A security operations centre (SOC) is a security unit that has the single goal of improving an organization’s resilience against cybersecurity attacks.
As a whole, security operations centers focus less on devising cybersecurity strategies or creating a security architecture and instead focus more on actual threat detection, prevention, and remediation. Their work primarily revolves around detecting, analyzing, responding to, reporting, and preventing cybersecurity threats.
A SOC operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Large organizations and enterprises will often have their own SOCs who work in-house. The larger the organization, the larger the team will be. In enterprises that need round-the-clock monitoring, the SOC will often work in shifts so there are members of staff working outside of regular office hours, though this is usually on a reduced scale. Small-to-medium-sized companies, on the other hand, may not have the financial or technical resource to employ a full SOC in-house, so often outsource their SOC to managed service providers (MSPs).
Security operation teams gather information from a range of sources—including cyber threat intelligence feeds—to analyze, as well as monitor and protect assets and sensitive data. The operations center must be extremely proficient in not just identifying threats, but analyzing and investigating them, delivering reporting, remediation, and then working on prevention techniques and protocols to prevent those particular instances from happening again in the future. It’s not enough to just find, track, and respond to threats—SOC teams must constantly improve and update security measures that are already in place to ensure company data and information stays protected against even the most sophisticated emerging and zero-day threats.
What Does A Security Operations Center Do?
So, what does a day in the life of a security operations center look like?
Security operations centers have their work cut out for them. Here are some of the more important roles that security operations centers are tasked with:
The part that often takes up the bulk of SOC’s workload is the constant, in-depth monitoring of the company’s network for any potential and emerging threats. Cybercriminals don’t always work 9-5 so, with threats able to attack the network round-the-clock, monitoring needs to be round-the-clock too. Robust monitoring tools such as intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDS/IPS) or endpoint detection and response (EDR) tools work tirelessly in the background as an ever-watchful presence, with reporting tools such as security information and event management (SIEM) gathering any information that IDS, IPS, and EDR solutions find.
The Top 10 SIEM Solutions
This is more what people envision when they think of a classical security operations center and its team. Once an anomaly has been confirmed as something malicious, the SOC will respond quickly to the incident, doing whatever is necessary to stop the malicious content from spreading and causing harm. This can be done through terminating harmful processes, isolating endpoints, deleting files and data, and so on.
Recovery And Remediation
Perhaps the next most important thing after detecting and responding to an emerging threat is recovery and remediation in the wake of an attack. Attacked systems will need to be restored, any data that has been lost needs to be recovered, and any apps, databases, and endpoints that have been shut down in firebreaker techniques will need to be reinstated. Systems will need to be reconfigured, backups put in place, and endpoints wiped and restarted if they’ve been affected.
Alert Ranking And Management
While threat detection solutions are getting more advanced, false positives still happen and each event flagged still needs to be analyzed. False positives account for 45% of all security alerts, and take just as long to investigate as actual attacks.
Because of this, centers must be able to prioritize the most pressing, harmful, impactful threats first, so they can mitigate them before turning their attention to less critical security events. As such, alert ranking and management is a critical component of the SOC cybersecurity strategy. Alert ranking and management assesses which threats take priority, what they’re targeting, and how they will affect the network, so that SOC teams can utilize their time remediating the most potentially damaging threats first.
While threat response and remediation are vital to the overall security health of the network, that alone isn’t enough to deliver full, comprehensive security against data breaches and losses. SOC teams need to work on the defensive just as much as the offensive. Staff within a security operations center need to stay brushed up on all the latest threats and trends, ensuring their knowledge is as up-to-date as possible.
Being aware of these threats enables SOC teams to take actual preventive steps to securing the company’s network perimeter against them. That involves securing applications, system updates, updating firewalls, patch management, and whitelisting and blacklisting.
All organizations, no matter where they reside in the world, have to adhere to local government and industry regulations and guidance. For the most part, SOCs usually follow best practices, but they also have to adhere to compliance guidelines—these days, increasingly so. Compliance management usually entails researching and learning what is required to protect an organization’s data and implementing it within the network. Common compliance regulations include GDPR, PDI-DSS, and HIPAA, which are frequently seen as fundamental requirements by most organizations.
Other activities SOC teams work on include resource stock taking, root cause investigation, continuous monitoring, log management, security improvement, and security infrastructure updating.
What Makes An Effective Security Operations Center?
For a SOC team to work effectively, it needs support from the wider organization. There are three main parts to this:
In order for the operations center to work successfully and effectively, they need a few things. The most important? Personnel. An effective SOC needs a strong team. Usually, this team is headed by a SOC manager, who reports directly to the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), who in turn reports directly to the CEO and any other high-ranking executives within the company.
The actual bulk of a SOC team will be made up of a number of roles, with some members of staff often doing two or more roles as part of their job description.
Both junior and senior analysts compile and analyze data from all points, but especially after security breaches. Investigators investigate breaches to understand how and why they’ve happened, often working closely with incident responders. Incident responders are the ones who actually respond to the breach, bringing in a range of measures to contain any malicious code and protect data. It is not uncommon for one person to fulfill both investigative and incident response-related roles.
