From phishing attacks that use social engineering to steal classified information to denial-of-service attacks designed to shut down networks, cybersecurity threats are more sophisticated than ever before. Shouldn’t your cybersecurity defense strategy be, too?

You could use cybersecurity solutions and software programs to try to keep nefarious forces at bay, but if you really want to get serious about protecting your business, you need a security operations center. A security operations center, also known as a SOC (pronounced “sock”) is a team of cybersecurity professionals responsible for monitoring your environment, identifying potential threats, and developing a plan of action to eliminate them.

Table of Contents

  • Who Needs a Security Operations Center?
  • The 5 Security Operations Center Models
  • What Services Does a Security Operations Center Provide?
  • The 4 Key Roles in a Security Operations Center
  • Creating a Solid Foundation for a Security Operations Center
  • Obstacles to Peak Security Operations Center Performance
  • Best Practices for a Successful Security Operations Center
  • Benefits of Outsourcing Managed Security Services
  • Frequently Asked Questions

Who Needs a Security Operations Center?

The short and simple answer to that question is “everyone.” From small businesses to major enterprises, a SOC is an absolute necessity for organizations of all sizes, across all industries.

And here’s why: Cybersecurity is incredibly complex. As such, the responsibilities of monitoring, maintaining, and defending your business’ environment should not be left to one individual or one cybersecurity solution. Instead, it should be a collaborative effort from multiple highly trained, highly qualified professionals and should involve input from multiple sources, both internal and external. By establishing a SOC or outsourcing managed security services to a trusted third-party provider, you can ensure that your systems and solutions receive 24/7 protection.

The 5 Security Operations Center Models

There are five basic types of SOC architectural models; they are as follows:

  • Internal SOC: Also known as a “dedicated SOC,” an internal SOC is when the company establishes its own cybersecurity team, hosts its own onsite SOC, and supplies all SOC resources.
  • External SOC: The company hires a third-party SOC provider, which has its own cybersecurity team, solutions, and other resources, for managed security services.
  • Virtual SOC: Also known as a “distributed SOC,” a virtual SOC is one in which technicians do not have a dedicated facility, but instead work remotely.
  • Command SOC: Sometimes referred to as a “global security operations center,” a command SOC is an organization that oversees smaller SOCs across a regional territory.
  • Co-Managed SOC: A combination of an internal and an external SOC in which SOC roles and responsibilities are jointly managed by the company and a third-party provider.

Each of these five models has its own pros and cons. For example, an internal SOC would provide your organization with a greater degree of oversight and control, however, it requires significantly more resources to run your own internal SOC than to outsource security to an external SOC, or even a co-managed SOC.

Additionally, there can be some overlap between the different models; for example, an external SOC could also be a virtual SOC, and vice versa. Which of these five models you choose depends entirely on the unique cybersecurity needs of your business.

What Services Does a Security Operations Center Provide?

SOC Services Graphic

To illustrate even further why a security operations center is such a valuable investment, let’s take a closer look at the many managed security services they provide:

  • Asset survey: SOC technicians take stock of all of the assets within your environment that need to be protected, as well as the tools and resources available to them in order to protect those assets.
  • Log collection and management: Technicians collect and regularly review logs of all network activity and communications to establish a baseline for “normal” network activity.
  • Preventative maintenance: Technicians update existing systems, update firewall policies, patch vulnerabilities, whitelist and blacklist various entities, secure applications, and look for insider threats. Preventative maintenance also typically entails any efforts technicians make to educate themselves on the latest cybersecurity threats and innovations in order to develop a security roadmap and bolster a company’s disaster recovery plan.
  • Continuous proactive monitoring: Technicians frequently scan the company’s network in order to identify suspicious activity or emerging threats. This round-the-clock coverage enables SOC teams to eliminate threats before they have the ability to do significant damage to the network, or to prevent threats entirely.
  • Alerts management: Technicians field incoming alerts from the SOC’s automated monitoring tools, sort out false positives, prioritize legitimate threats based on their severity, determine what the threat is targeting, and take action as needed.
  • Threat response: Once an incident has been confirmed, SOC technicians shut down or isolate endpoints, prevent harmful processes from executing, remove files, and so on in an effort to limit the impact of the threat and ensure business continuity.
  • Root cause analysis: Once a threat has been successfully neutralized, technicians diagnose the cause of the problem, how it happened, and why. In doing so, technicians are better able to recognize and prevent similar problems from taking place in the future.
  • Recovery and remediation: Recovery and remediation aims to return the network to its original state. To that end, technicians work to bring downed systems back online and salvage any lost or otherwise compromised data.
  • Refinement and improvements: Technicians execute on a company’s security roadmap and continually look for ways to improve its cybersecurity systems to better defend against possible attacks.

