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What is a Security Operations Center (SOC)?

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What is a SOC? A security operations center, or SOC, is a team of IT security professionals that protects the organization by monitoring, detecting, analyzing, and investigating cyber threats. Networks, servers, computers, endpoint devices, operating systems, applications and databases are continuously examined for signs of a cyber security incident. The SOC team analyzes feeds, establishes rules, identifies exceptions, enhances responses and keeps a look out for new vulnerabilities.

Given that technology systems in the modern organization run 24/7, SOCs usually function around the clock in shifts to ensure a rapid response to any emerging threats. SOC teams may collaborate with other departments and employees or work expert third party IT security providers.

Before setting up an SOC, organizations must develop an overarching cyber security strategy that aligns with their business objectives and challenges. Many large organizations have an in-house SOC but others opt to outsource the SOC to a third-party managed security services providers.

Security intelligence and operations consulting services include an arsenal of security solutions to stay ahead of security threats.

Security Operations Center (SOC)

How does a SOC work?

The primary mission of the SOC is security monitoring and alerting. This includes the collection and analysis of data to identify suspicious activity and improve the organization’s security. Threat data is collected from firewalls, intrusion detection systems, intrusion prevention systems, security information and event management (SIEM) systems and threat intel. Alerts are sent out to SOC team members as soon as discrepancies, abnormal trends or other indicators of compromise are picked up.

What does a SOC do?

Asset discovery

By acquiring a deep awareness of all hardware, software, tools and technologies used in the organization, the SOC ensures assets are monitored for security incidents.

Behavioral monitoring

The SOC analyzes technology infrastructure 24/7/365 for abnormalities. The SOC employs both reactive and proactive measures to ensure irregular activity is quickly detected and addressed. Behavioral monitoring of suspicious activity is used to minimize false positives.

Maintaining activity logs

All activity and communications taking place across the enterprise must be logged by the SOC team. Activity logs allow the SOC to backtrack and pinpoint past actions that may have caused a cyber security breach. Log management also helps in setting a baseline for what should be deemed normal activity.

Alert ranking

All security incidents are not created equal. Some incidents will pose a greater risk to an organization than others. Assigning severity ranking helps SOC teams prioritize the most severe alerts.

Incident response

SOC teams perform incident response when a compromise is discovered.

Root cause investigation

After an incident, the SOC may be charged with investigating when, how and why an incident occurred. During investigation, the SOC relies on log information to track the root problem and therefore prevent recurrence.

Compliance management

The SOC team members must act in line with the organizational policies, industry standards and regulatory requirements.

What are the benefits of a SOC?

When a SOC is implemented correctly, it provides numerous benefits including the following:

  • Continuous monitoring and analysis of system activity.
  • Improved incident response.
  • Decreased timeline between when a compromise occurs and when it is detected.
  • Reduced downtime.
  • Centralization of hardware and software assets leading to a more holistic, real time approach to infrastructure security.
  • Effective collaboration and communication.
  • Reduction in direct and indirect costs associated with the management of cyber security incidents.
  • Employees and customers trust the organization and become more comfortable with sharing their confidential information.
  • Greater control and transparency over security operations.
  • Clear chain of control for systems and data, something that’s crucial for the successfully prosecution of cybercriminals.

What are a SOC’s challenges and how are they overcome?

Talent gap

Challenge: There is a huge shortfall in the number of cyber security professionals needed to fill existing cyber security job vacancies. The gap stood at 4.07 million professionals in 2019. With such scarcity, SOCs walk a tight rope daily with a high risk of team members getting overwhelmed.

Solution: Organizations should look within and consider upskilling employees to fill gaps in their SOC team. All roles in the SOC should have a backup who has the expertise needed to hold the fort if the position suddenly falls vacant or learn to pay what skills are worth instead of using the lowest price resource they can find.

Sophisticated attackers

Challenge: Network defense is a key component of an organization’s cyber security strategy. It needs special attention since sophisticated actors have the tools and knowhow required to evade traditional defenses such as firewalls and endpoint security.

Solution: Deploy tools that have anomaly detection and/or machine learning capabilities and can identify new threats.

Voluminous data and network traffic

Challenge: The amount of network traffic and data the average organization handles is enormous. With such astronomical growth in data volume and traffic comes a rising difficulty in analyzing all this information in real time.

Solution: SOCs rely on automated tools to filter, parse, aggregate and correlate information to keep manual analysis to the bare minimum.

Alert fatigue

Challenge: In many security systems, anomalies occur with some regularity. If the SOC relies on unfiltered anomaly alerts, it’s easy for the sheer volume of alerts to be overwhelming. Many alerts may fail to provide the context and intelligence needed to investigate thus distracting teams from real problems.

Solution: Configure monitoring content and alert ranking to distinguish between a low fidelity alerts and high fidelity alerts. Use behavioral analytics tools to ensure the SOC team is focused on addressing the most unusual alerts first.

Unknown threats

Challenge: Conventional signature-based detection, endpoint detection and firewalls cannot identify an unknown threat.

Solution: SOCs can improve their signature, rules and threshold based threat detection solutions by implementing behavior analytics to find unusual behavior.

Security tool overload

Challenge: In their effort to catch every possible threat, many organizations procure multiple security tools. These tools are often disconnected from each other, have a limited scope and do not have the sophistication to identify complex threats.

Solution: Focus on effective countermeasures with a centralized monitoring and alerting platform.

Security operations center: In-House or outsourced?

A well-run SOC is the nerve center of an effective enterprise cyber security program. The SOC provides a window to a complex and vast threat landscape. A SOC does not necessarily have to be in-house to be effective. A partially or fully outsourced SOC run by an experienced third party can stay on top of an organization’s cyber security needs. A SOC is central in helping organizations respond quickly to intrusion.

Security Operations Center (SOC)

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