What is a Security Operations Center (SOC)? Types, Best Practices, & Framework

What is a Security Operations Center (SOC)? Types, Best Practices, & Framework

Security operation centers (SOCs) are on the frontline in the fight against cyber threats posing risks to individuals and businesses. They actively monitor, detect, and respond to potential security risks, mitigating their impact and improving an organization’s security posture.

What Is a Security Operations Center?

A security operations center (SOC) is a team of cybersecurity experts who continuously monitor, analyze, and manage security risks. They scan the digital environment for suspicious activity and respond to and remediate issues in a timely manner.

SOCs have a crucial role in protecting online data and applications from unauthorized access. As such, they also protect the organization’s reputation and prevent the possible legal, financial, and operational repercussions of data breaches and other cyber attacks.

What Are the Types of Security Operations Centers?

SOCs can come in various forms based on the security needs and financial and personnel resources of the organization. There are several types of security operations centers:

  • In-house (dedicated) SOC. This type of SOC is created and operated internally by an organization. By having a dedicated SOC, organizations get complete transparency and control over their security and threat management.
  • Managed (outsourced) SOC. In this model, a managed security services provider (MSSP) takes responsibility for managing and monitoring the security of an organization’s infrastructure.
  • Co-managed (hybrid) SOC. This is a variation of the above model and involves sharing responsibility between the organization and a third-party vendor, who jointly oversee the digital landscape for possible security threats.
  • Virtual SOC. The virtual SOC model employs cloud-based technologies and remote security experts to flexibly and cost-effectively provide security services.
  • Command SOC. This type of SOC links together several dedicated SOC teams to create a global security operations center. It is typically mainly involved with threat intelligence.
  • Fusion SOC. This advanced SOC model combines various security functions (threat intelligence, incident response, security analytics) and advanced technologies (artificial intelligence, machine learning). It also frequently works together with other teams (DevOps, IT operations, product development) to provide a sophisticated and comprehensive response to threats.
  • Multifunctional SOC/NOC. This SOC model combines a Security Operations Center and a Network Operation Center (NOC) into one team that supervises security and network management tasks and integrates them for improved efficiency and greater protection.
  • Distributed SOC. This model includes multiple centers in different geographical locations that work together to provide a diversified approach to cyber security and a quick response to global threats.
  • Security Operations Center Team Members

The members of a SOC team each play a different role in ensuring optimal security. Depending on the size of the organization and available resources, these roles combine or overlap. A SOC team typically includes individuals with the following responsibilities:

  • SOC manager. A manager oversees all operations within the SOC and ensures the team works well together for the best results in threat detection.
  • Security analysts. Security analysts are usually divided into three tiers. Tier 1 analysts flag cyber threats and triage them based on their severity. Tier 2 analysts conduct a deeper investigation of the incidents and determine their root cause. Tier 3 analysts handle the most detailed and complex attacks and are frequently tasked with proactively hunting for threats.
  • Security engineers/architects. They design and develop the systems and tools needed for effective intrusion detection, timely incident response, and effective vulnerability management.
  • Compliance auditors. They ensure that all SOC activities comply with industry and regulatory standards.
  • Threat intelligence analysts. They monitor external sources and databases to gather information on emerging threats. They help SOC stay informed about evolving security threats.

A SOC team may also include individuals with specialized roles to address the specific security needs of an organization, including forensic analysts, cloud security engineers, mobile device security specialists, third-party risk assessors, etc.

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What Does a Security Operations Center Do?

The primary role of a SOC team is to monitor, detect, and mitigate security threats and incidents. Here is a breakdown of the typical activities of a SOC team.

  • Monitoring. Involves the continuous scanning of the organization’s IT infrastructure, networks, and applications for signs of suspicious activity.
  • Threat detection. The team identifies potential anomalies and threats using intrusion detection systems and other security tools and solutions.
  • Triage. Once a threat is detected, SOC analysts triage the incident based on its severity and check that it is not a false positive.
  • Investigation. Members of the SOC team investigate the threat to understand how it happened, what its extent is, and what impact it has on the organization.
  • Incident response. If a security breach occurs, the SOC team follows the established incident response procedures to contain, mitigate, and remediate the event.
  • Threat intelligence. SOC analysts proactively learn about evolving security threats and make recommendations to adapt security measures.
  • Security tool management. The SOC team is tasked with maintaining firewalls, antivirus software, SIEM systems, and endpoint detection and response tools.
  • Vulnerability management. The team works on identifying and prioritizing vulnerabilities in the organization’s systems.
  • Compliance monitoring. SOC teams ensure that relevant industry standards and regulations are maintained by conducting audits, creating reports, and remediating potential compliance gaps.
  • Documentation and reporting. The SOC team creates and maintains detailed records of security incidents and all response activities.

Why Is SOC Needed?

Here are the reasons why every organization needs a SOC.

  • Proactive defense. Members of the SOC team continuously monitor an organization’s digital environment to detect potential threats in real time.
  • Security expertise. A SOC gathers all cybersecurity experts into a single team for specialized insights and solutions.
  • Regulatory compliance. SOCs ensure all security policies are up to industry and regulatory standards.
  • Coordinated defense. SOCs follow a predetermined incident response to achieve an organized defense strategy against cyberattacks.
  • Holistic security overview. A SOC team gathers information from multiple sources to get a comprehensive picture of the digital landscape and emerging threats.
  • Continuous improvement. A SOC team provides valuable feedback that helps companies fine-tune their security practices.
  • Cost efficiency. The cost of setting up a SOC is much smaller than the potential costs of a security breach and the legal penalties that come with one.
  • Employee and customer confidence. Staff and customers have peace of mind knowing that a SOC oversees operations to detect cyber threats before they happen.

Security Operations Center Challenges

Here are some challenges that come with maintaining a SOC team.

  • Alert fatigue. SOCs send a massive number of alerts daily, which can be overwhelming or create false positives.
  • Talent shortage. Managing a SOC team requires a high level of expertise.
  • Evolving threats. Cyber attackers produce increasingly sophisticated threats that are difficult to detect and fight.
  • Integration issues. SOC solutions are sometimes difficult to integrate with the existing systems and software.
  • Budget limitations. Implementing a SOC can be expensive, so it is not a suitable solution for companies with limited resources.
  • Incident response coordination. Incident response can be challenging to coordinate in large and decentralized organizations.
  • Regulatory compliance. Achieving regulatory compliance is difficult due to evolving regulations across multiple industries and countries.
  • Performance metrics. The effectiveness of a SOC depends on carefully defining and measuring key performance indicators (KPIs).

Guardians of the Digital Frontier

In a digital landscape where threats continue to evolve in complexity and frequency, the security operations center stands as a critical part of an organization’s defenses. The proactive approach of SOCs to threat monitoring, combined with the culture of continuous improvement and collaboration across departments, ensures that organizations protect their digital and financial assets, maintain regulatory compliance, and continue to enjoy the trust of their customers and stakeholders.

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