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What Is UEBA? Definition, Benefits, and How It Works

UEBA stands for user and entity behavior analytics. Previously known as user behavior analytics, UEBA is the process of tracking user behavior anomalies to identify potential cybersecurity risks or threats. The idea is to have a large data set on user behaviors and use variations from the norm of data within that set to trigger alerts or specific actions that can proactively fend off cyberattacks or stop them before they cause too much damage.

How Does UEBA Work?

UEBA tracks the behavior of users and entities of an organisation to distinguish normal behavior from abnormal behavior. In the context of cybersecurity, a user or an entity can be any IT system, business process, or organisation (including government).

UEBA monitors these users and entities by constantly reviewing and analysing their data to determine whether a particular activity or behavior is anomalous and hence potentially dangerous because it could result in a cyberattack.

For example, a hacker could steal an employee’s password and log in to a system. Once inside that system, the hacker would likely behave in a way that’s totally different from the way the user has historically behaved and thus would trigger cyber threat alerts.

UEBA achieves this sophisticated anomaly tracking through a combination of machine learning, statistical analysis, and advanced analytics. Typically, a UEBA system establishes a “baseline” for user behavior and compares activity to this baseline.

UEBA vs. SIEM: How Are They Different?

Security information and event management (SIEM) uses dashboards to provide a holistic view of all security-related information and events and then triggers alerts if needed. SIEM platforms collect and aggregate data from various security tools and IT systems and then analyse that data.

UEBA systems, on the other hand, apply machine learning to analyse user behavior and hence can use this information to predict a potential cyber threat and send real-time alerts. SIEM is the original process, but companies soon found that incorporating UEBA strategies into SIEM made SIEM much more effective at monitoring threats in real time and responding quickly. That’s because UEBA tracks and analyses user behavior, while SIEM doesn’t.

UBA vs. UEBA: Are They the Same?

Understanding the difference between user behavior analysis (UBA) and UEBA comes down to understanding why the “E” was added and who added it.

The “E” in “UEBA” stands for “entity” and came from a Gartner Market Guide published in 2017. That was the first time “UEBA” was used instead of “UBA.” Until then, the primary focus of UBA technology was on data theft and fraud. But companies soon realized that cyber threats were starting to come from places far beyond just users, including managed and unmanaged endpoints, cloud and mobile applications, networks, and various external threats. Gartner referred to these other sources of cyber risk as “entities.”

So, in short, UBA and UEBA are not the same, but they’re very closely related. UEBA is the more up-to-date version of UBA.

UEBA vs. SOAR: Which Is Better?

Security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR) tools allow organisations to respond faster to security threats by collecting and centralizing data from different systems and platforms. In this way, SOAR tools are seen as a method of achieving a “single source of truth” for all cybersecurity-related data and activities. SOAR systems can also be used to automate responses to low-level security threats.

While SOAR emphasizes automation, data collection, and aggregation, UEBA focuses on the analysis of user and entity behavior. SOAR can speed things up, but UEBA can find anomalies that SOAR can’t. As such, neither tool or method is better than the other. Rather, they’re complementary, with different benefits, and probably best used in conjunction with each other.

Three Reasons to Use UEBA

UEBA is a powerful tool for monitoring and limiting potential cyber threats. These are the three main reasons to use UEBA:

  1. Reduced attack surface
  2. UEBA informs security teams of loopholes and weak points in their systems, thus reducing the potential for cyberattacks by reducing the overall attack surface.

  3. Improved operational efficiency
  4. UEBA can reduce the manual workload of security teams by using automation and machine learning to identify and validate threats. This gives security professionals more time to focus on real threats instead of chasing alerts.

  5. Superpowers
  6. “Superpowers” may be an exaggeration, but UEBA brings certain cybersecurity-related special powers to an organisation, including the ability to detect potential data exfiltration before it happens, identify hijacked accounts, and prevent misuse of privilege.

    For these reasons, UEBA, especially in combination with other strategies such as SOAR, is an extremely effective way to proactively identify and prevent cyberattacks and reduce an organisation’s exposure to cyber threats.

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