What is a Security Operations Center (SOC)?

Orion Cassetto Orion Cassetto

The SOC is a group of security professionals who work to identify and respond to cybersecurity incidents swiftly and efficiently in real time. A SOC monitors a company’s assets, from on-premises servers to cloud resources. Broad monitoring capabilities are critical to the success of the SOC as they are responsible for monitoring the security of all users, servers, endpoints, and perimeter devices like firewalls and switches, applications, and cloud infrastructure.

Since modern organizations’ technology systems run 24/7, SOCs usually function around the clock in shifts to ensure a rapid response to threats. The SOC must decide how they will be managed and acted upon for each event. Effective security operations put in place the people, processes, and tools necessary to interpret this data carefully so that they have actionable information. Part of this interpretation involves continually analyzing threat data to find ways to improve the organization’s security posture. 

Roles and responsibilities of SOC teams 

With dozens of vital functions, an effective SOC requires a diverse team of security professionals. Chief roles of the SOC team include different tiers of SOC analysts and dedicated managers.

Security Analysts: Tier 1-3

  • Tier 1: Mainly responsible for collecting raw data and reviewing alarms and alerts. Prioritizes and triages alerts or issues to determine whether an actual security incident is taking place. If problems cannot be solved at this level, they must be escalated to tier 2 analysts.
  • Tier 2: Responsible for incident response and developing threat intelligence. Receives incidents and performs analysis; correlates with threat intelligence to identify the threat actor, nature of the attack, and systems or data affected. If major issues arise with identifying or mitigating an attack, the incident may be escalated to tier 3.
  • Tier 3: Considered the expert analyst, chiefly tasked with seeking new threats by conducting vulnerability assessments and penetration tests. Reviews major incident alerts, threat intelligence, and security data to identify possible threats and vulnerabilities. 

Security Engineers 

Engineers are security specialists who focus on security aspects in information systems design, creating solutions and tools to help organizations combat disruption of operations or malicious attacks. Sometimes employed within the SOC, and sometimes supports the SOC as part of development or operations teams.

SOC Managers 

Referred to as the tier 4 analyst, SOC managers supervise the SOC team and develop policies and procedures. Managing the SOC team involves everything from hiring new team members to conducting performance evaluations and providing ongoing training and development. The SOC manager informs the company-wide response to significant threats and sometimes reports directly to the CISO. 

What is the SOC responsible for? 

Teams are responsible for ensuring organization-wide cybersecurity through constant monitoring and evolving to contain and resolve security breaches. There is a myriad of functions that SOC teams perform in their day-to-day operations. 

Several functions of the SOC

Maintain security monitoring tools: Analysts perform SOC threat monitoring by using tools to scan an environment continuously and flag any potentially malicious activities or abnormalities. Analysts may utilize AI technology or security automation to find and quickly fix security issues before they develop into breaches. Effective monitoring requires up-to-date threat intelligence for analysts to identify threats in the security infrastructure. 

Threat detection: Security analysts may utilize several tools that allow for effective threat detection within the system. Common tools may include EDR, SIEM, threat intelligence, or XDR solutions allowing 24/7 threat detection. Human analysts deploy these tools to reduce workload, and freeing up focus that can be placed on other security functions. 

Incident response: When a cyberattack has been triaged and identified as a genuine threat, analysts investigate the malicious activity to determine the nature of a threat and the extent to which it has penetrated the environment. If there is a genuine threat, analysts work to contain the threat to prevent it from spreading. Once the threat is contained, SOC teams return the system to its state before the incident.

Compliance management: A critical part of the SOC’s responsibility is ensuring that applications, security tools, and processes comply with privacy regulations. Successful compliance management indicates that an organization maintains high information security.

Best practice for SOC teams 

Security operations teams face many challenges: overworked, understaffed, and wasting time on manual tasks. SOC best practice ensures that security operations maintain an effective strategy that allows teams to thrive and keep organizations secure. 

Strategy Creates Structure: An organization’s cybersecurity posture and business goals should always be in alignment. This process should include an enterprise-wide assessment, during which the team can take inventory of existing assets and resources and identify gaps or potential vulnerabilities within the business. Another key aspect of strategic planning is developing a clear, comprehensive set of processes that will guide the SOC team. These processes should cover all manners of operation, including monitoring, detection, response, and reporting. The organization’s security policy standards should be used to define responsibilities in relation to tasks and accountability for response.

Implement an effective security stack: The SOC comprises different people, processes, and technologies that create security operations teams. Organizing the SOCs tools allow for rapid response to cyber threats, saving time for the team and ensuring threats are contained. A security stack is a vital asset in an effective SOC. Developing a security stack is a continuous process, requiring SOCs to monitor the system for vulnerabilities and threats and update the security stack as needed to keep up with the ever-evolving threat landscape.

Leverage AI: Security analysts often experience fatigue from repetitive and time-consuming tasks. These tasks, such as alert triage, can quickly become monotonous and drain the enthusiasm of even the most dedicated analysts. Automating these mundane tasks allows team members to focus on more intellectually stimulating and challenging work. In recent years, AI has progressed to the point that it can intelligently handle tasks that were once out of reach, freeing up valuable time and energy for security analysts. 

Vital Role of the SOC

SOCs are crucial to maintaining business availability, continuity, and reputation. SOC analysts are most effective when they have tools that enable them to spend less time on tedious tasks and can instead focus on more valuable work like system hardening and threat hunting. AI can be a powerful ally for analysts as it helps them be more productive and effective in their efforts. This in turn helps ensure incidents can be recognized and addressed before they become breaches. 

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