An Introductory Guide to UEBA (User and Entity Behavior Analytics)

A graphic illustration of the various aspects of User and Entity Behavior Analytics.
What is User and Entity Behavior Analytics?
Image source: Created using Canva

A user, server, router, or application that deviates from normal behavior can be a cause for concern. Any form of suspicious behavior can be an indication of a potential cyberattack. One way to detect this behavior is by employing User and Entity Behavior Analytics, or UEBA for short.

In this article, I’ll explain what UEBA is and how it compares with other security solutions such as UBA, SIEM, and SOAR. I’ll also highlight its key benefits, use cases, and implementation process. Let’s start with a definition.

What Is UEBA?

UEBA is a class of solutions that detects suspicious behavior in user or entity activities. “Entity” is a broad term that includes hosts, applications, computer processes, mobile devices, API calls, etc. User and Entity Behavior Analytics analyzes and detects suspicious behavior through machine learning (ML) and advanced analytics. Here are a few examples that a UEBA solution may flag as suspicious behavior:

  • Someone accessing files that have nothing to do with their job description
  • Computer processes modifying multiple files in a short period
  • Unknown IP addresses sending out a high volume of API calls

Some of these behaviors may not always constitute malicious activity. That’s why UEBA tools ingest data from various sources and run this data through ML and advanced analytics algorithms. These processes provide more context to user or entity activities, avoid false positives, and address challenging use cases.

You can find UEBA solutions delivered through the following offerings: 

  • Cloud services 
  • Software or appliances deployed on-premises 
  • Built-in features in another security tool like a SIEM or an IDS/IPS

Before continuing, it’s important to note that several other tools are often compared with UEBA tools. Let’s quickly touch upon these other tools and their differences, starting with UBA.

UEBA vs UBA

User Behavior Analytics (UBA) is the predecessor of UEBA. Gartner added the “E” in a 2015 market guide, declaring that it stood for “entity”. As previously mentioned, both users and entities can exhibit suspicious behavior. Unlike a UEBA tool, a UBA tool can only detect suspicious user behavior. IT environments consist of various “entities’” that threat actors utilize to perform malicious acts. Therefore, you’ll want to choose UEBA over UBA to detect more threats. Just bear in mind that UBA tools are normally more affordable.

Another type of security solution that’s often compared with UEBA is SIEM. Let’s compare these two now.

UEBA vs SIEM

SIEM stands for Security Information and Event Management. It’s a security solution that, like UEBA, aggregates information from various sources to detect potential threats. Unlike the latter, however, previous SIEM solutions don’t leverage ML and other advanced analytics techniques. SIEM solutions are much better at collecting and storing data from various sources, though. 

The two have similar functions and certain distinct strengths. This has led many organizations to combine the powers of the two. Some SIEM vendors are also starting to incorporate UEBA capabilities into their products and vice versa.

The last tool I’m going to compare with UEBA is SOAR. Let’s explore this further.

UEBA vs SOAR

Security Orchestration, Automation, and Response (SOAR) tools orchestrate and automate security workflows. Like a SIEM tool, a SOAR tool is a solution that’s best used together with UEBA rather than as a substitute for it. You can integrate a SOAR solution with a UEBA tool to automate an appropriate response when the latter detects suspicious behavior.

For example, if a user demonstrates suspicious behavior, you can configure a SOAR to activate a certain playbook. A playbook is a sequence of procedures for incident response. Continuing our example, a SOAR playbook may automatically generate a case ticket and revoke that user’s privileges. 

Now, how exactly does UEBA work? Read on to find out!

How Does UEBA Work?

Let me now share a simplified illustration depicting how a UEBA solution works. Please refer to the following diagram as I explain each step below.

A graphic illustration of four basic steps involved in a UEBA.
A simplified illustration depicting how UEBA works.
Image source: Created in Canva

1. Ingests Data from Various Sources

As you can see in the illustration, the solution ingests data from various sources, including device logs, SIEMs, and threat intelligence feeds. 

The data sources may vary depending on what a particular UEBA solution supports. To clarify, some solutions support more data sources than others. 

