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Updated: Feb 8, 2024   |   Lauren Koppelman

What is User Entity and Behavior Analytics (UEBA)?

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In today's ever-evolving, increasingly complex threat landscape, traditional cybersecurity solutions fail to adequately protect an organization's sensitive data resources. User Entity and Behavior Analytics (UEBA) solutions are advanced cybersecurity technologies focusing on human behavior — the most unpredictable element in an organization's network — and the behavior of machine entities.

UEBA leverages artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) algorithms, and sophisticated data analytics to detect anomalies in user behavior as well as unexpected activities occurring on routers, servers, and endpoints operating within an organization's network.

In this guide, we'll take a closer look at UEBA, including the key components and features of UEBA security solutions, examples of UEBA, and the benefits of these advanced technologies. We'll also discuss how UEBA complements other cybersecurity solutions.

In this article:

Wh‎‎at is UEBA?

Hand pointing at a graphic illustration of UEBA and machine learning icons and connections

User Entity and Behavior Analytics (UEBA) is a cybersecurity technology and approach that focuses on analyzing the behavior of users and entities (such as devices, applications, and systems) within an organization's IT environment. By using advanced data analytics, machine learning algorithms, and artificial intelligence, UEBA aims to detect and prevent cyber threats by identifying anomalies, deviations, or patterns in user and entity activities that might indicate potential security risks.

The primary objective of UEBA is to move beyond traditional rule-based security systems and static access controls, which may not be sufficient to address modern and sophisticated cyber threats. UEBA seeks to enhance an organization's overall security posture by providing real-time monitoring, early threat detection, and better understanding of the context behind security incidents.

Ke‎‎y components and features of UEBA security solutions

Key components and features of User Entity and Behavior Analytics include:

  • Data Collection: UEBA solutions collect data from various sources within an organization's IT infrastructure. This data can include log files, network traffic, user activity, application usage, and system interactions.
  • Machine Learning Algorithms: At the core of UEBA is the use of machine learning algorithms. These algorithms are trained on historical data to learn normal behavior patterns for users and entities. As they continue to learn and adapt, they can identify abnormal or suspicious activities.
  • Baseline Profiling: UEBA establishes baseline behavior profiles for each user and entity based on historical data. This baseline helps in identifying deviations from regular behavior, which might indicate potential security threats.
  • Anomaly Detection: UEBA continuously monitors user and entity behavior in real-time. When activities deviate significantly from established baselines, the system triggers alerts for further investigation.
  • Risk Scoring: UEBA assigns risk scores to users and entities based on their behavior. Higher risk scores are assigned to activities that exhibit abnormal behavior, which helps security teams prioritize incident response.
  • Insider Threat Detection: UEBA is particularly effective at identifying insider threats, where employees or authorized personnel misuse their access privileges for malicious purposes. Compliance and Auditing: UEBA assists organizations in meeting regulatory compliance requirements by monitoring user activities and access privileges, ensuring data privacy and security.
  • Compliance and Auditing: UEBA assists organizations in meeting regulatory compliance requirements by monitoring user activities and access privileges, ensuring data privacy and security.

UE‎‎BA examples

Person transferring a large volume of files and data

‎There are many examples of UEBA that help illustrate how this technology works.

  • A user who regularly downloads 5 to 10 MB of data each day suddenly downloads a significantly larger volume of data may indicate a data leak or attempted data breach.
  • A user who always logs in from Seattle suddenly attempts to login from a location in the Philippines. This activity could indicate that the user's account credentials have been compromised.
  • A user who typically only utilizes standard access privileges suddenly starts using higher privileges to access systems and resources they don't normally use. This activity could indicate compromised account credentials or a malicious insider threat.
  • There's a sudden increase in new account creation, but there have been no new hires who have a need for an account. This activity may indicate the presence of a Trojan.
  • There's activity on a Saturday at 2:00am on a device that's typically only active from 8:00am to 5:00pm Monday through Friday. This may indicate a stolen device or the presence of malware.
  • An IOT (Internet of Things) device suddenly attempts to connect to systems it doesn't typically interact with. This may indicate a malware infection or man-in-the-middle attack.

