Having a security operations center (SOC) to protect and secure your data is no longer optional. As cyber criminals grow more sophisticated and modern complexities (remote work, the cloud, international operations) increase cybersecurity risks, a SOC becomes a critical line of defense. It works proactively and reactively and can help an organization advance their security posture while dealing with immediate threats.
However, while an effective SOC is an important element of a cybersecurity structure, it’s not easy for many organizations to spend time, money, and employee resources on one.
Every business has unique needs, so how much an organization should budget for a SOC depends on the size of the attack surface and the level of protection it expects to deliver. A small business with a few hundred users in one office will naturally have different requirements than a multinational enterprise with hundreds of thousands of employees.
To build and implement a SOC that will be both cost effective and operationally effective, you first need to understand both the factors that impact costs and the level of SOC you wish to achieve.
What to Consider When Building a SOC
Before discussing budget, there are a few logistical considerations an organization needs to make when it comes to building a SOC.
A SOC can’t run effectively without cybersecurity experts taking the lead. Unfortunately, in the current climate, these experts can be difficult to find. According to a recent survey conducted by Arctic Wolf, 41% of organizations listed “talent shortages” as their top concern for 2023.
In addition, layoffs have hit enterprises hard, with 62% of organizations having to reduce staff in 2022. Staff instability often means that institutional knowledge leaves when employees do, creating more risk.
People are the most important part of a SOC, as they take the data presented and make decisions on how to respond and what to prioritize in order to keep an organization protected in both the short and long term.
A SOC not only needs security experts, but it also requires the right security tools in place to maximize their capabilities. Significant software and hardware infrastructure investments must be made to ensure your business achieves an optimal security posture.
As each new tool is added, it takes your staff time to implement and learn the software, which is time not spent looking for current threats. Not to mention that while technology is important, it can also lead to alert fatigue which can overwhelm an already strained staff and cause organizations to miss critical threats.
Standing up an internal SOC can take months or even years to hire staff, buy security hardware and software, and then implement it throughout the enterprise. Depending on where you are in your SOC journey, you may have to spend more than you would otherwise to cover up gaps and take baby steps on your security journey.
In addition, a SOC cannot run on its own. The time it takes to sift through alerts, prioritize threats, and act adds up. It’s necessary time, but it’s not a quick process, especially for an organization that may be struggling with talent and budget.
Why an Organization Needs a SOC
As mentioned above, combining technology and the human element into a sophisticated command center is critical in the modern cybersecurity age. The benefits of utilizing a SOC, be it in-house or outsourced, include:
- Improved efficiency. An effective security operations team functions like a well-oiled machine.
- Optimization of existing security technology. Security operations analyzes the telemetry from the organization’s existing security solutions, allowing them to optimize the value an organization realizes from these investments.
- Continuous improvement. Security operations looks at the big picture to derive strategic insights that can improve an organization’s overall security posture.
- Security assurance. Organizations can focus on other goals knowing their security is in the right hands and ready for whatever threats emerge.
- Knowledge. You can’t protect what you don’t know, and security operations offer thorough knowledge of both assets, vulnerabilities, and the attack surface.
- Broad visibility. When organizations rely on a multitude of applications, end points, and cloud environments. Gaining visibility across the vast security environment can be difficult, leading to blind spots and missed threats. SOCs solve that.
- Better threat intelligence. Back to the knowledge component, SOCs can gather threat intelligence, allowing an organization to better prepare for, and thwart attacks.
- Vulnerability management. SOCs can help organizations implement a strong vulnerability management strategy to help prevent attacks before they occur by eliminating the weaknesses attackers can exploit to gain a foothold in the environment.
The Different Types of SOCs Organizations Use
When it comes to building a SOC, the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) has a cybersecurity framework that every organization should follow.
The functions of an effective SOC include:
Each of these functions has specific traits associated with them, and you can learn more about the framework with our Security Assessment.
According to Gartner, there are five different models for building and maintaining a SOC:
- A virtual SOC that does not reside in a dedicated facility nor have dedicated infrastructure.
- A multi-function SOC and network operations center (NOC) that combines infrastructure, teams and functions.
- A co-managed SOC where some duties remain internal while others are off-loaded to an external team.
- A dedicated SOC with centralized, exclusive infrastructure, teams, and processes.
- A command SOC which contains multiple SOCs distributed regionally or globally.
In addition, a SOC can vary depending on the resources provided to it. Some SOCs, often called entry-level SOCs, have a mix and match of different services and people that were added to solve specific problems, but which are not yet unified under a holistic SOC strategy and process. Others, like best-in-class SOCs, have dedicated experts working 24×7 to detect and prevent threats across the network.
In addition, these set ups contain analysts that are tasked with proactively hunting down threats and plugging holes before they become issues.
How Much Does a SOC Cost?
Depending on your current maturity and desired SOC end state, the cost of building a SOC can vary wildly. If you assume the average security analyst costs $90,000 a year, a fully staffed, 24×7 team could easily cost more than $1 million a year at a minimum. Factor in the cost of the software, hardware, and training they need to effectively do their job and you’re looking at anywhere from $2 million to $7 million annually.
Of course, these numbers don’t factor in the months or years it will take to fully build out the function, which will leave you exposed to threats while your IT team is distracted from other valuable initiatives.
As mentioned above, the cost of a SOC is determined by the people, the infrastructure desired, and the time it takes to build and maintain the SOC.
When mapping out the cost, there are five core components an organization should consider:
- SOC staffing
- SIEM and professional services
- Cloud monitoring
- External threat intelligence
- Vulnerability scanning
We recommend utilizing our Security Operations Calculator to better understand what your organization needs and how building a SOC will impact your budget and security goals.
The Challenges of Building an In-House SOC
While building a SOC may be an organization’s first thought, for many, including SMB’s, it will come with some challenges, especially if the security needs are robust and the risks are plentiful.
Those challenges include:
- Budget constraints
- Desire and effort
- Time investment
- Managing evolving threats
- A skills shortage and gap
Organizations should look at the core components, as well as those unique challenges when considering a SOC and prioritizing an internal one (with business-specific capabilities).
While building a SOC in-house is possible, for many organizations, outsourcing part or all the operations may be the best option for increased security and efficiency.
Learn more about security operations with our comprehensive guide.
Read our white paper to understand how security operations models, like Managed Detection and Response, can increase an organization’s security maturity.