What Is a Security Operations Center?
A security operations center, or SOC, is the collective term for 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 threats.
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.
Basic Responsibilities of a SOC
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 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.
Watch our webcast, “A Day in the Life of a SOC Analyst”, to explore the typical SOC activities, including the pitfalls and failures, and learn a new approach to alert investigation and response.
Security Operations Center Best Practices
Start with strategy
The first step in establishing an organization’s SOC is to define a clear strategy that aligns with the organization’s business goals. This process should include an enterprise-wide assessment, during which the team can take inventory of existing assets and resources, and also identify gaps or potential vulnerabilities within the business that could be exploited by adversaries.
Another key aspect of strategic planning is developing a clear, comprehensive set of processes that will guide the SOC team in all manners of operation, including monitoring, detection, response and reporting.
Given the increasing complexity of the threat landscape, organizations will likely need to constantly review and update their strategy and processes to reflect new and emerging risks. Likewise, the organization at large must be made aware of basic security operations and best practices to help preserve the business’s overall health and performance.
Enable organization-wide visibility
The SOC can only protect known assets. At the same time, any device can compromise network security. It is crucial, therefore, that the SOC identifies all digital assets — including networks, databases, devices/endpoints, websites and information stores — and incorporates their individual data logs into a single monitoring and analysis function. It is also important to map the use of third-party services and traffic flowing between the assets, as threats may derive from this activity.
Creating this end-to-end visibility will not only help protect each asset individually, but also create a complete view of typical behavior and activity for the organization. This makes it easier for security technologies and tools to identify and prioritize risks and recommend actions for remediation in the future.
Establish the technology stack
The SOC is not a single asset — it is a combination of people, processes and technologies that work together to protect and defend the organization. On the technology side, there are many critical components that make up the digital backbone of the security center. These include the following:
- A security information and event management (SIEM) system, which aggregates and correlates data from network and device security feeds
- Digital assessment and monitoring systems, which detect anomalous behaviors or activity
- Prevention tools, such as firewalls or antivirus software
- Threat detection tools that use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to recognize suspicious activity and escalate it within the SOC
- Threat response capabilities that use intelligent automation to automatically respond to low-level security threats and routine incidents
Due to the advanced nature of the threat landscape, as well as the complexity of the global business operations, organizations must leverage the latest digital technologies to stay a step ahead of cyber adversaries. Next-gen cloud-based security solutions play an important role, as they allow the organization to deploy tools quickly and support the ability to update or adapt to new threats. The CrowdStrike Falcon® platform is a cloud-native security solution that provides real-time, continuous visibility and security across the organization’s assets. This solution combines many of the key aspects of a SOC, as well as a dedicated team to respond and manage the most sophisticated threats.
Combine intelligent automation and human resources to respond to threats
The most mature SOCs use a combination of threat intelligence automation and human oversight to manage security. Typically, the threat monitoring and detection tools provide the first line of defense, identifying risks and prioritizing them. Relatively low-level threats can be addressed through automation, while more advanced risks require human intervention. By combining highly skilled security professionals with AI-enabled solutions, organizations can not only ensure the safety of their network and assets but also do so with the least amount of time, cost and effort.
Advances in technology continue to increase the accuracy of detection tools and their ability to assess each risk. In addition, like any AI and ML tools, those used in cybersecurity improve over time, leveraging increasing amounts of data to better understand baseline activity and detect anomalies. The most advanced automation systems use behavioral analysis to “teach” these tools the difference between regular day-to-day operations and real threats, freeing humans to focus on higher-priority work.
Job Roles in a SOC
When a cyberattack occurs, the SOC acts as the digital front line, responding to the event with force while also minimizing the impact on business operations. The SOC team usually consists of specially trained IT and networking professionals with backgrounds in computer engineering, data science, network engineering and/or computer science. Common 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 digital security. For many organizations, creating and maintaining an effective SOC can be challenging. Common issues include the following:
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 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 third-party 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.