What is a Security Operations Center (SOC)?

by Nate Lord on Tuesday September 11, 2018

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Learn about how security operations centers work and why many organizations rely on SOCs as a valuable resource for security incident detection.

A Definition of Security Operations Center

A security operations center (SOC) is a facility that houses an information security team responsible for monitoring and analyzing an organization’s security posture on an ongoing basis. The SOC team’s goal is to detect, analyze, and respond to cybersecurity incidents using a combination of technology solutions and a strong set of processes. Security operations centers are typically staffed with security analysts and engineers as well as managers who oversee security operations. SOC staff work close with organizational incident response teams to ensure security issues are addressed quickly upon discovery.

Security operations centers monitor and analyze activity on networks, servers, endpoints, databases, applications, websites, and other systems, looking for anomalous activity that could be indicative of a security incident or compromise. The SOC is responsible for ensuring that potential security incidents are correctly identified, analyzed, defended, investigated, and reported.

How a Security Operations Center Works

Rather than being focused on developing 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 is comprised primarily of security analysts who work together to detect, analyze, respond to, report on, and prevent cybersecurity 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 a 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 in order to protect sensitive data and comply with industry or government regulations.

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Benefits of Having a Security Operations Center

The key benefit of having a security operations center is the improvement of security incident detection through continuous monitoring and analysis of data activity. By analyzing this activity across an organization’s networks, endpoints, servers, and databases around the clock, SOC teams are critical to ensure timely detection and response of security incidents. The 24/7 monitoring provided by a SOC gives organizations an advantage to defend against incidents and intrusions, regardless of source, time of day, or attack type. The gap between attackers’ time to compromise and enterprises’ time to detection is well documented in Verizon’s annual Data Breach Investigations Report, and having a security operations center helps organizations close that gap and stay on top of the threats facing their environments.

Best Practices for Running a Security Operations Center

Many security leaders are shifting their focus more on the human element than the technology element to “assess and mitigate threats directly rather than rely on a script.” SOC operatives continuously manage known and existing threats while working to identify emerging risks. They also meet the company and customer’s needs and work within their risk tolerance level. While technology systems such as firewalls or IPS may prevent basic attacks, human analysis is required to put major incidents to rest.

For best results, the SOC must keep up with the latest threat intelligence and leverage this information to improve internal detection and defense mechanisms. As the InfoSec Institute points out, the SOC consumes data from within the organization and correlates it with information from a number of external sources that deliver insight into threats and vulnerabilities. This external cyber intelligence includes news feeds, signature updates, incident reports, threat briefs, and vulnerability alerts that aid the SOC in keeping up with evolving cyber threats. SOC staff must constantly feed threat intelligence into SOC monitoring tools to keep up to date with threats, and the SOC must have processes in place to discriminate between real threats and non-threats.

Truly successful SOCs utilize security automation to become effective and efficient. By combining highly-skilled security analysts with security automation, organizations increase their analytics power to enhance security measures and better defend against data breaches and cyber attacks. Many organizations that don’t have the in-house resources to accomplish this turn to managed security service providers that offer SOC services.

Tags: Data Protection 101