2. Establishes a Baseline of Normal Behavior

Once the solution has gathered enough data, it establishes a baseline of normal behavior. Each user and entity will have its own unique baseline behavioral profile. 

3. Continues Ingesting Newly Generated Data and Calculates Risk Scores

The solution continues to ingest newly generated data and detect any suspicious behavior. Specifically, it uses ML and advanced analytics algorithms in the detection process. 

Each time it detects anything suspicious, it calculates a risk score. This risk score corresponds to the probability that a suspicious event occurred. The higher the score, the greater the extent an event would’ve deviated from normal behavior.

4. Triggers an Alert If Risk Score Exceeds a Threshold

Once the risk score breaches a certain limit, the solution triggers an alert. You’d typically receive this alert through email, SMS, or the solution’s dashboard. Once your security analyst receives the alert, they can conduct further investigation or initiate an appropriate incident response procedure.

It’s a simple process, right? That said, let’s now talk about the benefits of User and Entity Behavior Analytics. 

3 Ways Your Organization Can Benefit from UEBA 

You already know what User and Entity Behavior Analytics solutions can do and how they work, but why would you want to purchase one for your organization? Here are 3 major benefits of adopting UEBA, arranged in no particular order. 

1. Enables You to Catch Hard-to-Detect Threats

According to IBM and Ponemon’s 2022 Cost of a Data Breach Report, the mean time to identify a malicious insider is 216 days. By the time you discover an insider’s malicious act, e.g., stealing trade secrets or financial data, it’s too late. UEBA can help you quickly uncover behavioral abnormalities in an insider’s actions. In turn, your security team can take the necessary action immediately.

2. Streamlines Your Security Operations

Too many alerts can cause confusion and alert fatigue among security analysts. Alert fatigue results from excessive exposure to alerts where analysts become desensitized to future alerts. When your analysts start ignoring alerts, your organization’s security will suffer. UEBA’s ML capabilities can improve threat detection accuracy. As a result, your analysts get fewer false positive and false negative alerts. Consequently, this reduces their susceptibility to alert fatigue.

The costs associated with a data breach or any cyber incident can be quite expensive. According to the Cost of a Data Breach report, the average total is USD4.35 million. This total consists of various post-breach activities, including crisis management, breach notification, lost business, legal expenses, regulatory fines, etc. Since UEBA significantly improves your threat detection capabilities, you can minimize cyber incidents and costs

Earlier, I implied that User and Entity Behavior Analytics could address challenging use cases. I’ll elaborate on that.

Use Cases Best Suited for UEBA 

User and Entity Behavior Analytics is best suited for use cases with which other threat detection solutions have difficulty dealing.

Two notable use cases include detecting insider threats and Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs). Let’s discuss each one in further detail.

An image of an employee about to carry out a clandestine act. The employee is sitting at his desk holding a white mask with his right hand, while his left hand is raised to his mouth in a "keep quiet" gesture.
Beware of malicious insiders!
Image source: Canva

Detecting Insider Threats

Insider threats, a.k.a. malicious insiders, are employees, third parties, and other trusted users with malicious intentions. In essence, these insiders normally have valid user accounts and access rights. Consequently, they have legitimate and unimpeded access to your IT assets.

Most security solutions aren’t capable of detecting malicious intent. So, when these insider threats start carrying out nefarious deeds, they can proceed without triggering any alert. However, insider threats can’t get through ML-powered behavior analytics. Since insider threats exhibit subtle yet strange behavior, they can still trip User and Entity Behavior Analytics tools.

Detecting APTs

APTs are highly sophisticated cyberattacks that are often funded by nation-states. These attacks are usually carried out in multiple phases and over long periods. In many cases, APT threat actors take over legitimate accounts and then use those accounts to move laterally across the organization.

Because these accounts are legitimate, they don’t raise any alerts. As a result, most security solutions fail to detect them. However, these accounts do perform subtle yet suspicious behavior. In turn, they can also trip UEBA tools, much like insider threats.

Now that you’re familiar with the key User and Entity Behavior Analytics use cases, here are some tips that can help you in implementation. 

