges and lessons he is learning while implementing a SIEM center for the Israeli e-government ISP Project (called "Tehila") -- a topic he first mentioned during the CSI Annual 2008 conference's SIEM Summit in November.

In essence, Keren's advice is that a successful security information and event management (SIEM) implementation requires truly comprehensive planning, fastidious attention to detail, superb communication between concerned parties, and attentive oversight of vendor activity.

SIEM (a.k.a. security incident and event management, or security incident and event manager) is a powerful set of tools that, among other things, collects logs, and then aggregates and correlates them in a way that security managers can actually use. As Keren explains it (in a brief report we'll be publishing soon): "The correlation engine (using correlation rules or filters) takes different logs from different sensors and merges them together into one event. Furthermore, it uses information from the knowledge base and decides if this is an incident or just an event."

By "knowledge base" he means the SIEM's information on log sources, the criticality of each system, and a list of attacks and their severity -- info the SIEM will use to determine how to define and respond to each incident.

Tehila's main tasks are to host government ministries' public-facing Websites and Web services and to serve as the ISP for government ministries (which is where the big challenges come in). The security team had first tried implementing a SIEM on Tehila six years ago, but Keren dubs the project a failure, and he shut it down about a year-and-a-half ago.

"We did it poorly," he confessed. "Poor planning. Poor management."

Part of the trouble, according to Keren, was inadequate coordination between the security team and other concerned parties. This lack of coordination actually caused Keren to leave out one segment when soliciting bids from vendors. Further, once they had contracted with vendors, Keren and his team didn't pay enough attention to what, precisely, they were doing.

Now the Tehila security team is in the midst of a second go with a new operational design. One of the first building blocks is to learn exactly what your organization needs and expects from the SIEM; Keren recommends you don't outsource this "theory phase." "You could hire a consultant," said Keren, "but they have an agenda. Any contractor or vendor always has their own agenda."

You don't need to know a lot about SIEM for the theory phase, he told me. "You just need some basic knowledge of SIEM," he said. "The more important thing is to really understand your organization's needs."

Furthermore, once you've completed the theory phase and actually have a vendor working on the implementation, Keren advises you keep a close eye on its work, get your hands a little dirty, and make sure the project suits your requirements.

Tehila's requirements border on massive. Keren said about 60,000 government users use the ISP, approximately 10 million unique users use the ASP, and that Tehila is the target of huge numbers of attacks -- thus the security team logs everything.

"We have a lot of logs," Keren said. "About 2 to 3G per hour." Hence, the need for a rich SIEM to make those logs intelligible and effective.

One place that the SIEM's available offerings falls short, Keren said, is in the task of finding Trojans -- there was no distinct control available to specifically identify what is a Trojan and what isn't. So another quite important, quite innovative segment of Tehila's SIEM project is the creation of a Trojan analysis system, which will apply 15 tests to the SIEM's information in order to sniff out the Trojans amidst so much data.

Keren said that the Israeli e-government's SIEM may not exactly work for an enterprise environment, which is why the all-encompassing theory phase is so important.

"The SIEM is the heart of your security system," he said. "If the SIEM goes wrong, the security is wrong."

In the July issue of Alert (CSI members only), we'll be publishing Keren's complete run-down of the project, called "Searching for the Needle: Insights from Implementing a Security Information and Event Management Center in the Israeli E-Government Project."

Sara Peters is senior editor at Computer Security Institute. Special to Dark Reading. Sara Peters is contributing editor to Dark Reading and editor-in-chief of Enterprise Efficiency. Prior that she was senior editor for the Computer Security Institute, writing and speaking about virtualization, identity management, cybersecurity law, and a myriad of other ... View Full Bio

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