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Importance of Security Operations Center (SOC)

Security

February 27, 2023

Enterprises across the globe are aware that cybercriminals do not follow standard working hours to strike an attack on a company’s cyber assets. They are known to act swiftly on weekends, holidays and after hours, wherein the threat response time tends to lag a lot. Therefore, the need for dedicated Security Operations Centres is crucial, and this is irrespective of the size or domain of the enterprise. This brings us to the definition of what is a SOC. A Security Operations Center, otherwise known as SOC, is a critical centralized unit within an organisation responsible for monitoring, detecting, investigating, responding and preventing its security posture and threat 24 x 7, which is managed by the IT security or InfoSec team. Thus, SOC acts as a hub, ensuring an organization’s IT network always operates securely, round the clock.

Need for a Security Operations Centre (SOC)

SOC utilizes a combination of the right tools and the right people to build, operate and maintain the security architecture within an organization using advanced technologies. A SOC’s primary function is to monitor & protect an organization’s IT assets, IPR, personnel data, and business systems and, thus, safeguard brand integrity. In addition, the SOC engineers strategize and implement a comprehensive cyber security strategy that encapsulates activity on servers, networks, applications, endpoint devices, websites, and other critical internal systems to identify and detect a vulnerability and defend most effectively against it.

Responsibilities of Security Operations Center

Let us look at the responsibilities of a SOC in detail:

24/7 Monitoring:

Proactive, around-the-clock monitoring of the organization’s network ecosystem for threat and incident response.

Log Monitoring:

Analysis of logs, network traffic patterns, and other external data sources to identify potential vulnerabilities.

Threat Intelligence:

Threat intelligence can assist the SOC team in making the right decisions to prevent an attack and decrease the time it takes to discover the threat in action.

Threat Hunting:

The threat-hunting module within a SOC is aimed at finding cyber threats within an enterprise’s network before they do any harm.

Root Cause Analysis:

Root cause analysis (RCA) is a systematic analysis & process to define, measure, analyze, improve, control and document the root cause of an incident to ensure the incident is not repeated.

Rules/ Policies Creation:

Create consistent policies that integrate best practices and organizational requirements for monitoring, incident response, reporting, and staffing.

Playbook Preparation:

A playbook defines a security workflow by outlining the steps teams will take to handle different security incidents in real-time. SOC playbooks drive teams to collaborate effectively to resolve incidents as fast as possible.

Blue Teaming:

A blue team is a company’s own cybersecurity employees and teams within a Security Operations Centre (SOC), which adds vital human intelligence to tools and tech. A mock attack scenario prepares them for real-world attacks and brings them in to identify, respond and defend against the attack.

Assessment & Compliance Audit:

SOC defines auditing procedures for organizations to securely manage data to protect their interests and privacy.

Device Management:

A SOC acts like the hub managing all of the organization’s IT infrastructure, including networks, devices, appliances, tools and databases, and other assets.

Roles within a SOC and Structure

Several tiers of security professionals, engineers and administration roles make up the SOC in an organization. Members of a SOC team include:

SOC Manager:

This role essentially supervises the overall security systems and procedures.

Analysts:

Analysts are responsible for compiling and analysis of the data, either from a fixed duration of time (previous week, quarter, or month) or after an incident has occurred. Depending upon the size of the SOC piece, there may be different tiers within the analyst role (senior/junior/lead).

Investigator:

The investigator’s role revolves around understanding the breach and investigating the reasons behind the same. They work in close tandem with the responder (one person may perform both “investigator” and “responder” roles).

Responder:

Responding to a security breach is the most critical task during a crisis. A responder is called in to address the issue.

Auditor:

SOC auditor is responsible for regularly auditing the systems to ensure compliance with regulations, which may be issued by an organization, industry, or governing bodies. Examples of these regulations include GDPR, HIPAA, and PCI DSS.

SOC Models

The security operations center (SOC) is the heart of an organization’s cybersecurity framework. Organizations may differ in terms of their expectations and requirements from a SOC. Based on geography, underlying infrastructure, regulatory needs, or budget, organizations may want to pick and choose among different SOC Models, as one size may not fit all. The Gartner Security Operations Centre (SOC) Hybrid-Internal-Tiered (HIT) Model suggests three models which organizations can evaluate and determine which SOC model would best align with their needs and requirements.

The three SOC models, as suggested by Gartner, are:

Hybrid SOC:

A hybrid SOC structure is an amalgamation of internal organization resources and managed service providers that together deliver to reduce the likelihood & impact of cyber-attacks. It usually engages a Managed Security Service (MSS), Managed Detection & Response (MDR), or a managed SIEM provider. This model helps reduce 24 x 7 operations costs and, thus, is preferred by SMEs and large organizations alike.

Internal SOC:

An internal SOC comprises of organization-owned threat detection and response team which functions round the clock, in-house. The organization designs and implements robust processes and frameworks to run the complete SOC structure and manage the SOC triad: People, Process, and Technology. Within an internal SOC implementation, enterprises may occasionally outsource a few specialized functions by choice (e.g. Technical Testing). Internal SOCs are CAPEX & OPEX heavy. Usually, they are preferred by organizations with deep pockets as the staff prerequisite for 24 x 7 coverage, and tool licenses are capital intensive.

Tiered SOC:

A tiered SOC model is made up of various stand-alone and independent SOCs inside an organization. Large and geographically distributed organizations with global operations usually prefer the tiered model. The individual SOCs are orchestrated by a parent (top-tier) SOC. Another implementation of a tiered approach may be within organizations with smaller groups or business units which need SOCs to run independently within these groups.
The security functions within a tiered SOC model are led by the top-tier SOC, which handles threat intelligence and response and lays down procedures and specifications for SOC operations.

