What Is a Security Operations Center (SOC)?
A security operations center (SOC) is the cornerstone of an organization’s cybersecurity defenses. It includes the personnel, tools, and procedures required to monitor the corporate network and to protect it against cybersecurity threats. The SOC collects information from across the organization’s security architecture, analyzes it, and addresses any identified intrusions.
Security Operation Center Explained
A SOC is the control center behind an organization’s cybersecurity strategy. Cyberattacks can occur at any time and the SOC is responsible for detecting and responding to these threats. Many SOCs perform round-the-clock monitoring of an organization’s IT infrastructure, monitoring network traffic, endpoint events, and user behavior for signs of potential cyber threats.
The role of the SOC is to prevent, detect, and remediate potential cyber threats to the organization. Security architects, analysts, and engineers man the SOC and are tasked with designing a security architecture, analyzing the alerts generated by these solutions, investigating potential cyberattacks, and remediating any detected intrusions. Additionally, SOC personnel are responsible for maintaining compliance with applicable regulations and performing proactive cybersecurity activities, such as threat hunting.
What Does a Security Operations Center Do?
A SOC is responsible for an organization’s cybersecurity. This means that a SOC’s duties run the gamut from preparing the company to face potential threats to addressing cyberattacks in real time to proving to auditors and regulators that the company is properly protecting itself and the sensitive data entrusted to it against cyber threats.
The core responsibility of the SOC is managing cyber threats to the organization. This includes not only responding to known threats to the organization but also proactively working to improve the organization’s defenses against potential future attacks.
SOC personnel are responsible for identifying and closing potential attack vectors against an organization’s systems. Common preventative maintenance activities include the development of firewall rules, installation of updates and patches, and deploying and operating security solutions designed to address various aspects of cybersecurity risk. These threat prevention activities minimize the risk to the company and the cost of remediating potential attacks.
Monitoring and Alert Management
Cyberattacks can occur at any time and a rapid response is essential to minimizing the impact and cost of an incident. A SOC is responsible for performing 24/7 monitoring of an organization’s infrastructure to detect any potential intrusions.
A significant portion of this duty is alert management. An organization’s security solutions will generate data and alerts regarding events or anomalies that may indicate a potential intrusion. SOC analysts are responsible for triaging and investigating these alerts to weed out false positives from true threats to the organization.
In the event that an alert turns out to be a true threat, the SOC is also responsible for addressing the threat. This includes acting as a first responder to contain, investigate, remediate, and restore operations.
This process begins by attempting to limit the damage caused by the attack by isolating infected systems from the rest of the network. Incident responders can then perform an in-depth investigation to determine the scope of the intrusion and remove it from affected systems. Once the investigation is complete and endpoints are cleared of any threat, they can be removed from isolation and restored to normal operation.
An organization’s threat detection and response capabilities are not perfect and some attackers may be able to slip through the cracks. A company needs the ability to identify and remediate these undetected intrusions as well.
Threat hunting is a proactive cybersecurity SOC-run exercise. In a threat hunt, SOC analysts develop hypotheses about threats that the company may be facing and test those hypotheses through investigation. In the event that a hypothesis is proven correct and a threat is detected, threat hunting may transition into incident response.
Companies are subject to a growing array of regulations, such as PCI DSS, GDPR, and others. A common theme in these regulations is the requirement to protect and manage access to certain types of protected data.
To meet these regulatory requirements, an organization must have certain tools, policies, and procedures in place. These mandated security controls commonly fall under the purview of the SOC, so the SOC is also partially responsible for compliance. This may include developing a secure architecture, generating reports, and undergoing compliance audits.
What Are The Roles and Responsibilities in a SOC?
An efficient SOC operation encompasses a wide range of responsibilities, which means that a SOC team includes a variety of duties. Some of the primary roles within a SOC team include SOC Managers, Security Analysts, Threat Hunters, Security Architects, and Compliance Auditors.
- SOC Manager: The SOC manager runs the SOC, coordinating its operations and ensuring that the team performs its role efficiently and effectively.
Security Analyst: Security analysts are usually responsible for detecting and managing active threats to the organization. This includes investigating alerts and responding to detected incidents.
- Threat Hunter: A threat hunter may be a security analyst but performs a more proactive role within the SOC. The role of the threat hunter is to seek out unknown threats within an organization’s infrastructure.
- Security Architect: The security architect’s role primarily deals with threat prevention. Their goal is to design and implement a security architecture that is secure against cyber threats.
- Compliance Auditor: Compliance auditors are responsible for managing an organization’s compliance with applicable regulations. This includes monitoring security controls and adherence to corporate policies and procedures.
What Are The Challenges of a SOC?
SOCs are responsible for securing the organization against cyber threats such as many security alerts, complexity, cost and shortage of cybersecurity professionals. They also face a number of significant challenges in accomplishing this goal ranging from the scope of their responsibilities to the resources available to carry them out.
Countless Security Alerts
Corporate IT infrastructures are growing more complex and cyberattacks are more numerous and sophisticated. This combination leads to an expanding number of potential attack vectors that SOCs need to deploy security solutions to detect and protect against.
As an organization’s security architecture grows, so does the number of alerts that it generates. Each security solution generates its own logs and alerts, which need to be checked to determine if they indicate a true threat or are a false positive. Many enterprise SOCs see tens of thousands of alerts per day, which is far more than they can effectively analyze and investigate. As a result, true threats are missed as SOC analysts waste their time processing false positive alerts.
As companies pursue digital transformation initiatives, their IT infrastructure is growing much more complex. Many modern companies have adopted cloud-based infrastructure, are deploying Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and are supporting a remote workforce. At the same time, cyberattacks are growing more numerous and sophisticated.
The combination of complex infrastructure and sophisticated threats makes the role of the SOC much more difficult. Effectively protecting the enterprise requires expertise with a variety of environments and security solutions, which is in high demand and short supply.
A mature SOC has a well-rounded and experienced team using equipment designed to combat the latest cyber threats following well-designed and thoroughly-tested procedures.
All of these components of an effective SOC cost money to acquire. Cybersecurity is a skilled profession with significant demand for experts, making them difficult and expensive to acquire and retain. The rapid change of the cybersecurity landscape can make it difficult to keep tools up-to-date. Developing and testing SOC processes requires time and knowledge that come at additional expense. Meeting all of these financial needs can be difficult for a security team with a limited budget.
Shortage of Cybersecurity Professionals
Cybersecurity is a field where the demand for skilled personnel far exceeds the supply. According to the (ISC)2, an estimated 2.72 million cybersecurity personnel are needed to meet demand, indicating that the global workforce of 4.19 million cybersecurity professionals needs to grow by 65% to meet demand. As a result, organizations commonly compete for the best talent, driving up the cost of attracting and retaining experienced personnel.
To make things worse, companies increasingly need access to specialized skill sets, such as cloud security or incident response. While the cybersecurity field as a whole has a skills shortage, these specialists are even rarer, making it even more difficult and expensive to gain access to the talent that companies require.
In recent years, the landscape of data privacy laws and regulations has exploded. The enactment of the EU’s GDPR kicked off a wave of new data protection regulations as countries and states worked to pass equivalent laws to the GDPR.
This growth in privacy regulations makes a SOC’s compliance duties much more difficult. Each law has its own requirements, making it necessary for SOC personnel to verify that an organization’s security meets each new law’s unique rules and close any gaps. These compliance efforts take time and resources away from a SOC’s other duties, such as protecting the enterprise against cyber threats.