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Summary: In this article, we will explain how User and Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA) helps modern organizations defend against sophisticated, hard-to-detect cybersecurity attacks. You’ll learn how UEBA compares to other security monitoring tools, the top benefits of UEBA, and important challenges to consider. By the end of this article, you’ll know the basic UEBA meaning and the most important factors to help you decide if a UEBA tool is right for your organization.
What Is User and Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA)?
User and Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA) is a cybersecurity technology that analyzes user and entity behavior patterns and looks for suspicious activity that could indicate malicious intent.
Let’s start by breaking down the UEBA definition.
What does UEBA stand for? The exact UEBA security meaning is:
- U = User. Or more specifically, the people using a corporate network.
- E = Entity. This encompasses anything non-human on the network, such as machines, applications, and devices.
- B = Behavior. UEBA analyzes behavior by monitoring the activities of users and entities.
- A = Analytics. UEBA applies advanced analytics such as algorithms, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to identify suspicious behavior.
The main goal of UEBA is to help organizations identify potential threats and cybersecurity risks in a timely manner—before damage is done.
UEBA vs. UBA: What's the difference?
So what is user behavior analytics (UBA) and how is it different from UEBA? UBA and UEBA are largely the same, with one important distinction: the “E” in UEBA identifies that it is monitoring entities in addition to users.
UEBA is more advanced and comprehensive than UBA, produces a much higher volume of data, and can detect more types of threats.
Brief History of UEBA
Now that you know how to define UEBA, let’s take a quick look at its history. The UEBA cybersecurity category was coined in 2015, when Gartner added the word “entity” to its UBA category. This evolution underscored the need to not only monitor user behavior, but also to analyze all the other pieces that make up a network, such as routers, servers, applications, endpoints, and devices.
Since then, UEBA technology has become increasingly important in the overall security landscape, fueled in part by the increase in insider threats and other sophisticated attacks that traditional security solutions can’t detect. Some reports predict exponential growth in the UEBA market, forecasting it will reach $4.2 billion by 2026.
UEBA is no longer just a standalone solution, it’s often integrated into many security platforms. As the threat landscape continues to evolve, UEBA and other monitoring and detection technologies are likely to follow suit, adapting to meet the needs of modern organizations.
Benefits of UEBA
Identifying security breaches is highly complex and time-consuming. One of the primary benefits of UEBA is its ability to provide advanced detection of a wide range of cyberattacks that traditional security solutions can’t detect. These include insider threats, lateral movement, brute force attacks, credential compromise, and more. Additionally, UEBA detects these attacks early on, alerting IT teams to suspicious behavior before a full-blown breach occurs.
Another benefit of UEBA is that it helps IT administrators and security leaders address the ongoing cybersecurity skills shortage. Because UEBA uses machine learning, algorithms, and automation, it requires fewer IT analysts to sift through the noise and find potential threats. This is a huge benefit for many organizations, enabling them to improve cybersecurity while also reducing costs.
Top 3 benefits of UEBA:
- Detects a broad range of advanced cyber attacks, including insider threats
- Reduces risk of breach by alerting of potential threats early
- Improves operational efficiency by using automation and machine learning
Challenges of UEBA
While UEBA can be an effective way to detect threats, it presents some challenges. One of the biggest challenges is the high cost, which can put a UEBA system out of reach for many organizations, especially smaller businesses.
It also takes a long time for a UEBA solution to build a baseline of user behavior. IT teams need to account for the time and expertise required for deployment, configuration, training, and integration. Another challenge is the large amount of complex data that must be analyzed. Teams need specific knowledge and skills to understand the sophisticated data that UEBA tools produce.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that although UEBA systems can flag suspicious behavior, they can’t stop it. Organizations still need operational processes and solutions to complement UEBA and help them take the necessary steps to prevent data breaches.
Top 3 challenges of UEBA:
- Cost may put it out of reach for some organizations
- Large amounts of complex data to analyze require time and expertise
- Still requires a response mechanism
UEBA vs. SIEM vs. EDR
UEBA vs. SIEM
Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) is a type of security tool that helps to aggregate and analyze security data from multiple sources. It gathers log and event information from firewalls, operating systems, and network traffic, enabling more effective real-time management of active threats.
