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A Multitude of SIMs

All the emerging security info management options may overwhelm IT buyers, but here's how to start sorting them out

It all started with a couple of security log management applications. Now, it seems, security management tool vendors are ready to take over the whole enterprise.

Microsoft yesterday threw its hat into the security management ring with the introduction of Stirling, a unified management console that will let IT managers set policies and configure and deploy security across the network and endpoints. A beta product is expected to ship at the end of this year. (See Microsoft Unwraps Security Platform.)

But Microsoft is only the latest titan to claim a share of the security management pie. In the last few weeks, IBM, Symantec, and EMC's RSA unit have launched not just security information management products, but broad platforms designed to help enterprises measure security performance, monitor regulatory compliance, assess risk -- or all three. (See IBM, Symantec Tackle Compliance and EMC Focuses enVision).

And those are just the big boys. Recent weeks have given rise to a wave of products and startups in the SIM, compliance, and risk management spaces. Arcsight, Agiliance, eIQnetworks, Intellitactics have all launched new products since April -- and those are just the ones that start with a vowel. (See Intellitactics Meets Needs, ArcSight NCM Supports IPV6, eiQnetworks Unveils Next-Gen SIM, and 10 Hot Security Startups.)

Why is SIM -- a market that appeared to be shrinking at the end of 2006 -- all of a sudden so hot? And what, if anything, should your company do about it?

To answer the first question, most experts point to the mahogany row of offices belonging to CXOs. After a couple of years of focusing on compliance and breach management, many Fortune 1000 types are now looking to automate compliance and cut costs, they say. At the same time, many businesses are looking for ways to assess the costs and benefits of security, leading to a new emphasis on "risk management."

"Risk management is the 'new black' in IT security," says Scott Crawford, a senior industry analyst at Enterprise Management Associates. "It's replaced compliance as the thing that everyone is doing and talking about. And it's an area that SIM tools are uniquely qualified to measure."

Some vendors are stretching risk and compliance management into the even broader concept of IT governance -- the establishment, monitoring, and enforcement of IT and business policies across the organization. The acronym GRC (governance, risk, and compliance) has become a popular buzzword not only in IT security, but in business. Some vendors, including IBM, have created business units dedicated solely to GRC.

SIM tools, which evolved from the old log file analysis applications still used by many security pros, have the ability to track, store, and analyze data about "events" in the enterprise network. Historically, SIM products have been used primarily to detect and determine the source of suspicious behavior in enterprise systems, but many vendors have extended that capability to include detection of any policy violation, including compliance and non-security-related events.

"We look at this as an opportunity to translate business requirements into IT activities and metrics that can be measured," says Kris Lovejoy, director of strategy for IBM's GRC unit. "Security and compliance are an important part of that, but so are business resilience and service management."

Other vendors are positioning their SIM products with less breadth, but more depth. Arcsight, for example, is adding the ability to not only track events in the enterprise, but also the identity and business role of the person who initiates them.

"In most cases, the CXO is not interested in looking only at security events," says Dean Coza, director of product marketing at Arcsight "They want to track new compliance problems, and do some baselining on how the organization is performing against policies and controls. A roles-based approach helps the company monitor not just how its systems are doing, but how its people are doing."

Still other emerging "security management platforms" work more at the low end, helping administrators to set and enforce policies at the end point. Microsoft's Stirling and Symantec's Control Compliance Suite, for example, will offer out-of-the-box policy monitoring capabilities.

"Most of the time, organizations already have controls and policies in place," says Indy Chakrabarti, group product manager at Symantec. "What they need is a way to lower the cost of compliance and enforcement, and that's what our tools are designed to do."

So with so many divergent approaches to SIM and security management, how should enterprises go about finding the one that's right for them? Paul Stamp, an analyst at Forrester Research, offers some simple tips.

"In the end, there are four basic capabilities that a SIM tool can deliver," Stamp explains. "They can help you set policy, enforce it, measure it, or monitor it. The one you choose will depend on which of those functions you need most."

Microsoft's Stirling, for example, will likely be used primarily for setting and enforcing anti-malware policies in PCs, he says. "Companies that are strong in identity management and access management, such as CA, IBM, and Novell, are also strong at that level," he says.

Traditional SIM tools that do event management and log file analysis, on the other hand, are better at monitoring and measuring policy compliance and risk. "A tool that does real-time event reporting and correlation can be useful for monitoring," he notes. "A tool that does more historical analysis might be more helpful for measurement of compliance, or for predicting future trends that might indicate you're about to go out of compliance."

In either case, SIM tools work best as a means for benchmarking an organization's performance against security policy, rather than as a means of warning the company of new or potential threats, Stamp says.

"The original proposition of SIM tools -- that they would help you to spot threats in real time -- didn't really pan out," Stamp says. "On the other hand, if you look at them as a way to monitor and measure policy compliance, they can do even more than that."

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

  • Agiliance Inc. ArcSight Inc.
  • CA Inc. (NYSE: CA)
  • eIQnetworks Inc.
  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)
  • Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)
  • NetIQ Corp. (Nasdaq: NTIQ)
  • {Novell Inc. (Nasdaq: NOVL)
  • RSA Security Inc. (Nasdaq: EMC)
  • Symantec Corp. (Nasdaq: SYMC)

    Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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