What is a Security Operations Center (SOC) Framework?

December 18, 2023

In cybersecurity, a “SOC” refers to a security operations center. This is a dedicated team and facility where IT and security professionals keep an eye on an organization’s security posture. In this context, a SOC is different from the more widely used (in enterprise circles) acronym for systems and organization controls. The SOC we’re dealing with — a security operations center — includes the personnel, technologies, and methodologies that safeguard organizations against cybersecurity breaches.

Central to our discussion is the SOC framework, which makes up the structured approach to operations in a SOC. A SOC framework lays out the processes, roles, and technologies that enable a SOC to function effectively. A robust SOC framework allows a SOC to respond to threats with precision and agility.

In this article, we’ll dissect the SOC framework, looking at its integral components, implementation challenges, and best practices. Note that our focus will be on the SOC framework rather than the operational aspects of the SOC itself.

What is a SOC framework?

A SOC framework acts like a blueprint, defining the systematic approach a SOC ought to employ as it detects, analyzes, and responds to cybersecurity threats. The SOC framework should cover key functions of the SOC to ensure they’re properly integrated and executed. These key functions include:

When properly designed, a SOC framework will maximize efficiency and minimize incident response times for a SOC. As the cyber threat landscape is constantly evolving, the SOC framework helps an organization maintain a strong security posture.

The difference between a SOC and a SOC framework is akin to the difference between having a team of security experts and giving them a playbook to follow. The SOC framework equips the SOC with the protocols and processes necessary to handle complex security challenges, both on a day-to-day basis and in the event of a security incident.

Typically, a SOC follows a “hub and spoke” structure. At its center, the SOC has a centralized data repository, allowing for a consolidated view of threat data and threat intelligence. This enables swift analysis and decision-making. Because all the security information converges at the hub, the various spokes — activities and responsibilities such as prevention techniques, reporting, or compliance — can function cohesively.

The SOC framework lays out how this SOC structure ought to play out.

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Key components of a SOC framework

The efficacy of a SOC framework depends on several critical components. Each component is pivotal in the successful operations of a SOC.

  • Human resources: The security professionals and experts who drive the SOC, from analysts to managers.
  • Technology stack: The suite of tools and technologies that empowers the SOC to monitor, detect, and respond to threats.
  • Processes and procedures: The standardized protocols that govern the SOC’s operational activities.
  • Incident response plans: The predefined playbooks that outline the steps an organization will take when a security incident occurs.
  • Reporting mechanisms: The systems used to document incidents and inform stakeholders.

Each of these components must be carefully considered when building a SOC framework that adequately supports a responsive and resilient cybersecurity operation.

Activities governed by a SOC framework

A SOC framework governs a range of activities that take place in the SOC. These activities are interdependent rather than stand-alone. Together, they work to create a cohesive strategy for identifying and mitigating cyber threats. Key activities include:

  • Continuous monitoring: Continuous monitoring of activity to detect anomalous or unauthorized actions throughout the environment.
  • Threat detection: The identification of potential threats using a combination of AI-powered threat intelligence, Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) data, and human expertise.
  • Incident response: The coordinated actions an organization takes to address security incidents and mitigate their impact.
  • Reporting: Steps to ensure that incidents and threats are accounted for in the central data repository to improve future responsiveness.

Challenges in implementing a SOC framework

Implementing a SOC framework comes with its own set of challenges. To ensure that your SOC operates efficiently, recognizing and addressing these challenges is important.

  • Alert fatigue: Excessive alerts — either with not enough useful information or triggered by false positives — can steadily lead to SOC personnel ignoring alerts. This will eventually result in a critical incident alert being overlooked.
  • Complexity: As the cyber threat landscape is ever-evolving, navigating its sophistication can bring overwhelming complexity to organizations without the proper cybersecurity tools.
  • Cost: Effective maintenance of a robust SOC can require significant financial resources.
  • Skills shortage: Many organizations are struggling with the industry-wide gap in qualified cybersecurity professionals.
  • Compliance: Many organizations have regional or industry-specific compliance regulations to meet, and they must maintain compliance across their business operations — including all SOC activities.

Addressing these challenges is an important consideration when crafting a SOC framework.

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Solutions for establishing a SOC framework

As your organization seeks to establish a robust SOC framework, certain practices will be more effective in helping you streamline operations and enhance your security posture.

  • Automation can help you take care of routine tasks, freeing up your human experts to focus on more complex security challenges.
  • Leveraging managed security services, which provide external expertise and support, can be pivotal for organizations with resource constraints.
  • Provide continuous training for your SOC team, ensuring that it stays at the forefront of cybersecurity knowledge. That way, your team can adapt to new threats as they arise.
  • Use compliance management tools, which will help your organization navigate the complex web of regulations and standards that govern your industry.

These practices not only help you keep pace with the modern cyber threat landscape but set you up for success in achieving proactive defense and dynamic response. As they inform the design of your SOC framework, you’ll have more confidence that your SOC will be able to meet new threats with swift and decisive action.

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