While UEBA focuses on detecting anomalies to identify potential threats, SIEM identifies threats by correlating all the information it gathers from logs. Because UEBA focuses more on behavior than events, it can detect sophisticated attacks that a SIEM might miss. SIEM’s rule-based detection, meanwhile, makes it better for providing comprehensive visibility into all aspects of an organization's security posture, plus supporting needs like security management and compliance reporting.
Many people might wonder: If I have SIEM, would I need UEBA? Both can be useful tools for analysts, and the two solutions are complementary. The ideal best practice is to use a mix of both UEBA and SIEM.
UEBA vs. EDR
Endpoint detection and response (EDR) security solutions analyze events from “endpoints” (i.e., laptops, desktops, mobile devices, etc.) to identify suspicious activity, then generate alerts to help security operations analysts investigate and remediate issues.
Both UEBA and EDR are security tools that use machine learning to detect anomalies and events that could indicate a threat. The main difference is that UEBA takes a behavioral approach, while EDR focuses on endpoint activity. UEBA looks at user behavior and flags deviations from the norm. EDR, on the other hand, focuses on the actual activity taking place on an endpoint, such as system changes, process creations, and network connections.
Both UEBA and EDR have their strengths and weaknesses, but UEBA is generally considered to be more effective at detecting insider threats. Ultimately, UEBA and EDR are two complementary security approaches that can be used together to protect an organization's network.
How UEBA Works
UEBA tools gather and analyze data sources such as user activity logs, application logs, system calls, file accesses, and network traffic. They undergo an initial “baselining” period in which they observe behavior to establish what is normal for users and entities across the network. The baseline consists of behavioral expectations such as what time an employee usually logs in or how many requests an office server typically receives in a day.
After this baselining, UEBA continuously monitors data sources and applies statistical modeling and machine learning to detect deviations from the established baseline behavior. It identifies anomalies among users, IP addresses, devices, or other entities, then sends an alert to notify security teams of suspicious behaviors and potential threats.
Three Pillars of UEBA
What are the three pillars of UEBA? The Market Guide for User and Entity Behavior Analytics established three major characteristics (aka, pillars) that tools need in order to fall into the UEBA category.
1. Use cases
UEBA tools provide information on the behavior of users and other entities in the corporate network, performing user behavior monitoring, detection, and alerting of anomalies. However, unlike specialized employee monitoring tools or systems specifically designed to detect fraud, UEBA solutions must define and address multiple distinctive use cases and detect a broad range of threats.
2. Data sources
UEBA solutions are able to ingest data from multiple predefined data sources, including a general data repository such as a data lake or data warehouse, or via a SIEM or log management integration. They should not require dedicated agents to be deployed in the IT environment in order to collect the data.
UEBA security tools detect anomalies using a variety of advanced and highly sophisticated UEBA analytics, including machine learning, statistical models, algorithms, rules-based monitoring, behavioral analysis, and threat signature detection.
UEBA Best Practices
There are a number of best practices to take into account during each stage of UEBA deployment, from proper ways to baseline normal user behavior to continuous maintenance and tuning of algorithms to reduce false positives. The following are a few high-level recommendations for any security teams that are considering a UEBA system.
Create a roadmap
What do you want UEBA to do for your business? Take your priorities into consideration and establish specific goals. Whether your top priority is to stop data exfiltration or detect compromised accounts, knowing exactly what you want to achieve will help you choose the right tool and create milestones to guide the rollout.
Plan for maintenance and response
Continually review and adjust the system as your business adapts and evolves. It’s also critical to establish criteria and procedures for alerts and response actions to avoid overwhelming your security team with notifications. Fine-tune them as you go to minimize false positives and keep your team focused on what matters. Test your UEBA solution regularly and comprehensively.
Consider the big picture
UEBA processes and tools cannot replace entire monitoring systems like intrusion detection systems (IDS). Use them in conjunction with existing monitoring infrastructure to ensure comprehensive security, and recognize that you’ll still need trained staff to implement and maintain the solution.
UEBA Use Cases
Many of the most common use cases for UEBA fall into cybersecurity. There are also use cases for network and data center operations, management, and business operations. Here are six common use cases that demonstrate how UEBA can help organizations.
