A security operations center improves an organization’s threat detection, response, and prevention capabilities by unifying and coordinating all cybersecurity technologies and operations.

What is a Security Operations Center (SOC)?

A security operations center (SOC) is a command center for monitoring the information systems that an enterprise uses for its IT infrastructure. This may include everything from the business’s websites, databases, servers, applications, networks, desktops, data centers, and a variety of endpoints.

A SOC cyber security setup monitors each element of the infrastructure, assesses its current health, including potential and existing threats, and responds to threats. The SOC also sets up information security measures and protocols designed to prevent future threats.

security operations center

How a Security Operations Center works

Rather than being focused on developing a security strategy, designing security architecture, or implementing protective measures, the SOC team is responsible for the ongoing, operational component of enterprise information security. Security operations center staff consists primarily of security analysts who work together to detect, analyze, respond to, report on, and prevent cyber security incidents. Additional capabilities of some SOCs can include advanced forensic analysis, cryptanalysis, and malware reverse engineering to analyze incidents.

The first step in establishing an organization’s SOC is to clearly define a strategy that incorporates business-specific goals from various departments as well as input and support from executives. Once the strategy has been developed, the infrastructure required to support that strategy must be implemented. According to Bit4Id Chief Information Security Officer Pierluigi Paganini, typical SOC infrastructure includes firewalls, IPS/IDS, breach detection solutions, probes, and security information and event management (SIEM) system. Technology should be in place to collect data via data flows, telemetry, packet capture, Syslog, and other methods so that data activity can be correlated and analyzed by SOC staff. The security operations center also monitors networks and endpoints for vulnerabilities to protect sensitive data and comply with industry or government regulations.

Who needs a SOC?

No matter a company’s size or purpose, it’s valuable to have a dedicated organizational-level team whose job is to constantly monitor security operations and incidents and respond to any issues that may arise. The various responsibilities within a cybersecurity team can be extremely complex, and a SOC can not only serve as the tactical console to empower team members in performing their day-to-day tasks but also as a strategic center to keep the team aware of bigger, longer-term security trends.

A typical security operations center tracks any number of security alerts that an organization might encounter, including potential threat notifications via technologies and tools, as well as employees, partners, and external sources. From that point, the SOC then investigates and validates the reported threat to make sure it’s not a false positive (i.e. a reported threat that’s harmless). If the security incident is deemed to be valid and requires a response, the SOC hands it over to the appropriate persons or teams for response and recovery.

It takes a sophisticated combination of expertise, process, and organization to effectively run a security operations center as part of an overall incident detection and response program. That’s why every organization may not be able to support or resource a SOC in-house. Instead, many opt to have their SOC managed by an outside agency or even completely outsourced.

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What are the benefits of a SOC?

When a security operations center is implemented correctly, it provides numerous benefits including the following:

  • Continuous monitoring and analysis of system activity.
  • Improved incident response.
  • The decreased timeline between when a compromise occurs and when it is detected.
  • Reduced downtime.
  • Centralization of hardware and software assets leads 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.
  • A clear chain of control for systems and data is crucial for the successful prosecution of cybercriminals.

SOC Challenges

Security operations center teams must constantly stay one step ahead of attackers. In recent years, this has become more and more difficult. The following are the top three challenges that every SOC team faces:

  • Shortage of cybersecurity skills: Based on a survey by Dimensional Research, 53% of SOCs are having difficulties hiring skilled personnel. This means that many SOC teams are understaffed and lack the advanced skills necessary to identify and respond to threats in a timely and effective manner. The (ISC)² Workforce Study estimated that the cyber security workforce needs to grow by 145% to close the skills gap and better defend organizations worldwide.
  • Too many alerts: As organizations add new tools for threat detection, the volume of security alerts grows continually. With security teams today already inundated with work, the overwhelming number of threat alerts can cause threat fatigue. In addition, many of these alerts do not provide sufficient intelligence, context to investigate, or false positives. False positives not only drain time and resources but can also distract teams from real incidents.
  • Operational Overhead: Many organizations use an assortment of disconnected security tools. This means that security personnel must translate security alerts and policies between environments, leading to costly, complex, and inefficient security operations.

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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.