Understanding Security Operations Centers (SOC)

June 27, 2023
Ann Oliver
Security Operations Center

If you're responsible for safeguarding your organization's information and systems, you've probably heard of Security Operations Center (SOC) before. The SOC is a central command post that helps organizations operate securely by continuously monitoring their IT infrastructure, detecting and preventing security incidents, and analyzing and responding to those that do occur.

In this article, we'll look at SOCs - what they are, how they work, and how organizations can leverage them to defend against cyber threats.

What is a Security Operations Center (SOC)?

A Security Operations Center is a centralized unit within an organization tasked with continuously monitoring the organization's security posture, detecting and preventing security incidents while analyzing and responding to those that do occur. SOCs identify and mitigate threats to an organization's assets, including intellectual property, personal data, business systems, and brand integrity.

SOC personnel are highly trained and use a variety of techniques and tools to detect and respond to security events. There are also SOCs-as-a-Service providers available for organizations that do not have the resources to build and maintain their own SOC.

SOC Staffing and Responsibilities

A SOC team is typically comprised of several professionals with different skills and responsibilities in the organization. SOC teams require staff with varying levels of expertise and experience to operate. Staff includes SOC managers, SOC analysts of different levels, incident responders, threat hunters, and incident response managers.

The SOC is responsible for taking stock of available resources, preparation and preventative maintenance, continuous proactive monitoring, alert ranking, and management, threat response, recovery and remediation, log management, root cause investigation, security refinement and improvement, and compliance management.

To accomplish all these varied responsibilities the SOC operates under the guidance and direction of the organization's CIO, CISO or CEO.

Stay tuned to learn more about SOC tools and technologies, the challenges they face, and the conclusion

Tools and Technologies Used in SOCs

SOCs rely on a variety of tools and technologies to monitor and analyze security events. The most common tool SOCs use is a Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) tool, which captures voluminous data across an organization's infrastructure and applications, normalizes that data, and draws correlations between seemingly innocuous activities to raise alerts that identify potential cyber threats. The tool analyzes events and telemetry collected from sources such as servers, endpoints, perimeter devices, and cloud environments.

SOC teams also leverage other tools such as security orchestration, automation and response (SOAR) systems to coordinate and automate remediation activities, network forensics, and Intrusion Detection and Prevention Systems (IDPS).

Many SOC teams also use user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA) to detect insider threats and attempted data exfiltration by malicious actors, as well as endpoint detection and remediation solutions that identify attacks missed by traditional perimeter defenses.

The use of these complementary technologies is critical for maintaining and improving an organization's security posture and response capabilities to cybersecurity incidents.

Challenges faced by SOCs

Even when armed with the latest technologies and staffed with experts, SOC teams face several challenges operating effectively. These challenges include:

  • Talent gap: The cybersecurity field has a severe shortage of qualified personnel with the necessary CompTIA certifications, understanding, and experience to operate an SOC.
  • Voluminous data and network traffic: With increasingly sophisticated attack techniques and pervasive threats, SOCs have to quickly sort through large amounts of traffic data and events to separate true events from noise.
  • Alert fatigue: As the number of alerts generated by monitoring technologies grows, it becomes difficult for SOC personnel to prioritize and respond to events. As a result, many important security events may remain unnoticed or unattended.
  • Security tool overload: Organizations adopt a plethora of security tools in their cybersecurity strategy with each tool presenting alerts and data in different forms leading to alert overload on the SOC. Some SOCs can monitor more than 1,000 alert conditions.
  • Unknown threats: With new forms of cyberattack emerging at an unprecedented pace, SOCs struggle to keep up with seemingly daily developments in attack strategies, techniques, and solutions.
  • Sophisticated attackers: Many cybercriminals are becoming very adept at evading traditional defenses, blurring the borders between physical and cyber espionage, and creating extremely complex threat models.
  • Resources: A lack of budget to procure the latest technology and hire trained experts to maintain and operate the SOCs often limits the SOC's efficacy.
  • Collaboration and coordination: Coordinating responses between different departments of an organization's IT department, from network and software engineers to information security experts, requires considerable effort to ensure all resources act effectively and not at cross purposes.
  • Compliance: New data regulations require SOC teams to leverage governance, risk, and compliance systems to ensure visibility, management, and enable evidence gathering for audit and compliance purposes.

As cyber threats continue to evolve in sophistication and complexity, SOCs play a critical role in helping organizations detect, prevent, and respond to cybersecurity incidents. While SOCs continue to face challenges in terms of talent, technology, and resource constraints, many organizations find the deployment of an internal SOC or choosing an expert third-party SOC provider a fundamental part of their cybersecurity strategy.

This team of experts helps organizations operate securely by improving their security posture, identifying assets and vulnerabilities, and proactively monitoring infrastructure. For those organizations that do not have the resources to build and maintain their own SOC, they can enlist managed security services providers or SOC-as-a-service providers. Whatever the type of SOC, SOC teams are critical in ensuring organizations maintain a state of cyber security readiness.

Ann Oliver
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