Detecting insider threats
Identifying a trusted user that has malicious intent is a considerable challenge. It is the primary use case for a UEBA tool. UEBA can detect even the subtlest changes in user behavior to indicate insider threats and prevent data compromise.
Detecting lateral movement
Once a bad actor has a foothold in your network, they can avoid detection by moving laterally through the network’s systems and machines. Lateral movement is extremely difficult to detect because it can appear to be normal network traffic. UEBA shines a light on the behavioral anomalies lateral movement causes, such as multiple attempts to log in to different accounts in short succession.
Identifying compromised accounts
Cybercriminals often hack into employee accounts because using legitimate credentials allows them to hide their activity from traditional security tools. However, a hacker can’t emulate a user’s normal behavior. UEBA security tools will quickly pick up on suspicious changes in user activity and notify security teams.
Understanding employee productivity and workflow
Organizations can gain actionable insights into user activity with the monitoring UEBA provides. Detecting workload and productivity issues can empower organizations to discuss changes with employees and fix any issues.
Stopping system failures
Unusual behaviors on hardware, software, servers, and applications can indicate impending malfunction or failure. Uncovering this insight can help systems operations teams take action and fix issues before they become widespread.
Speed up security investigations
Security teams with a high volume of alerts can struggle to know where to focus. UEBA can help identify extreme abnormalities and speed up investigation. It can also provide automated incident response, enabling security teams to respond to security incidents faster.
How to Choose the Right UEBA Security Tool
When it comes to choosing a UEBA cybersecurity tool, there are a lot of different options out there. But how do you know which UEBA tool is right for you? Here are a few things to keep in mind when making your decision:
Think about your specific needs
What kind of data do you need to monitor? What sorts of threats are you looking to detect? Once you have a good idea of what you need, you can start narrowing down your options.
Analyze the features each UEBA tool offers
Pay attention to whether the tool offers real-time alerts or is more focused on historical data analysis, and whether it’s designed for use with specific types of data (such as log files or network traffic data) or can be used with any type of data. Think about your specific needs and choose a tool that has the right mix of features for you.
Consider the investment and ROI
UEBA tools can vary widely in price, so it's important to invest wisely within your security budget. At the same time, keep in mind that sometimes you get what you pay for—so don't be afraid to pay more for the tool that best addresses your individual needs.
There's no better way to get a feel for a UEBA tool than to hear from people who have actually used it. See what others are saying about their experience with the tool, and use that information to help make your final decision.
How StrongDM Can Help with UEBA
IT teams need comprehensive, modern security solutions that offer deep visibility and strong access control across applications and infrastructure. Attackers are relentlessly looking for ways into internal systems—and oftentimes, threats can be internal. StrongDM can help.
StrongDM provides a software-defined network that helps you:
- Manage robust authorization and authentication.
- Enforce least privilege for more secure, role-based access controls.
- Audit network activity to record and isolate threats.
- Monitor your network in real-time to investigate threats that occur.
Is a UEBA Tool Right for You?
Relying on user and entity behavior analytics for enterprise security can be a powerful approach that addresses a number of common security challenges. However, a UEBA cybersecurity tool also requires a great deal of time and effort to ensure proper implementation.
Security and IT teams should make sure to look at the big picture and carefully consider their objectives when choosing a tool to invest in. UEBA tools are not a silver bullet. They are designed to complement existing security systems, such as intrusion detection systems or firewalls.
To learn more about how StrongDM can help you safeguard your infrastructure, get a demo today.
About the Author
Schuyler Brown, Chairman of the Board, began working with startups as one of the first employees at Cross Commerce Media. Since then, he has worked at the venture capital firms DFJ Gotham and High Peaks Venture Partners. He is also the host of Founders@Fail and author of Inc.com's "Failing Forward" column, where he interviews veteran entrepreneurs about the bumps, bruises, and reality of life in the startup trenches. His leadership philosophy: be humble enough to realize you don’t know everything and curious enough to want to learn more. He holds a B.A. and M.B.A. from Columbia University. To contact Schuyler, visit him on LinkedIn.