Auditors stay on top of any compliance regulations, making sure SOCs continue to work within pre-existing compliance mandates or making them aware of new ones. Threat hunters, in addition to having the coolest job title of the bunch, use their skillset to traverse analytics and reports to search for emerging or hidden threats. They also work closely with other team members to help anticipate attacks.
Security operations centers aren’t just a conglomerate of skilled employees. They’re also a consolidation of advanced technology and security tools. In order for the above-described personnel to do their jobs effectively, they need a fair bit of the latest kit.
Solutions frequently seen (but not limited to) in SOCs include:
- Security Information And Event Management (SIEM): Mentioned above but worth repeating is security information and event management. SIEM is often a consolidation of software and services which provides real-time alerts and analysis of anomalies within a digital environment. It is also useful for SOCs when it comes to compliance, as it logs security data and presents teams with reports. SIEM solutions pull data from a number of sources and often allow SOC teams to define the “normal” behaviors of each system, which reduces the reporting of false positives.
- Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS): IPS is a tool that is often one part of a wider network security solution such as a firewall or unified threat management (UTM) solution. It sits behind a firewall to detect any threats that may have slipped past the firewall’s line of defense, offering a deeper inspection into all network traffic. It then blocks the malicious code and flags this with any SIEM protocols in place. Some IPS solutions also have the ability to sandbox suspicious code. IPS is an updated—improved, if you will—version of an intrusion detection system (IDS), which is a piece of software that detects and reports on anomalies and is passive in nature. It is increasingly common to see companies either use a mix of the two, or just opt for IPS on its own. You can read more about IPSs and how they work by checking our blogWhat Is Intrusion Prevention?
- User And Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA): UEBA is a handy security tool that is rooted in collecting, analyzing, and sharing user data. It’s particularly useful in detecting and flagging incidents of account compromise, as well as any lateral movement or other anomalous user activity.
- Endpoint Detection And Response (EDR): As the name might suggest, EDR is a software solution that provides threat detection and response specifically to endpoints in a network. It can detect, analyze, and facilitate the remediation of a variety of threats including malware, viruses, misuse and more on endpoints. Once a threat is detected, the EDR solution can either automatically contain and resolve the threat, or flag it with the SOC team and provide remediation suggestions. The level of automation applied to response workflows can be configured by system administrators as needed. You can read more about EDR and what it does (and why you need it) in our blog: What Is Endpoint Detection And Response (EDR)?
- Governance, Risk And Compliance (GRC) Systems: This is more of a framework but the term also applies to specific software that helps achieve this goal GRC helps SOC teams manage themselves and their operations in accordance with governmental and industry compliance regulations. It basically makes sure SOCs are operating within recommended guidelines, as well as helps them to manage security risks and reduce cost.
- Threat Intelligence Platforms (TIP): This solution also harvests information from the network through a number of sources, though with an explicit focus on garnering threat intel data. It then reports back to SOC teams with intel on known threats to aid in threat identification, investigation, and response and remediation. It’s extremely useful in that it automates the collection and management of data, saving threat analysts time to focus on the actual analysis and investigation side of threat response.
In order for SOC teams to deliver comprehensive security, they need full insight into the entire network. SOCs need to closely monitor and analyze all activity for any anomalies that could prove to be harmful. Access and insights should cover all networks, servers, applications, websites, endpoint devices, databases—and basically anything else tied to the company—to make sure no stone is unturned and there’s nowhere for malicious code or threat actors to hide. This omniscience is also particularly handy when it comes to making sure that information hasn’t been compromised without a security team being unaware of it.
What Does An Optimized SOC Look Like?
Security operations centers certainly have their work cut out for them, as they prevent cyberattacks, manage security breaches, monitor threat data, and recover lost or compromised data in the event of a breach for the entire organization. Optimizing the center at all levels helps to reduce labor hours wasted on less important or time-consuming tasks, as well as reducing the workload and subsequent stress on already stretched IT teams.
A lot of things need to be considered when it comes to SOCs and their inception. What kind of data is needed? How is it used? What security gaps are there? What are the network’s strongest points? What level of risk is the company at? What is the organization’s security posture? After threat data is aggregated, what is done with it?
Automation of certain processes and protocols is key to streamlining work for SOC teams and making sure their time is best spent on more pressing matters. This can be done through employing SIEMs, TIPs, and other solutions that focus on aggregating data and event logs. Solutions that monitor and triage alerts are also beneficial in reducing hours spent on searching for threats and increasing time spent on the actual remediation of those threats. Any solution that can handle smaller threats on its own by implementing automated remediation workflows without human interference is also a huge bonus.
Security operations centers often revolve around the implementation of best practices, strict compliance, and some seriously advanced network monitoring tools. Yet for all the automated tools and AI in the world, you can’t beat a trained eye when it comes to critical moments. Human analysis is what will enable the most efficient remediation of cyber threats affecting the network, as well as prevent those threats from occurring again in the future. This is what makes security operations centers so good at what they do.
Having a highly optimized, trained security operations center is a complex yet crucial strategy for monitoring for potential security threats and defending your business from cyber-attacks. They’re essentially the first and last line of defense when it comes to protecting your most sensitive data and the people attached to your network—be they clients, customers, or your employees.