A security operations center (SOC) is an organizational team with the tools and expertise to monitor, detect and respond to threats. A well-functioning SOC can help protect data, prevent costly breaches, and ensure compliance with privacy regulations.
Building and staffing an internal SOC is a significant commitment of time and resources. Many organizations outsource some or all SOC functionality to managed security service providers.
Whether your SOC consists of in-house staff or a third-party managed security service provider, its core function is to monitor and detect threats. That means continuous, around-the-clock monitoring of all systems, software, and endpoints (including cloud workloads and remote devices). SOCs are often built on a security information and event management (SIEM) platform that aggregates alerts and telemetry from various hardware and software. These include the functions of the SOC, network discovery, and vulnerability assessment; governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) systems; website scanning tools; penetration testing tools; unified threat management (UTM); enterprise antivirus; and more.
Typically, SIEM platforms offer integrated threat intelligence and advanced analytics. For example, Unified Security Management (USM) uses an extensive threat intelligence feed that is continuously updated and analyzed by Labs. This threat intelligence is then incorporated into USM to provide correlation rules, IDS signatures, and response guidance.
SOC teams work closely with other parts of the organization to identify potential threats. They also collaborate with IT to ensure a security incident doesn’t disrupt business activities. This may include isolating endpoints, removing malware from endpoints, and disconnecting remote devices from the network to contain an attack. Additionally, a SOC team works to minimize damage and recovery time in the aftermath of an incident. This might involve restoring backups, wiping endpoints, and deploying remediation scripts.
A SOC is tasked with detecting threats that could harm the organization. It analyzes hardware and software vulnerability information, conducts regular “hacking” of internal systems to look for weaknesses (penetration testing), and gathers threat intelligence from outside sources.
SOC staff monitor technology infrastructure for any signs of suspicious activity. They do this through various monitoring tools and security information and event management (SIEM) systems that can detect discrepancies, deviations from normal behavior, or other indicators that an attack may be underway.
When a threat is detected, SOC teams must quickly determine whether it’s dangerous by evaluating the severity of an alert—they must prioritize the most severe threats and avoid wasting valuable time on false positives. This requires a deep understanding of every piece of hardware and software used across the organization, including how it’s configured, how often it’s modified, business criticality, and more.
The SOC must also be able to rapidly find the origins of a problem and trace it back to prevent similar incidents from occurring. This requires the team to have the right security tools in place that allow them to discover, analyze and respond to threats with confidence and automation.
The SOC’s role is to protect against attacks and mitigate the effects of threats. While it is impossible to prevent all cyberattacks, a SOC team can help minimize damage and recover data and systems quickly. This is done through round-the-clock monitoring and investigation of any potential security incidents.
When monitoring tools issue alerts, the SOC’s responsible for investigating them, discarding false positives, and triaging emerging threats. They may take action like isolating endpoints, terminating harmful processes, preventing processes from executing or deleting files to stop an attack from spreading. When they act, they strive to cause as little disruption to users’ activities and systems as possible, so the organization can continue operating smoothly.
SOC teams also work to understand when, how, and why a breach happened. They do this by examining log information, which can reveal behavior patterns and help track the location of malicious code. Ultimately, this helps determine how the threat could enter the system and can be used to prevent future attacks.
SOC teams require a high level of agility to protect the full spectrum of assets in the infrastructure, including devices, servers, and third-party services, as well as network connections and encrypted data. This requires a single, centralized security management platform that provides complete visibility into all of these assets in real-time rather than relying on separate tools that are disconnected and don’t share data.
SOC teams protect everything from applications, databases, and servers to end-user devices and Internet of Things (IoT) equipment. To do so, they must have complete visibility of the asset landscape.
One way to achieve this visibility is by analyzing data generated by the organization’s security tools. These data feeds are gathered by various systems, such as vulnerability assessment solutions, governance, risk and compliance (GRC) systems, firewalls, intrusion prevention systems, user and entity behavior analytics, endpoint detection and remediation solutions, and threat intelligence platforms.
The SOC team analyzes this data and monitors the technology infrastructure for abnormal activity. This activity is compared to a set of rules and metrics defining an average network performance level. In addition, the SOC identifies and assigns severity rankings to alerts. This helps the team prioritize the most significant threats.
The SOC also creates system back-ups – or assists in creating backup policies and procedures – in case of a data breach, ransomware attack, or other cybersecurity incident. Finally, the SOC investigates the cause of an incident and works to remediate it, all while minimizing the impact on users’ activities. This might involve isolating affected endpoints, terminating harmful processes, preventing malicious software from executing on other connected devices, and deleting files. The goal is to eradicate the threat while minimizing disruption to business operations.