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IDS vs SIEM: Which Technology Offers Superior Security Performance?

The two solutions are broadly similar in scope but serve different purposes. 

The cybersecurity industry has no shortage of technology-describing acronyms. As security technology progresses, the capabilities of individual technologies might seem to overlap. In many cases, the technologies themselves appear to do similar things.  

Intrusion Detection System (IDS) technology is a great example. IDS solutions monitor networks and systems for malicious activity. Some use signature-based processes to detect known cyberattacks, while others use a behavioral approach to identify suspicious activities and unknown threats. 

This probably sounds familiar to Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) users. At first glance, it appears these two technologies do the same thing. However, there are key differences between the two. Security leaders who understand those issues are better equipped to implement the right technology for their use case. 

IDS Traces Its History Back to the 1980s 

James P. Anderson pioneered the concept of an automated IDS solution for the US Air Force in 1980. This early system used a rules-based approach still popular with many anti-virus solutions today. It scanned network assets looking for attack signatures that matched known threats.  

Throughout the following decades, cybersecurity researchers would adapt this technology to include reputation-based alerting and behavioral analytics. Modern security solutions like AT&T USM Anywhere use Host Intrusion Detection Systems (HIDS) to protect endpoints against cyberattacks. 

However, IDS solutions do not enable analysts to take preventive action against cyberattacks. They must rely on a variety of tools like manual endpoint detection and response (EDR) or automated extended detection and response (XDR) solutions to do this.  

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XDR Security: What It Is, How It’s Different, and Why You Need It

Neither of these is available in the IDS workflow, so the incident response process gets broken up between multiple tools. This increases the amount of time it takes to detect, investigate, and respond to security threats. 

SIEM Platforms: A Centralized Security Solution 

The first generation of SIEM platforms came to market in the mid-2000s. New-Scale SIEM platforms like Exabeam have advanced to incorporate behavioral analytics and machine learning modeling into their workflow. 

Like IDS solutions, these tools monitor networks and systems for malicious activity. They work by collecting and organizing system event logs and contextual data into a cohesive whole. This provides analysts with a centralized solution for event log management, alerting, and correlation.  

SIEM technology provides visibility into areas of your IT infrastructure that IDS does not. This may include user sessions, transactions in databases, or behavioral indicators of compromised accounts. The SIEM correlates data from a wide variety of sources – including IDS – so that analysts can coordinate a coherent response. 

That means SIEM-equipped analysts can go further when addressing compromised systems and accounts. They can analyze data from many different sources, qualify attacks with real-time threat intelligence feeds, and trigger incident response workflows. 

Should Security Leaders Implement SIEM, IDS, or Both? 

There is no one-size-fits-all answer. 

Some SIEM platforms include IDS capabilities, but that does not mean SIEM technology is a replacement for IDS. Your SIEM platform is a comprehensive tool that draws data from logs, firewalls, IDS, and more to give analysts a complete picture of your security posture. 

The larger and more complex your organization is, the more likely it is to benefit from the complete visibility that a good SIEM platform provides. However, that doesn’t automatically mean small businesses should give up on SIEM technology. There are scalable, cost-effective solutions that provide SIEM functionality in a package well-suited to growing organizations. 

In both cases, intrusion detection is an important part of the organization’s overall security posture. You can’t effectively respond to incidents or mitigate attacks if you can’t reliably detect them. IDS is one part of that whole. 

“We look at IDS the same as firewall, web filter, EDR or other security tools: they are all valuable parts of a company’s security infrastructure. SIEM and UEBA help tie it all together to make sense of what’s happening.” - Tony Simone | Castra Co-Founder

Optimize Your Security Tech Stack with Castra’s Help 

Security leaders and executives should treat these technologies as important elements of their tech stack. Deciding which elements deserve the most attention requires expertise and insight.

Castra’s team of SIEM experts can help leaders identify the combination of technologies and services that best meet the needs of their unique risk profile. Speak to a specialist to find out which approach will serve your security needs best.