UE‎‎BA benefits

UEBA offers numerous benefits by monitoring and analyzing the behavior of users, endpoints, systems, and applications. Below are just a few of the most significant benefits of UEBA.

  • Advanced Cyberattack Detection: By analyzing user and entity behavior patterns and anomalies, UEBA tools can detect a greater variety of cyberattacks compared to traditional cybersecurity solutions. UEBA can help detect compromised credentials, brute force attacks, lateral movement, and Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks, among others.
  • Faster Threat Investigations: UEBA solutions allow security teams to follow the activity of a suspicious user account or entity, making it easier to identify the origin of a potential threat.
  • Enhanced Access Control: By analyzing login activity, UEBA solutions can help to identify users who legitimately require a higher level of access privileges, as well as users who have or are utilizing access to sensitive resources that they should not have access to. This makes it possible to ensure that users have access to all the resources they require to perform their job duties and nothing more.
  • Insider Threat Detection: UEBA solutions help to identify insider threats by alerting security teams of anomalies in user behavior such as user accounts that suddenly utilize higher access privileges than normal or interacting with systems they typically don't utilize.
  • Reducing False Positives: UEBA leverages machine learning, continuously adjusting baselines and enhancing its accuracy as it collects more data. This helps to reduce false positives, which in turn decreases alert fatigue and gives security teams more time to handle other tasks.

Keep reading to learn how UEBA complements other cybersecurity technologies to provide these and other benefits.

Ho‎‎w UEBA complements other cybersecurity technologies

UEBA complements other cybersecurity technologies such as SIEM (Security Information and Event Management) and DLP (Data Loss Prevention). By combining the insights generated by these technologies, organizations can develop a more comprehensive and proactive security strategy.

‎Data collection

Data collection is a fundamental component of User Entity and Behavior Analytics (UEBA) solutions, providing the necessary information for analyzing user behavior, entity interactions, and system activities. By leveraging data from various sources, UEBA creates baseline behavior profiles, detects anomalies, identifies insider threats, and assigns risk scores, enhancing an organization's ability to detect and prevent cyber threats effectively. Data collection forms the backbone of UEBA's data-driven approach, enabling continuous learning and improvement to respond proactively to evolving cybersecurity challenges. 

UEBA solutions collect data from multiple sources, providing a comprehensive view of an organization's IT landscape. These sources include:

  • Log Data: Data from logs generated by various systems, applications, and network devices. These logs record events and activities, offering valuable insights into user actions and system behavior.
  • Network Traffic Data: Information about the flow of data and communication between devices on the network. Network traffic data helps in understanding the interactions between entities and identifying any unusual patterns.
  • Endpoint Data: Data from individual devices (e.g., workstations, servers, mobile devices) that capture user actions, application usage, and system events.
  • Authentication and Access Data: Records of user logins, access attempts, and privilege changes, which help in identifying potential insider threats or unauthorized access.
  • Application Data: Information about how users interact with various applications and databases, which aids in understanding their typical usage patterns.

Machine learning

Business person touching graphic machine learning and AI icons

‎The data collected feeds the machine learning algorithms that power UEBA solutions. By continually ingesting new data, the algorithms can improve their accuracy and effectiveness over time, learning from new patterns and emerging threats. The specific roles of Machine Learning in a UEBA solution include:

