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A security operations center, often referred to as a SOC, is a centralized headquarters—either a real, physical place or a virtual organization—for monitoring, detecting, and responding to security issues and incidents that a business may face. There are several models for implementing a SOC as part of a larger incident detection and response (IDR) program, including in-house models, co-managed models, and fully managed or outsourced models.
You might think of a security operations center like a stereotypical movie war room: a dark room filled with complex maps, fancy monitors, and analysts on headsets. However, most SOCs aren't really a physical presence or room; more accurately, they're a formally organized team that's dedicated to a specific set of security roles and responsibilities for detecting and validating threats within your environment.
No matter a company's size or purpose, it’s valuable to have a dedicated organizational-level team whose job is to constantly monitor security operations and incidents and respond to any issues that may arise. The various responsibilities within a cybersecurity team can be extremely complex, and a SOC can not only serve as the tactical console to empower team members in performing their day-to-day tasks, but also as a strategic center to keep the team aware of bigger, longer-term security trends.
A typical security operations center tracks any number of security alerts that an organization might encounter, including potential threat notifications via technologies and tools, as well as employees, partners, and external sources. From that point, the SOC then investigates and validates the reported threat to make sure it's not a false positive (i.e. a reported threat that's actually harmless). If the security incident is deemed to be valid and requires a response, the SOC hands it over to the appropriate persons or teams for response and recovery.
It takes a sophisticated combination of expertise, process, and organization to effectively run a security operations center as part of an overall incident detection and response program. That's why every organization may not be able to support or resource a SOC in-house. Instead, many opt to have their SOC managed by an outside agency or even completely outsourced.
There are a number of supporting components that must be in place before a SOC is a viable option for an organization. The first is having a good attack surface management program. This includes threat prevention technology for all threat ingress and egress avenues, regular vulnerability scanning (and associated patching), pen testing, user authentication and authorization, asset management, external application testing (with associated patching), and remote access management.
Next is having an incident response plan. Typically, one of the main goals of introducing a SOC into an IDR program is increasing the effectiveness of detecting threats in the organization’s environment. If the incident response processes that follow a breach’s discovery are not in place and tested regularly, you are only addressing some components of an effective IDR program.
Finally, it’s important to have a disaster recovery plan in place. A breach is simply one specific example of a disaster that organizations need to recover from. Once the detected breach has been fully scoped and the affected assets, applications, and users have been contained, there needs to be a plan in place to restore normal business operating processes. This is disaster recovery.
Given a security operation center’s inherent complexity, there are a lot of things to consider when setting one up. Regardless of whether it’s being created in-house or outsourced, preparing for the following three elements is essential to the SOC’s success:
The points above still apply when working with an outsourced SOC provider. A SOC will be a trusted organizational partner, and as such it’s essential they’re proactive and regular in their communications, transparency, feedback, and collaboration with you to make sure your SOC is as successful and effective as possible.