ELK Stack for Security Operations, Analytics and Reporting

The challenges that IT security teams face can often be condensed into two critical questions: how can I grapple with the security data that we generate, and how can our tools rapidly adapt to our changing business needs?

In search of answers to these questions, more and more organizations are turning to data intelligence solutions such as ELK Stack, which includes the Elasticsearch, Logstash and Kibana tools for data analytics and visualization. Also known as Elastic Stack, ELK Stack has become many companies’ top choice for the log aggregation and monitoring tool within their security operations center.

Why ELK Stack?

Platforms such as ELK Stack are notable first and foremost for their flexibility. As long as you have analysts trained on how to use the Elasticsearch Query DSL (domain-specific language), making changes and adaptations in response to an evolving IT landscape is easy.

It is important to emphasize that when you use Elastic Stack, a pre-built set of models is not always available to use right away. Rather, you will have to make preparations so that you can accurately model your security operations, capturing the kind of information that you really want to analyze and report.

Fortunately, Elastic Stack has robust capabilities for collecting exactly the information that you need to be aware of important events on within your IT environment. From geographical location to business units and network segments, Elastic Stack can provide metadata about anything that is germane to the security metrics that you want to analyze. With Elastic Stack, you can easily issue queries, generate and save visual reports, and track those in a central dashboard to see how certain key performance indicators change over time.

ELK Stack Features for Cyber Security

Although ELK Stack is fairly agnostic in terms of use cases, many IT teams have used it successfully for managing their cyber security monitoring and reporting. Below are just a few of the features that make ELK Stack such a strong choice when it comes to cyber security.

Level of Content Control

As your organization evolves and grows, you will likely want to change and expand on the types of content that you collect and index. Elastic Stack gives you the control to do exactly that by adding new data attributes to your documents while retaining your links to old content. By doing so, Elastic Stack forms a flexible solution that can evolve and grow alongside you.

Visualization

ELK Stack makes it easy for users to define new visualizations and queries and save these views in order to consult them later. Elastic Stack 5 also has the ability to analyze time-series data that is particularly germane to security analytics, by revealing how important metrics have changed over time. Through the power of visualization, you can search for correlations between particular data sources or data types as defined in your security analysts’ queries.

Community

Finally, the powerful community that has built up around Elastic Stack is one of its most underrated features. Users have provided tools such as sample visualizations and even pre-built virtual machine images with Elastic Stack already loaded on them. What is more, there are a wealth of tutorials and training courses that are available to help you understand how to capture data and understand the results that you collect. For example, the SANS Institute runs a course on security analytics with ELK and provides the VM as open source software.

Best Practices for ELK Stack with Cyber Security

Multi-tenancy

One of the biggest issues with Elastic Stack right out of the box is a lack of support for multi-tenancy. If you want to individualize and personalize what certain members of the security team see in your Elastic Stack dashboards, you will need to use either a commercial add-on called X-Pack or some of the products we’ve integrated into OPAQ’s GreySpark reporting and monitoring technology. Be aware of these multi-tenancy limitations, and make plans to accommodate these features if you have a need for them.

Deployment

Some organizations choose to deploy Elastic Stack ad hoc as a tool and then leave it as-is it after they have finished configuring it for their purposes. However, Elastic Stack requires care and management over time, and it will not necessarily scale quickly up or down without some effort on your part. If you want to use Elastic Stack as a long-term solution, you must carefully contemplate the deployment infrastructure that you need and the data volume that you will handle.

Clusters should be balanced appropriately according to your business needs. The log data that you plan to put into the system should be roughly proportional to the frequency with which you plan to query it. On the other hand, if you have a consistent amount of data over time but an increasing number of people using the system, for example, you might need to increase the number of client nodes that are serving these queries and requests.

Curation

The data that you generate through ELK Stack can get large and unwieldy. If it is left unmanaged, then the system will eventually start to buckle under its own weight. Make sure that you have processes in place for maintenance and monitoring of the stack itself, so that you can anticipate such a situation well in advance.

Visualization

Viewing and sharing Kibana visualizations is one of the greatest benefits of using ELK Stack. You can easily send a link to the results to your colleagues, as well as export and print them for use elsewhere. Many of these visualizations can be reused, repurposed, and moved around to best fit your needs as your IT environment evolves.

Final Thoughts

It should be little wonder that so many organizations have turned to using ELK Stack as their log management tool of choice, making it an integral part of their cyber security workflow. Whether you have no infrastructure currently in place or one that has become unruly and difficult to manage, ELK Stack gives you the flexibility to adapt your data reporting processes as your organization requires.