How to Implement UEBA in Your Organization

Your ability to obtain a good ROI from your UEBA investment hinges greatly on your implementation. Here are 3 important tips to ensure a successful implementation.

1. Verify Existing Solutions Can’t Handle the Use Case You Want to Address

The capabilities of UEBA and other security tools like a SIEM can sometimes overlap. Thus, if you already have a SIEM, make sure that tool is truly incapable of solving the use case you want to address. Otherwise, you’ll be spending valuable resources unnecessarily.

2. Give Your UEBA Solution Enough Time to Establish a Baseline

Since UEBA anomaly detections are always based on baseline behavioral profiles, the reliability of those profiles is important. However, it can take more than a month for a typical ML engine to collect enough data and establish a reliable baseline. For better accuracy, give your solution ample time to go through its “learning process”.

3. Integrate UEBA with Other Security Tools for Maximum Effectiveness

Like many other security tools, you shouldn’t allow UEBA to operate in a vacuum. It works best when integrated with other security solutions. For example, you can integrate all three if you already have a SIEM and a SOAR solution. SIEM can take charge of collecting data and performing basic analytics. UEBA can ingest the data collected by SIEM and perform ML-powered analytics. Lastly, SOAR can automate your security operations team’s response.

A graphic image of SIEM, UEBA, and SOAR integration.
SIEM + UEBA + SOAR.
Image source: Created using Canva

And that’s all for the introductory guide! Let’s wrap things up now, shall we?

Final Words

In this article, you learned that UEBA is a security solution that ingests data from various sources and detects suspicious user and entity behavior through ML and advanced analytics. You also learned that you could use it to catch hard-to-detect threats, streamline security operations, and reduce cybersecurity-related costs. 

I also shared with you some tips on implementing User and Entity Behavior Analytics. For instance, you should verify if existing solutions cannot handle the use case you want to address. You should also give your UEBA solution enough time to establish a baseline. Lastly, you should consider integrating UEBA with other security tools for maximum effectiveness. 

Do you have more questions about User and Entity Behavior Analytics? Check out the FAQ and Resources sections below!

FAQ

What is the main difference between SIEM and SOAR?

You’d typically use a SIEM for threat detection and analysis. On the other hand, you’d use a SOAR for incident response. You can complement the two quite nicely in a Security Operations Center (SOC).

How can I test my UEBA solution’s effectiveness if I have no expert in-house?

You can hire a Testing as a Service (TaaS) provider specializing in security solutions, preferably one experienced in UEBA. This provider can run tests that mirror what real attackers do. In turn, you can determine if your solution is up to the task.

Where do you normally deploy a SOAR?

You’d normally deploy them in Security Operations Centers (SOCs). SOC security analysts use them to orchestrate and automate tasks. SOAR tools incorporate all security tasks into a single pane of glass. This means you no longer have to shift between different tools, or copy-paste data between those tools, to accomplish tasks. 

Can UEBA also monitor IoT devices?

Yes, some UEBA solutions can monitor Internet of Things (IoT) devices. This capability is important since the lack of security in IoT devices can put your business at risk if you have them in your network.

What’s the major advantage of UEBA over IDS/IPS solutions?

Although some IDS/IPS solutions can now detect suspicious behavior, most of them only monitor network traffic and host activity. When I say hosts, I’m referring to servers and end-user devices. Routers, IoT devices, and other network devices aren’t included. If you want to monitor suspicious behavior in those devices, you’ll need UEBA.

Resources

TechGenix: Article on Behavior-Based Security Tools

Get acquainted with these 6 behavior-based security tools

TechGenix: Article on Azure Sentinel

Discover what’s new in Azure Sentinel, Microsoft’s UEBA-powered SIEM.

TechGenix: Guide on Cloud Network Security

Learn the basic concepts of cloud network security in this introductory guide.

TechGenix: Guide on Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS)

Get started with Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) through this introductory guide.

TechGenix: Guide on Intrusion Prevention Systems (IDS)

Spend a couple of minutes learning about Intrusion Prevention Systems (IDS).

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