What Is a Security Operations Center?
A security operations center (SOC) is responsible for orchestrating people, technology, and processes to reduce the likelihood and impact of cyberthreats. A SOC reduces threats by monitoring, managing, and defending the digital infrastructure of an organization and strengthening overall security resiliency. SOCs can be a function built in-house, in partnership with a third party, or a combination of the two.
The best way to think of a SOC is as the central command center of all security activities. It combines the human element with technology, taking in telemetry from a variety of sources and making decisions based on that data. The SOC works both proactively and reactively, advancing the organization’s security posture while also monitoring for, and acting upon, advanced threats or cyber attacks.
What Does a SOC Do?
As mentioned above, the SOC serves as the nexus of all security operations for an organization. Many SOCs follow the NIST Cybersecurity Framework. The framework, “not only helps organizations understand their cybersecurity risks (threats, vulnerabilities and impacts), but how to reduce these risks with customized measures,” by organizing basic cybersecurity activities at their highest level into the following functions:
For example, say a threat actor is trying to brute force attack a certain critical log-in. The SOC, would be notified of an abnormal number of logins for this application via their cyber security infrastructure (i.e., via different technologies and software solutions).
The SOC would then examine this potential threat further, making sure it is a legitimate threat (and not an employee who just forgot their password), take action to stop this attack, and then work with the IT department to make sure this kind of attack is not successful in the future (such as implementing multi-factor authentication, or a set number of login attempts for that application).
Many SOCs operate on a 24×7 basis, which is best practice considering that hackers do not operate on a 9AM to 5 PM schedule. In fact, 35% of all attacks occur between 8 PM and 8 AM, when many IT teams are offline.
To achieve its goals, the SOC performs tactical functions to reactively manage the day-by-day security tasks involved with threat detection and remediation.
Aside from tactical functions, a SOC is also involved in strategic functions, helping an organization to proactively improve their security posture and further their security journey.
These functions require:
A proficient SOC will handle both functions and work both proactively and reactively to reduce an organization’s cyber risk while responding to immediate threats.
What Are the Different Types of SOCs?
Every SOC is different, but all contain people, infrastructure, and other finite resources, such as time. It’s important to note that every SOC functions differently depending on the business and security needs of a given organization, as well as the industry-specific threats and compliance requirements that organization may face.
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. Learn more on NIST.
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.
How SOC’s Reduce Cyber Risk
The purpose of a SOC is to mitigate an organization’s cyber risk through monitoring, detection, and response. Positive outcomes of utilizing a SOC include:
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.
Security operations looks at the big picture to derive strategic insights that can improve an organization’s overall security posture.
Organizations can focus on other goals knowing their security is in the right hands and ready for whatever threats emerge.
You can’t protect what you don’t know, and security operations offer thorough knowledge of both assets, vulnerabilities, and the attack surface.
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.
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.
How SOCs Reduce the Business Impact of a Cyber Attack
Attacks happen and being able to handle incident response effectively can make all the difference for an organization. It can reduce downtime, reduce remediation costs, and save the organization’s reputation.
A SOC can be crucial for organizations dealing with a cyber attack by offering a variety of methods that help an organization reduce the impact.
- Detect a threat quickly
- Offer a lively response
- Engage in rapid recovery
- Swiftly restore operations
- Leverage strategic guidance through expertise and improvements
These capabilities can make a massive difference when the worst day occurs, so a SOC becomes a critical asset to your organization’s overall security.
Challenges of Operating a SOC In-House
There are two routes an organization can take when it comes to their security operations, either build a full SOC in-house or partner with an external organization. While building a SOC in-house is entirely possible, it does present unique challenges.
These challenges include:
- Budget constraints
- Desire and effort
- Time investment
- Managing evolving threats
- A skills shortage and gap
These challenges affect many organizations across industries. Cost is currently the number one factor when organizations consider establishing a security program, and 76% of organizations can’t reach their security goals to do a lack of staff. Those are real barriers to creating an effective in-house SOC.
The Cost of Building a SOC In-house
Depending on your organization’s maturity and desired SOC, the cost will vary. 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. Add to that the cost of software, hardware, and training, and that number can balloon up to $5 to $7 million annually. That’s a large upfront cost and doesn’t factor in the time it takes to fully build out function and efficiency.
Choosing a SOC Partner
Due to the high cost and other challenges present, many organizations opt to go with an external SOC partner instead of building and operating one internally. While every organization has different needs and end goals for their security, they should look for an external partner that can offer the following:
- Broad visibility
- 24×7 coverage
- Access to expertise and training
- Strategic guidance
- Continuous improvement
Smaller organizations often implement security operations as a turnkey service, while larger ones may choose to augment or enhance existing resources. Irrespective of the approach, the key is to work with experts who invest time to learn your environment well enough to recommend tactical and strategic actions and offer continuous guidance.
How Arctic Wolf Can Help
Both Arctic Wolf® Managed Detection and Response (MDR) and Arctic Wolf® Managed Risk are supported by our dedicated Concierge Security® Team. This team of security operations experts helps organizations manage and hunt down the threats of today, while preparing for tomorrow.
The CST offers coverage, expertise, and strategy 24×7, helping organizations improve efficiency, reduce alert fatigue, and make changes that will not only help their security environment today, but in the future. With a complete understanding of your unique IT environment, the CST continuously monitors security events enriched and analyzed by the Arctic Wolf® Security Operations Platform to provide your team with coverage, security operations expertise, and strategically tailored security recommendations to continuously improve your overall posture.
In addition, Arctic Wolf’s Security Operations Platform is allows for broad visibility across endpoint, network, and cloud, and processes over 2 trillion events per week, and enriches them with threat intelligence and risk context to drive faster threat detection, simplify incident response and eliminate alert fatigue.