What is a Security Operations Center?
A security operations center (SOC) includes the people, processes and technologies responsible for monitoring, analyzing and maintaining an organization’s information security.
The SOC serves as an intelligence hub for the company, gathering data in real time from across the organization’s networks, servers, endpoints and other digital assets and using intelligent automation to identify, prioritize and respond to potential cybersecurity threats.
What Does a Security Operations Center Do?
Most security operations centers follow a “hub and spoke” structure, allowing the organization to create a centralized data repository that is then used to meet a variety of business needs. SOC activities and responsibilities include:
- Network monitoring to provide complete visibility into digital activity and better detect anomalies
- Prevention techniques to deter and deflect a range of known and unknown risks
- Threat detection and intelligence capabilities that assess the origin, impact and severity of each cybersecurity incident
- Decisive incident response and remediation using a blend of automated technologies and human intervention
- Reporting to ensure all incidents and threats are fed into the data repository, making it more precise and responsive in the future
- Risk and compliance capabilities to ensure industry and government regulations are followed
The SOC team is also responsible for the operation, management and maintenance of the security center as an organizational resource. This includes developing an overarching strategy and plan, as well as creating processes to support the operation of the center. The team also evaluates, implements, and operates tools, devices, and applications and oversees their integration, maintenance and updating.
In addition to managing individual incidents, the SOC consolidates disparate data feeds from each asset to create a baseline understanding of normal network activity. The SOC then uses this assessment to detect anomalous activity with added speed and accuracy.
One key attribute of the SOC is that it operates continuously, providing 24/7 monitoring, detection and response capabilities. This helps ensure threats are contained and neutralized quickly, which in turn allows organizations to reduce their “breakout time” — the critical window between when an intruder compromises the first machine and when they can move laterally to other parts of the network.
Staff Roles and Responsibilities in a SOC
When a cyberattack occurs, the SOC acts as the digital front line, responding to the security incident with force while also minimizing the impact on business operations. The SOC team usually consists of security analysts, threat hunters, and networking professionals with backgrounds in computer engineering, data science, network engineering and/or computer science. Common SOC roles include:
- SOC Manager: Acts as the security center leader, overseeing all aspects of the SOC, its workforce and operations
- Security Analyst Tier 1 – Triage: Categorizes and prioritizes alerts, escalates incidents to tier 2 analysts
- Security Analyst Tier 2 – Incident Responder: Investigates and remediates escalated incidents, identifies affected systems and scope of the attack, uses threat intelligence to uncover the adversary
- Security Analyst Tier 3 – Threat Hunter: Proactively searches for suspicious behavior and tests and assesses network security to detect advanced threats and identify areas of vulnerability or insufficiently protected assets
- Security Architect: Designs the security system and its processes, and integrates various technological and human components
- Compliance Auditor: Oversees the organization’s adherence to internal and external rules and regulations
Challenges of a SOC
The SOC maintains an increasingly complex purview, managing all aspects of the organization’s cyber security. For many organizations, creating and maintaining an effective security operations center can be challenging. Common issues include the following:
1. Alert fatigue
The most common challenge facing many organizations is the sheer volume of security alerts, many of which require the use of both advanced systems and human oversight to properly categorize, prioritize and remediate. With a large number of alerts, some threats can be miscategorized or insufficiently addressed. This underscores the need for advanced monitoring tools and automation capabilities, as well the need for a team of highly skilled professionals.
The global nature of business, the fluidity of the workplace, increased use of cloud technology and other issues have increased the complexity of both defending the organization and responding to threats. Today, relatively simple solutions like firewalls offer insufficient protection from digital adversaries. Security requires a sophisticated solution that combines technology, people and processes, the likes of which can be difficult to build, integrate and maintain.
Building a security operations center requires significant time and resources. Maintaining it can be even more demanding, as the threat landscape changes constantly and requires frequent updates and upgrades as well as continuous learning and development of staff. Further, cybersecurity is a highly specialized field, with few organizations having the needed talent to understand the full needs of the organization and the current threat landscape. Many organizations engage managed security service providers as a way of ensuring strong outcomes without significant technology or workforce investments.
4. Skills shortage
Building an in-house security solution is made even harder by a limited candidate pool. Cybersecurity professionals are in high demand around the world, making it difficult to recruit and retain these individuals. A turnover within the security organization can potentially affect the security of the organization.
Government and industry regulations are subject to change. The SOC must be prepared to monitor these issues and ensure the organization is compliant. This is especially important given the use of data within the SOC, the collection and application of which may be subject to strict standards based on location, industry or intended use. Adherence to these regulations is absolutely essential to the ongoing operation of the organization and the preservation of its reputation.
How CrowdStrike Empowers SOCs
Watch the video below to see how CrowdStrike’s platform provides a security operation team with invaluable information to help improve their organization’s security posture.