  • Pattern Recognition and Baseline Profiling: Machine Learning algorithms in UEBA are trained on historical data to recognize patterns and establish baseline behavior profiles for each user and entity within the organization. These profiles represent what is considered "normal" behavior for individuals and systems. By understanding the baseline, UEBA can identify deviations and anomalies that may indicate potential security threats.
  • Anomaly Detection: UEBA leverages Machine Learning algorithms to continuously monitor real-time data and compare it to the established baseline profiles. Any significant deviations or unusual behavior are flagged as anomalies. These anomalies may indicate potential security incidents, such as insider threats, data breaches, or compromised accounts.
  • Adaptive Learning: Machine Learning enables UEBA to adapt and learn from new data. As it ingests and processes more information, the ML algorithms improve their ability to distinguish between genuine threats and false positives, thereby reducing the number of inaccurate alerts over time.
  • Risk Scoring and Prioritization: ML algorithms are instrumental in calculating risk scores for users and entities based on their behavior. Higher risk scores are assigned to activities that display abnormal behavior or potential security risks, enabling security teams to prioritize incident response and focus on the most critical threats.
  • Dynamic and Real-Time Analysis: ML enables UEBA tools to perform dynamic and real-time analysis of user and entity behavior. As new data is continuously processed, the algorithms adapt and respond swiftly to emerging threats, providing a more proactive approach to cybersecurity.
  • Reducing False Positives: By leveraging Machine Learning, UEBA can significantly reduce false positives. Traditional rule-based systems often generate a high number of false alerts, leading to alert fatigue for security teams. ML algorithms can better discern genuine threats from normal activities, resulting in more accurate and relevant alerts.
  • Predictive Analytics: Machine Learning enables UEBA to apply predictive analytics, forecasting potential security incidents based on historical data and ongoing behavior patterns. This proactive approach helps organizations take preventive measures and mitigate risks before they escalate.

Baseline profiling

Data collection forms the foundation for building baseline behavior profiles for users and entities. By analyzing historical data, UEBA establishes what "normal" behavior looks like for each user and entity within the organization. This baseline is dynamic and evolves over time as new data is ingested and processed. The baseline profile serves as a reference for identifying anomalies or deviations from established normal behavior, which can then be flagged as potential security threats or risky activities. By comparing real-time behavior against the baseline, UEBA can effectively detect unusual or suspicious actions, such as unauthorized access attempts, insider threats, or abnormal system interactions.

  • Feature Extraction: UEBA solutions extract relevant features or attributes from the preprocessed data that are essential for understanding user and entity behavior. These features may include login times, file access patterns, network activity, and application usage.
  • Establishing Baseline Profiles: Using historical data, UEBA creates individual behavior profiles for each user and entity. These profiles represent the typical behavior observed over a period of time. For example, the baseline profile for a user may include typical login times, access patterns to critical data, and application usage during work hours.
  • Continuous Learning and Updates: As new data is collected and processed, UEBA continuously updates the baseline profiles. This ensures that the baseline remains relevant and adapts to changes in user and entity behavior over time. The continuous learning process is powered by machine learning algorithms that analyze and interpret the data to identify patterns and trends.

Anomaly detection

Finger pointing at a red graphic of an anomaly detection alert

‎Once baseline profiles are established, UEBA continuously monitors and analyzes real-time data against these profiles. Any deviations from the norm, such as unusual login patterns, access to sensitive data outside of regular working hours, or abnormal application usage, are flagged as anomalies. These anomalies may indicate potential security threats or risky activities that warrant investigation.

An example of anomaly detection in UEBA could be: 

Unusual After-Hours Data Access - Suppose a financial institution has implemented a UEBA solution to monitor user and entity behavior within their network. The UEBA solution has already established baseline behavior profiles for all employees, including their typical working hours and data access patterns.

An anomaly is detected when the UEBA system notices that an employee, let's call them John, who usually works from 9 AM to 5 PM, is accessing sensitive financial data at 2 AM in the morning.

Risk Scoring

UEBA assigns risk scores to users and entities based on their behavior. Higher risk scores are associated with activities that exhibit abnormal behavior or potential security risks. This risk scoring helps security teams prioritize their response to incidents and focus on the most critical threats.

Based on the detected anomalies and the severity of deviations from normal behavior, UEBA calculates risk scores for each user and entity. The risk score can be a numerical value or a categorization into different risk levels.

