What is a Security Operations Center?

Cyber security

The way workplaces around the globe are functioning has undergone a sea change. With the hybrid work culture and work-from-anywhere settings becoming the new normal, offices have had to adapt to a new style of infrastructural arrangement. This entire shift of working remotely has also raised serious concerns about data security and network safety with cyber attacks and data theft becoming a widespread menace. In such a rapidly changing scenario, companies must find a way to tackle this ever-hovering threat and develop a system that will not only keep the systems, networks and data safe but also keep the workflow smooth and well-integrated.

With cybersecurity a priority for every business that depends on their IT, there are a lot of different strategies being utilized out there to keep threats off of networks and data safe. One of the most advanced strategies being used today is enlisting a service that runs a Security Operations Center (SOC). Today, we’ll investigate what a SOC is and how it works to keep security threats at bay.

What is a Security Operations Center?

Security Operations Center

The Security Operations Center is a lot like the Network Operations Center (NOC), but its whole purpose is to monitor computing networks and devices and eliminate threats to their efficient operation. While that description may seem simple, business computing infrastructures are typically complex with a lot of end users, making network and device security a complicated endeavor.

Today’s businesses have computing infrastructures and networks that run around the clock, and the SOC is staffed to facilitate that 24/7/365 demand for security monitoring and services. Working hand-in-hand with your NOC (and perhaps other IT administrators depending on the complexity of your business’ IT), the SOC typically handles the overarching cybersecurity strategy.

Typically, businesses want their IT to align with how they want to run their business and part of that is maintaining uptime and keeping threats off of the endpoints, networks, and the vast amount of infrastructure that makes up the network. After all, all it takes is one vulnerability to be exploited and it can create major problems. The SOC deploys a myriad of tools and strategies all designed to do one thing: stay ahead of threats to the network.

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How the SOC Operates

As we stated previously, the SOC functions much like a NOC in that its main purpose is comprehensive around-the-clock monitoring and notification. If something goes wrong on the network, the SOC will log the issue and do what it can to mitigate the issue. As these things happen it will notify the IT administrator (the NOC) of the issue to keep them in the loop. Let’s take a brief look at some of the services the SOC will provide:

  • Complete assessment

    The discovery process is a major part of how the SOC can be most effective. In being aware of all the hardware, applications, and other tools on the network(s) your business needs, the SOC can ensure that everything is monitored continuously. This enables the designing of apt intrusion prevention systems that can help strengthen the organization’s security posture.

  • Continuous monitoring

    Not only will the SOC monitor software and traffic trends, it will also monitor user and system behaviors as a way to identify issues.

  • Thorough logging

    Keeping large computing networks secure is a big job, and a lot of your executive and managerial team don’t have the knowledge or the time to stay on top of threats as they come in. Keeping logs of every action the SOC makes, including communications with vendors/employees and steps taken to keep the network and infrastructure free from threats is a great way to provide a layer of oversight to the security process. It’s also an important factor in staying compliant with any regulatory mandates.

  • Comprehensive Incident Response and Investigation

    This is where the SOC really becomes a major benefit for the security of your company’s IT. Not only do SOC technicians respond quickly to any security incidents, they also work fast to investigate what caused the issue in the first place. Going further than your typical IT management, the main benefit of the SOC is the mitigation of efficiency-sapping issues such as malware and other manners of attack.

Services of a Security Operations Center

 Security Operations Center

Now that we know how important Security Operations Center is and the benefits it provides, let’s look at all the services it renders:

Prepare, Plan, and Prevent

To ensure that everything is secured, the SOC needs to have an exhaustive list of everything that needs to be protected within or outside the data center. This includes databases, applications, cloud services, servers, endpoints, etc. This asset inventory management also includes the tools required to protect the assets like antivirus, anti-malware, firewalls, anti-ransomware tools, monitoring software, etc. Many a time, asset discovery tools are used to manage these tasks.

