Maximizing Efficiency: Key Functions of a Security Operations Center

While many people imagine a SOC as a room filled with fancy monitors and teams wearing headsets, the reality is far more complex. SOCs are tasked with monitoring an ever-growing attack surface, detecting threats, and taking action to minimize risk to the enterprise.

Response

Many industries need to be made aware of what is SOC. A SOC monitors and defends against cyberattacks on databases, data centers, servers, networks, and endpoints. This includes protecting Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices that may include anything from kitchen microwaves to warehouse scanners.

SOC teams continuously observe, analyze, and respond to security threats around the clock. This enables them to reduce the time needed to discover and contain an incident.

This process begins with monitoring systems that collect telemetry and alerts from an organization’s data center, network infrastructure, devices, and other equipment. This enables SOC analysts to review and identify patterns of attack or vulnerability exploits that could lead to an incident.

While a SOC team investigates, it’s important to prioritize alerts to avoid the risk of being distracted by noise or false positives. To prevent this, a SOC should use behavior analytics tools to prioritize high-fidelity alerts over low-fidelity ones and quickly identify anomalous behavior.

A SOC can be a single physical location or a virtual SOC that uses remote security professionals to monitor and respond to threats. This allows organizations to avoid the cost of building and maintaining a SOC in-house but still receive the benefits of security staffing and technology.

Detection

Detection is one of the key functions of a security operations center, which is tasked with monitoring all activity to protect networks and endpoints. This can include analyzing the data to determine vulnerabilities and compliance with industry or government regulations. It also includes detecting unusual activity, such as a spike in data exfiltration or malware infections, to ensure all potential threats are identified and responded to.

To identify security threats, the SOC team must use integrated monitoring tools to maximize coverage and effectiveness. This can include a security information and event management (SIEM) solution, a vulnerability assessment platform, cloud access security brokers (CASB), intrusion detection systems (IDS), and user and entity behavior analytics solutions.

Once an incident is detected, the SOC will report it to an appropriate team for response and recovery. This can include wiping and restoring disks, resetting passwords, resetting devices, and reconnecting network traffic. It can also involve implementing new rules to prevent future incidents or working with law enforcement to prosecute cybercriminals.

Detection requires an experienced SOC team that can monitor and analyze all data from the organization, continuously working to respond to cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities. Because of the high level of expertise required, some organizations may be unable to support and resource an in-house SOC and instead choose to partner with a provider for a fully managed or hybrid model known as Security Operations Center as a Service (SOCaaS). In this case, the provider can help minimize staffing gaps with security experts who are always current on the latest best practices and technologies.

Analysis

Security operations centers can be in-house or outsourced to a managed service provider (MSSP) that specializes in security analysis and response. Outsourced SOCs offer greater flexibility and cost savings than traditional on-premises SOC models.

An essential function of a SOC is to manage and prioritize cybersecurity threats. When monitoring tools detect anomalies, SOC teams must evaluate each alert carefully to discard any false positives and determine how aggressive any actual threats are and what they could target. This allows SOCs to rank threats in order of severity so that the most pressing alerts are addressed first. The SOC also maintains a complete inventory of organization assets that need protection, including applications, databases, servers, cloud services, and endpoints. This information enables the SOC to monitor everything in real-time, reducing the time it takes to detect and respond to incidents.

A security information and event management (SIEM) system is necessary for any SOC, as it consolidates all machine data from disparate monitoring tools into one view of network activity. It can then automatically analyze the massive amounts of security data, filtering out and identifying suspicious or malicious patterns. This can significantly reduce the number of alerts and empower security analysts to focus on the most pressing threats. 

Automation

A security operations center can be a formidable threat to hackers, reducing their time to breach and damage the organization. It continuously monitors and analyzes activities across an enterprise’s network, servers, databases, and endpoints, minimizing the gap between attackers’ time of compromise and an organization’s ability to detect the incident.

A SOC relies on many tools and services to identify potential threats, ranging from monitoring software that analyzes machine data to specialized endpoint protection systems that can shut down devices, disconnect them from the network, or delete files to stop malware execution. To manage these tools effectively, a SOC needs a single security management platform, an SIEM, or a security information event manager (SIEM).

SIEM platforms offer visibility into all activity within an organization’s network. They take real-time data from services that poll critical security data from various devices, pulling and storing it in a central repository for further analysis. They can even automate detecting suspicious or anomalous activity, freeing up SOC analysts to focus on investigations and threat containment.