In this age of rapidly advancing technology, businesses big and small must protect sensitive information about their clients, employees, partners, internal operations and more. But with the rising sophistication of cybercriminals and hacking software, this protection has become an increasingly challenging task.
The chances of experiencing a security breach have risen substantially in the last few years. A recent study of businesses in the U.S. found one in four organizations will have their data attacked within a year’s time. The odds of a breach may be high, but so is the cost. Without the right security measures in place, businesses could start accumulating these costs unawares, as the study further states breaches take an average of 206 days to detect.
In light of these discoveries, businesses are exploring new methods to defend themselves reliably against potential cyber attacks. Some rely on advanced programs to scan their networks, while others outsource their cybersecurity entirely to external service providers. Another effective concept that continues to grow in popularity among strategy-focused organizations is the incorporation of a security operation center.
A security operations center, or SOC, is a team of expert individuals and the facility in which they dedicate themselves entirely to high-quality IT security operations. A SOC seeks to prevent cybersecurity threats and detects and responds to any incident on the computers, servers and networks it oversees. What makes a SOC unique is the ability to monitor all systems on an ongoing basis, as employees work in shifts, rotating and logging activity around the clock.
As opposed to a traditional IT department, a SOC staff primarily includes a team of highly experienced cybersecurity analysts and trained engineers. These individuals use a range of computer programs and specialized security processes that can pinpoint weaknesses in the company’s virtual infrastructure and prevent these vulnerabilities from leading to intrusion or theft.
The technologies SOCs employ include an arsenal of firewalls, probes, security information and event management systems and solutions that collect and monitor data as it moves across the various platforms and endpoints. The SOC team stays ahead of potential threats by analyzing active feeds, establishing rules, identifying exceptions, enhancing responses and keeping a close eye on possible vulnerabilities in the defenses they have already set up. Ensuring these programs comply with company, industry and government regulations is also a significant part of a SOC’s job.
With a variety of tasks to perform, using a variety of tech and methods, SOCs can look different depending on a multitude of factors. Some companies have an in-house SOC, while others opt to outsource these services. Most importantly, however, they all have the primary goal of preventing breaches and minimizing losses due to online criminal activity.
These special teams are becoming more prevalent as cybersecurity threats become increasingly catastrophic throughout the public sector, in the military, in health care, among financial institutions, in educational systems and more. But how, precisely, do SOC teams protect their respective organizations from these threats?
Through their active surveillance and analysis, SOCs use strategic methodologies and processes to build and maintain the company’s cybersecurity defenses. These procedures break down into the following identifiable tasks:
- Establishing awareness of assets — From the start of their operations, SOCs need to be well-versed in the tools and technologies at their disposal, as well as the hardware and software running on the network. A high awareness can help maximize the chances of detecting developing threats early on.
- Proactive monitoring — Instead of focusing on reactive measures if irregularities occur, SOCs take intentional steps to detect malicious activities before they lead to substantial harm.
- Managing logs and responses — In case of a breach, it is essential to be able to retrace your steps to find where something may have gone wrong. Thorough logging of activity and communications across the networks can give proper authorities the intel if a forensic investigation comes into play.
- Ranking alerts — When irregularities surface, one of the tasks a SOC will undergo is ranking the severity of incidents. The more aggressive the intrusion, or the more closely it links to a potential network vulnerability, the more urgently the SOC will take action to eliminate the threat.
- Adjusting defenses — Vulnerability management and increasing the awareness of threats are essential parts of preventing security breaches. That includes constant surveillance of perimeter and inside operations, as occasionally breaches occur from within the organization itself.
- Checking compliance — In this age of data technology, there are few things more relevant to information security than maintaining essential compliance regulations. SOCs use their daily efforts to keep up with any mandatory protective measures while going a step further to keep the company from harm.
Each of these tasks is a critical function of SOCs that keeps the organization well-protected as a whole. By covering all of these bases, SOCs maintain control of the company’s array of systems and act immediately and intelligently if an intrusion occurs.
What Are the Primary Benefits of Having a Security Operations Center?
The actions SOCs perform have significant effects on business outcomes for a few key reasons. As cybersecurity is increasingly crucial, brands that embrace more protective measures find themselves ahead of the game. Within their organizations themselves, SOCs can have a positive impact due to their focus and expertise. Here are some of the specific benefits of the security operations center, in whatever form it may come:
- Centralizing the display of assets — A real-time, holistic view of the software and processes that help run an organization makes it easy to detect problems as they occur or sooner. Even with dispersed materials, the centralized, non-stop visualization SOC monitoring offers is highly advantageous in maintaining smooth operations.
- Solidifying client and employee trust — Consumers and employees alike want to know their information will be safe once they offer it to their company of choice. Taking strict measures to prevent data loss is one of the best ways to improve and maintain brand integrity in the long run.
- Collaborating across departments and functions — SOCs are unique in that they are a team of highly trained individuals working toward a common goal. As they proceed during cybersecurity incidents, they require other departments to work similarly to operate efficiently. Within these instances, SOCs help with coordinating and communicating the organization as it strives to resolve the problem collectively.