Once the security tools are in place, the SOC must perform preventive maintenance to maximize these tools. The preventive measures include software upgrades and application of software patches, regular firewall upgradation, whitelists and blacklists, and security procedures and processes. A SOC must also develop a system backup process to ensure that the business continues to run even in case of a data breach, cyber-attack or cybersecurity threat.

If any such incident does present itself, the SOC must have a contingency incident response plan in hand. This plan defines activities and roles and responsibilities in case of an emergency. In addition to this, the SOC must also chart out the parameters that will measure the efficiency of these contingency plans in terms of handling the emergency.

Once all the plans are in place, they should be followed by regular testing to ensure that the plans are effective and capable of handling a crisis. This can be done by performing vulnerability assessments – it is a thorough assessment that tests and detects every resource’s vulnerability to potential threats and the cost associated with them. These tests also allow teams to rectify and upgrade any loopholes in the system so that when a real scenario presents itself, the team and the systems are best prepared to handle it.

Since technology is rapidly changing, it is important for the SOC to keep its security solutions updated to tackle even the most advanced threat intelligence. They must keep themselves abreast with the latest technology news, types of cyberattacks happening across the world, and even the dark web that also poses a potential threat to an organization.

Monitor, Detect, and Respond

One of the main aims of a SOC is to provide continuous and round-the-clock monitoring. It monitors the entire IT infrastructure including servers, applications, software, computing devices, networks, and cloud workload at all times to detect any suspicious activity.

A majority of SOCs depend on a technology called system information and event management (SIEM). It monitors and keeps an aggregate of all kinds of alerts and telemetry from the company’s software and hardware to analyze this data to detect future threats. Another advanced form of technology that many SOCs are utilizing these days is extended detection and response technology (XDR). This technology is more advanced as it not only provides more detailed alert and telemetry data but also automates incidence detection and response.

Storing and analysing log data is yet another important exercise that SOCs perform. While most IT departments store log data, not all of them analyze it. It is this analysis that makes a whole lot of difference. A SOC will have the ability to study the log data and decipher anomalies and suspicious activities. Most hackers and cybercriminals thrive on the fact that not every company stores and analyses log data. This allows their viruses and malware to run undetected in the systems for weeks and months, damaging the systems to a large extent.

This is usually followed by threat detection and incident response from the SOCs. Modern systems are able to integrate Artificial Intelligence into their threat detection repertoire that makes spotting any suspicious activity more efficient. In response to these detected threats, a SOC can take the following actions:

Investigating the root cause of the threat. This helps them determine the vulnerability that let the hackers run their malware and access the system. Other factors like bad passwords, or poor implementation of policies are also taken into account

  • Disconnecting or shutting down all weak endpoints
  • Stopping or isolating compromised areas in the network or routing the network traffic differently
  • Stopping or pausing applications and processes that are below par
  • Removing files that are damaged or infected
  • Running anti-virus or malware software
  • Withdrawing passwords that can be used internally as well as externally

Recovery, Improvement, and Compliance

The recovery process involves removing the identified threat and then working on the affected asset to move them back to the state they were before being infected. This includes restoring, and reconnecting disks, end-user devices and other similar endpoints, wiping, restarting applications and processes, and restoring network traffic. In case of a cyberattack or ransomware attack, the recovery process may involve isolating the backup systems, and resetting all the passwords and other authentication certifications.

Once this step is complete, the SOC works on stopping similar threats from reoccurring by using the intelligence gained from this incident to resolve the vulnerabilities, updating policies and processes, selecting new security tools, and revising the entire incident plan. The SOC may also work towards finding out if the said cybersecurity threat indicates a changing or new trend that they must be prepared for in the future.

These steps are followed by compliance management. The SOC must ensure that all applications, systems, and security tools and processes are in compliance with the data privacy regulations like CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act), PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, GDPR (Global Data Protection Regulation), and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). The SOC must then notify the regulation authorities, law enforcement agents, and other parties about the occurrence and retain the data for evidence and auditing.

Key Members of the Security Operations Center 

The SOC is an important part of any organization, whether in-house or outsourced. There are some key members that comprise this team and they all play an important role in ensuring that an organization’s data is safe and secured.

