The MSSP Is the New SIEM

In the last year, I’ve come to a realization about incident management. In most cases, buying a SIEM is a waste of money for the enterprise. The software and licensing cost isn’t trivial, some of them utilizing what I like to call the “heroin dealer” or consumption licensing model. The first taste is free or inexpensive, but once you’re hooked, prepare to hand over your checkbook, because the costs often spiral out of control as you add more devices. Additionally, for most small to medium organizations, the complicated configuration often requires a consulting company to assist with the initial implementation and at least one full-time employee to manage and maintain. Even then, you won’t really have 24×7 monitoring and alerting, because most can’t afford a large enough staff to work in shifts, which means you’re dependent upon email or text alerts. That’s not very useful if your employees actually have lives outside of work. Most often, what you’ll see is an imperfectly implemented SIEM that becomes a noise machine delivering little to no value.

The SIEM’s dirty secret is that it’s a money pit. Once you add up the software and licensing cost, the professional services you spend to get it deployed and regularly upgraded, the hardware, the annual support cost, and staffing, you’re looking at a sizable investment. Now you should ask yourself, are you really reducing risk with a SIEM or just hitting some checkbox on a compliance list?

Alternatively, let’s look at the managed security service provider (MSSP). For a yearly cost, this outsourced SOC will ingest and correlate your logs, set up alerts, monitor and/or manage devices 24×7, 365 days a year. An MSSP’s level-1 and level-2 staff significantly reduce the amount of repetitive work and noise your in-house security team must deal with, making it less likely that critical incidents are missed. The downside is that the service is often mediocre, leaving one with the sneaking suspicion that these companies are happy to employ any warm body to answer the phone and put eyeballs on a screen. This means that someone has to manage the relationship, ensuring that service level agreements are met.

While there are challenges with outsourcing, the MSSP is a great lesson in the economy of scale. The MSSP is more efficient in delivering service because it performs the same functions for many customers.  While not cutting-edge or innovative, the service is often good enough to allow a security team to focus on the incidents that matter without having to sift through the noise themselves. The caveat? While useful in the short-term, security teams should still focus on building proactive controls with automation and anomaly detection for improved response. After all, the real goal is to make less garbage, not more sanitation workers.

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