SOC Model Decision Matrix Gartner

Benefits of having a Security Operations Center (SOC)

A SOC is an indispensable part of the overall cyber-security strategy for an enterprise today. A robust SOC ensures continuous network monitoring, centralized visibility, and better collaboration for the IT teams in an organization.
Let us look at the benefits of the Security Operations Center:

Continuous Monitoring and Prevention:

SOCs run 24 x 7 x 365, and uninterrupted operations are one of the most crucial aspects to thwart any threat over the organization’s network. SOCs ensure monitoring and prevention at all hours, even outside of standard business hours.

Effective Incident Response:

SOC workflows define a standard set of procedures to be followed when the crisis hits. This reduces the time elapsed between incident detection and incident management. In addition, the SOC analysts further work on studying the threat and its implications and the probability of the same threat to re-engineer & pose a threat.

Centralized Visibility:

Today’s enterprise networks have become much more complex with the advent of remote working, the Internet of things (IoT), Bring-your-own-device (BYOD), and the geographical spread of larger organizations. Effectively securing such a disparate network demands a comprehensive, modern technology stack with an integrated network visibility system which is a SOC.

Organization-wide Collaboration:

An organization must have clear and transparent processes to report a security incident. A SOC brings people, processes, and technology within the same group to effectively communicate & collaborate when a threat hits. The SOC team also works towards raising awareness about new threats within the organization to its employees and other internal stakeholders.

Reduction in Cyber security costs:

SOC is a centralized hub to tackle malicious attacks. It removes the need for each function, department, location, or vertical to invest in the latest preventive tools licenses and thus brings down the overall CAPEX towards cyber security.

Additionally, threat management using SOC helps to bring down the effect of a breach and the potential costs the breach may incur via data exposure, legal cases, or business reputation damage.

Compliance Management:

SOC ensures regular system audits and compliance towards industry, quality systems, or government. These audits also help uncover any other lapses within the systems that may put sensitive data within the organization at risk & thus shield the organization from reputational damage and other legal challenges in the future.

Benefits of Security Operations Centre

SOC as a Service (SOCaaS)

With the ever-evolving cyber security ecosystem and growing complexity of vulnerabilities, an organization may need help to operate an effective and mature SOC in-house. Organizations may face issues with finding skilled cyber-security talent or expensive to retain them for 24 x 7 critical SOC operations. Also, a robust SOC involves investment in a plethora of security tools, technologies & solutions to address the vulnerabilities as digital attack surface continues to increase as an organization accelerates towards digitization.

The solution to this is Managed Security Operations Center (Managed SOC) or Security Operations Center as a Service (SOCaaS). SOCaaS allows a solution provider to operate and maintain a fully managed SOC on a subscription basis. SOCaaS encompasses the entire gamut of security functions performed by a traditional, in-house SOC (network monitoring, log management, threat detection, intelligence & response, incident investigation, reporting, and risk audit & compliance). The managed service provider for SOC services also carries the responsibility for the SOC staffing, processes, technologies, and tools & compliance with procedures needed for round-the-clock support and SOC operations.
According to a report by Markets and Markets, the global Security Operations Center as a Service (SOCaaS) market size is projected to reach USD 10.1 billion by 2027, at a CAGR of 10.5% from 2022 to 2027.

Benefits of SOCaaS

Organizations planning to build an in-house SOC or that are already operating an in-premises SOC may decide to outsource SOC management and deployment depending on the maturity level of their organization, current security posture, and management decisions.

Some of the benefits of moving to a SOCaaS are:

Faster Deployment and Remediation:

Managed SOC services ensure that the latest technology, tools, and expert people are always available to manage the threat. Outsourcing also ensures faster deployment as compared to building, deploying, and setting up SOC operations all by itself from an organization’s perspective.

Lower risk of loss from a breach:

SOCaaS provides organizations with access to hyper-specialized security experts from the industry talent pool without the overhead of hiring or retaining talent. These resources are critical to handling security events, analysis of network activities, and the formulation of a remediation strategy.

Access to the latest technologies:

It has been observed that one of the common causes of breaches is outdated software or operating systems or modules not upgraded with the latest patches. With understaffed IT teams, paying attention to this aspect is difficult, thus inviting attackers and cybercriminals. SOCaaS ensures dedicated resource alignment towards updating systems with the latest updates, tool licenses, and technologies & empowers the organization to better fight the incident as well as limit potential risk. In addition, it ensures access to best-of-breed security solutions.

Scalability and Flexibility:

SOCaaS, like other solutions as a service, ensures better flexibility and adaptability. As business scenarios evolve, SOCaaS ensures teams and services may easily be scaled up or down based on the organisation’s requirements. However, scalability is usually difficult in a tight-bound model as human resources– are finite and generally cannot be scaled up quickly as the need arises.

Lower cost than on-premises SOC:

SOCaaS can prove to be more cost-effective than deploying and operating an on-premises SOC. Expenditures associated with talent management, tool licenses, equipment, hardware, and software, are shared by multiple customers on the service provider’s side. This brings down the overall cost for each subscriber. SOCaaS pricing models have also evolved as Pay-as-you-go with a specific lock-in period meaning that subscriber only pays for the services they consume.

Resource optimization:

Increased exposure of an organisation’s sensitive information and critical assets to the web makes them prone to more serious economic, reputational & compliance damages. This situation has pushed a higher demand for highly proficient security engineers and analysts within the labor market.

SOCaaS helps solve the challenge of acquiring and maintaining workforce availability as the service provider ensures that the SOC is always staffed with able manpower. It also reduces the pressure of mundane tasks on an organization’s internal IT team to focus on other tasks.

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