SOC Manager

The SOC Manager is responsible for overseeing the entire SOC team, and the security operations, and then reports it to the company’s chief information security office

Security Engineer

These engineers are responsible for building and managing the company’s security structure. A lot of what they do includes evaluating, testing, recommending, executing and upkeeping security tools and technologies

Security Analyst

These analysts, also called security investigators or incident responders are the first ones to respond to any cybersecurity threat. They detect, analyze and prioritize threats, identify the applications and processes impacted by the threat, and then take appropriate action to minimize or eradicate the impact of the threat

Threat Hunters

They are also referred to as expert security analysts, who master at detecting and controlling advanced threats, threat variants and new threats that might have gone past the automated detection systems

While these are the core members of the SOC, bigger organizations may also have other team members like the Director of Incident Response (these professionals communicate and coordinate incident response), Chief Information Security Officer
and foreign investigators (they have a stronghold on detecting and analysing damaged devices during a cybersecurity incident).

Challenges SOCs Face and the Possible Solutions 

A SOC is a team that identifies, mitigates, and improves systems after a cyber threat. Since the team works in challenging conditions, there are several difficulties they face that must be addressed and resolved immediately so that SOC can efficiently manage its core responsibilities. Here are some challenges that SOC faces and how they can overcome them.

Limited Access to Talented Professionals

In the world of SOC environment, there is a huge shortage of talented security professionals and the demand for them is quite high, especially now that cybersecurity is becoming a huge crisis. In such a situation, SOCs have their work cut out and the demand for their services and workload may easily overwhelm them. To tackle this situation, companies must identify talent from within their organization and look at upskilling those professionals. The SOCs must also keep a backup for all positions so that if a position goes vacant, they can fill it up with the standby alternative.

Advanced and Sophisticated Attacks

The world of cybercrimes is evolving at a rapid pace. Today’s hackers and cybercriminals continuously find new ways to attack systems by using advanced malware that traditional security systems cannot detect. This requires every information security operations center to be on it toes all the time and be prepared to tackle the most advanced cyberattacks. The best way to handle this situation is to deploy anomaly detection or implement tools that have the capability of machine learning. This will allow SOCs to detect and flag off cyber threats more efficiently.

Large Amounts of Data and Congested Networks

There has been a huge surge in the amount of data every organization now deals with. And securing, analysing, and deciphering this astronomical amount of data is a huge challenge for SOCs. Automated systems are the best tools that SOCs must use to manage this data.

Threat & Alert Exhaustion

The larger the amount of data available, the more analysis is done by SOCs. This means that there are regular anomalies occurring in different systems, developing a sense of fatigue in the SOC team members. From this huge number of anomalies occurring on a regular basis, not all will provide the right direction for developing a security intelligence system, distracting them from their core work. SOCs must develop systems that can filter high-intensity anomalies from the ones that don’t require immediate attention. Behavioral analytics tools can also help in ensuring that the SOC is concentrating on the right kind of anomalies and not wasting its time on low-fidelity alerts.

Unknown Threats

It is not always possible to identify unknown threats through conventional signature-based detection, firewalls, and endpoint detection. Therefore. SOCs must devise a different and more efficient method by improving their signature, rules, and threshold-based detection of threats. This can be done by using behavior analytics.

Security Tool Overload

Since cybersecurity is becoming a huge concern, companies end up implementing multiple security tools. These tools are often disconnected from each other and don’t work in tandem. SOCs must deploy more integrated and centralized monitoring systems so that every threat is effectively detected and resolved.

Security is important for every organization, and they must ensure proper SOCs are implemented to make the processes, data, and information secure against highly-advanced cybercrimes in today’s age. With data requirements skyrocketing in today’s modern workplaces, SOC is important for organizations to detect threats and respond to them quickly.

If you think your business could use a Security Operations Center service to keep your growing network and infrastructure clean from threats and working for your business, give Point North Networks, Inc., a call today at 651-234-0895. We are a trusted managed security service providers, and can facilitate your business with the best-in-class SOC teams to help you avert any unwanted cybersecurity incidents.