As new data is continuously collected and analyzed, the risk scores are dynamically updated. This allows the risk scoring process to adapt to changes in user behavior and evolving cybersecurity threats. Users and entities with higher risk scores are prioritized as potential security threats. Security teams can focus their efforts on investigating and responding to incidents associated with users/entities with elevated risk scores.

Insider Threat Detection

Machine Learning allows UEBA to identify behavioral changes that may indicate insider threats, where authorized users misuse their access privileges for malicious purposes. By analyzing user activities and interactions, UEBA can detect suspicious behavior patterns associated with potential insider threats.

Data collection plays a vital role in detecting insider threats – incidents where authorized users misuse their access privileges maliciously. By tracking user behavior, UEBA can identify behavioral changes that could indicate compromised accounts or malicious intent.

Example data exfiltration by an insider - suppose a large financial company has implemented a UEBA solution to enhance its cybersecurity defenses. One of their employees, let's call her Alice, has been granted access to sensitive customer data as part of her job responsibilities. UEBA has established a baseline behavior profile for Alice, which includes her typical working hours, data access patterns, and the types of files she usually interacts with.

Compliance and Auditing

Checking off items for a compliance audit

‎Data collection in UEBA solutions also assists organizations in meeting regulatory compliance requirements. It helps in auditing user activities, detecting policy violations, and maintaining data privacy and security standards.

In conclusion, User Entity and Behavior Analytics (UEBA) is a sophisticated cybersecurity approach that focuses on analyzing user behavior and entity interactions to detect and prevent cyber threats. By leveraging machine learning and advanced analytics, UEBA provides organizations with valuable insights to enhance their overall cybersecurity posture and respond effectively to potential security incidents.

Fr‎‎equently asked questions

What is UEBA in cyber security?

User Entity and Behavior Analytics (UEBA) in cyber security is a tool that relies on advanced analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to monitor the behavior of users and entities (such as devices and applications) in an organization. Its main purpose is to identify any abnormal or suspicious activity that could be indicative of potential cybersecurity risks.

By establishing a standard set of normal behaviors for each individual user and entity, it becomes easy to flag any deviations that might suggest security threats, compromised accounts, or attacks originating from within the organization.

What is the difference between SIEM and UEBA?

Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) and User Entity and Behavior Analytics (UEBA) play crucial roles in cybersecurity, but they have different functions.

SIEM systems are responsible for collecting, combining, and examining log data from various sources in an IT environment. This allows them to continuously monitor, correlate events, and issue alerts for security incidents in real-time.

On the other hand, UEBA focuses exclusively on studying the behavior of users and entities. By utilizing analytics and machine learning, it can identify anomalies that might indicate a potential security threat.

While SIEM provides a general overview of an organization's security status, UEBA provides in-depth insights into behaviors, thereby improving detection capabilities. In many cases, SIEM solutions are enhanced by integrating UEBA capabilities to offer a more comprehensive security analysis.

What is the difference between UEBA and EDR?

UEBA (User Entity and Behavior Analytics) and EDR (Endpoint Detection and Response) are cybersecurity technologies that have different focuses in terms of security.

UEBA utilizes machine learning and analytical tools to analyze a wide range of data, including network traffic, logs, and user activities. It identifies typical patterns in the behavior of users and entities across the network to identify any unusual activities that could potentially be a security threat.

In contrast, EDR is centered around the endpoints of the network, such as laptops, desktops, and mobile devices. Its main purpose is to provide real-time monitoring, threat detection, and response capabilities specifically for activities happening on these endpoints.

While UEBA offers a broader perspective of network behavior, EDR provides a more detailed and precise level of visibility and control over endpoint security.

What is the difference between IAM and UEBA?

Identity and Access Management (IAM) is responsible for managing digital identities and controlling user access within an organization. It focuses on authentication, authorization, roles and privileges assignment, and user lifecycle management.

User Entity and Behavior Analytics (UEBA) does not handle access control but instead analyzes and monitors user and entity behavior to detect suspicious activities.

While IAM ensures that the right people have access to resources, UEBA identifies any abnormal usage of credentials, which could indicate a security breach or misuse.

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