- Maximizing awareness to minimize costs — Overall, the most significant benefit of a SOC is the increasing your ability to control all systems and reduce the potential for losses of data, contributing to higher returns on investment to prevent breaches. SOCs help maintain the integrity of sensitive information, save money in the long run and assist in avoiding the cost of significant recoveries from theft or fraud.
As the security industry expands, so do the benefits and capabilities of SOCs, and there are several growing trends and enhanced practices that make them increasingly effective at helping businesses thrive, even in times of cybersecurity crisis.
What Are the SOC Best Practices to Follow?
Recent developments in information technologies have led to some of the best SOC cybersecurity practices for newcomers to the SOC to consider. With the business world becoming more and more digitally focused through increasingly cloud-based platforms, the primary objectives of data security measures are shifting, leading to several new security operations center best practices:
- Widening the scope — Not only are cloud-based systems expanding virtual infrastructures, but the growing trend of digitizing nearly every facet of everyday business operations leads to greater exposure. Organizations will need to adequately visualize new processes and communications and monitor them continually, requiring security professionals to be actively engaged in the planning of these procedures, maintaining compliance and detecting potential security incidents across ever-widening horizons.
- Increasing data intake — As these business processes increase the number of events occurring across servers and networks, security teams will also need to collect relevant data to put these events in proper context. Many cyber threats come from unknown sources, so gathering this contextual data can be highly critical to measure whether to rank an incident as unusual or hostile and if it needs to be on the priority list.
- Enforcing deeper analysis — Retrieving all the data is not enough without advanced capabilities of analyzing it. The right employees need to be readily available to weigh visible criteria with known vulnerabilities to create intelligent plans of action. However, the sheer vastness of systems and other security processes could infringe on the employees’ ability to set aside the necessary time and resources for these analyses, leading to a final growing trend: the automation of less intuitive tasks.
- Heading toward automation — As with many other areas of business, the introduction of automated processes has infiltrated the realm of cybersecurity. Primarily in tasks related to management or basic assessment, automation is growing in popularity, as it frees up human users to confront unknown threats with plenty of time and energy. In this way and more, the collaboration between technologies and active employees creates an empowered workforce, which is the backbone of the most highly capable SOCs.
Every day, new tech innovations and business strategies are developing unforeseen ways of securing information and protecting the relationships between brands and clientele. As SOCs expand their capabilities, they are also diversifying in style and composition, leading to the implementation of various SOC models across industry lines.
What Are the Different Security Operations Center Member Roles and Organizational Models?
From team member responsibilities to SOC location and makeup, the variations in SOCs across business landscapes is fairly substantial. There are many roles to play and business requirements to keep up. Some elements can affect a SOC’s appearance, dynamics and capabilities, like financial budgets, the number of employees, access to continuing education and the scope of the team’s influence across departmental lines. However, a few key member roles stand out as likely to be present within most SOC teams, including:
- SOC manager — As the title implies, these individuals manage the personnel, budget and programs within the SOC and report to executive managers. They also interact with management throughout other company departments to coordinate on legal and compliance regulations.
- Incident responder — When security alerts come up, these employees do the initial evaluation of irregularities.
- Forensic investigator — Throughout their analysis of incidents, these specialists gather data and preserve evidence.
- Compliance auditor — These cybersecurity experts monitor the actions of people and the compliance of procedures to ensure staffers are following procedures correctly.
- Cybersecurity analyst — After identifying and analyzing security events, these specialists categorize, rank and escalate potential threat alerts.
Working together to confront cybersecurity incidents as they arise, these individuals can organize and operate in various ways. There are a few standard models SOCs typically fit into, from internally centralized structures to those that run remotely.
- Internal SOC — These models are made up of IT and security professionals within an organization. These team members are either distributed throughout departments or centrally dedicated to cybersecurity monitoring.
- Internal virtual SOC — Without a dedicated facility, these teams are groups of part-time workers who primarily take reactive measures when they receive security alerts.
- Co-managed SOC — A team of semi-dedicated individuals within the organization work together with a third-party managed security service provider to maintain security operations.
- Command SOC — A bit removed from the action, these centers coordinate the efforts of a group of other SOCs, providing additional insights.
- Fusion SOC — Managing multiple types of security-focused facilities, these SOCs oversee the efforts of traditional IT and operational technology teams, along with any advanced cybersecurity initiatives.
- Outsourced virtual SOC — Like the internal virtual SOC mentioned above, these SOCs are remote. However, they are an independent third-party service, rather than coordinating with other in-house employees.
Building a SOC from the ground up, establishing the necessary roles and investing in the proper hardware can be a costly endeavor for businesses that have never intentionally tackled cybersecurity before. Many organizations are turning to service providers for reliable security outcomes, and there are a few different reasons why companies may forego in-house cybersecurity expertise for the outsourced model.
SOCs don’t necessarily have to work side-by-side with the company’s internal security teams to be effective. A fully outsourced SOC relies entirely on an external service provider to take care of the client organization’s cybersecurity needs and protect their intellectual property.
A few reasons an outsourced, virtual SOC is often the best option for many small to medium businesses include avoiding the costly expenses of hiring skilled security engineers and analysts, funding advanced and adequately powered facilities and keeping up with continuing education costs as new threats and cyber tactics emerge. An external service provider enables you to have the benefits of a SOC without shouldering all the extra expenses.
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