The 4 Key Roles in a Security Operations Center

Every security operations center is staffed by a team of professionals, each an expert in the field of cybersecurity. Each member of this team plays an integral role in safeguarding a company’s network against cybercriminals.

SOC Key Roles

  • SOC Analyst: The SOC Analyst manages incoming alerts from the SOC's automated monitoring tools, separates legitimate threats from false positives, prioritizes threats based on their severity, and assigns threats to the incident response team.
  • Incident Response Team: The incident response team responds to both actual and potential security threats, investigates and identifies the root cause of the threat, and assists with remediation and recovery.
  • Threat Hunter: Threat hunters run tests across the network to identify vulnerabilities, create alert definitions and update them as needed, and assist the incident response team in identifying the source of a breach.
  • SOC Manager: The SOC Manager is in charge of the overall health of the network, ensures that all other roles within the SOC stay on track and fulfill their duties, and ensures that all security issues are attended to.

Creating a Solid Foundation for a Security Operations Center

If you’re interested in building your own SOC, there are a few key components you’ll need first in order to provide a solid foundation:

  • An attack surface management program. This should, ideally, include threat prevention technology, penetration testing, user authentication and authorization, routine vulnerability scanning, external application testing, asset management, and remote access management.
  • An incident response plan, so SOC technicians have a clear understanding of how to address various threats.
  • A disaster recovery plan to help restore normal business operations and recover any lost or stolen data.
  • A solid toolset. This should include a security information and event management (SIEM) solution, an endpoint detection and response system, a ticketing system, and other remote management and monitoring systems to support the SOC.
  • A set of clearly defined policies concerning the SOC’s limits — specifically, where the SOC’s responsibility ends and the network operations center’s (NOC) responsibility begins.

Obstacles to Peak Security Operations Center Performance

Providing comprehensive network security for an entire enterprise is not without its challenges. Here are a few things to be aware of when it comes to SOC performance:

  • Poorly defined and/or inconsistent policies, especially those concerning incident response, can sink even the most qualified SOC team.
  • Disparate systems make it challenging for SOC technicians to stay on top of every component of an application or network at once, leaving your environment vulnerable. Additionally, disparate systems require technicians to pull data from multiple different sources in order to identify the source of a threat. This can be a time-consuming process and the longer it takes technicians to get to the root of a problem, the more opportunity the threat has to damage your network.
  • Once you start enabling monitoring tools, your technicians will likely find themselves inundated with alerts. False positives can easily distract from real issues, so it’s vital that technicians be able to differentiate legitimate threats from white noise.
  • In order to run an SOC, you need actual information security engineers with experience in the field who are good at what they do and approach everything from a security mindset. Although this might not seem like that much of an issue, the ongoing cybersecurity skills shortage can make it difficult to find qualified professionals to staff your SOC.
  • SOC technicians are under an immense amount of pressure to perform and are therefore more likely to experience significant stress and fatigue than their colleagues in other departments. According to a recent survey of IT security personnel, an alarming 73% of respondents said that an ever-increasing workload contributes to burnout. This can make it even more challenging for businesses to find the appropriate talent to staff their SOC.

Best Practices for a Successful Security Operations Center

The easiest way to address the various challenges related to SOC performance is to implement and enforce the following security operations center best practices:

  • Establish consistent SOC processes, policies, and procedures. By having a clear and defined approach in place for everything from how to prioritize threats to how to identify the root cause of a problem, you can ensure that your SOC team successfully delivers consistent results. Be sure to carefully document these SOC processes, policies, and procedures so that they may serve as training materials for future hires.
  • Find out which solutions your team will need. Rather than invest in just any cybersecurity tool on the market, let alone multiple solutions — which can contribute to the issue of multiple, disparate systems — consult your SOC team to find out which tools they really need. Additionally, identify which roles and responsibilities the various members of your team take on prior to investing in technology so that you have a clear sense of who needs what.
  • Invest in automation. According to 67% of IT security personnel, workflow automation is an essential step to alleviating an SOC team’s pain. In order to prevent SOC burnout, invest in cybersecurity solutions that allow for greater visibility into your infrastructure and enable technicians to automate manual efforts.
  • Take a cloud-centric approach to security. Cloud-based environments are incredibly complex, so it’s important that SOC technicians consider all of the moving parts and pieces within your cloud infrastructure and the various ways they interact in order to identify all vulnerabilities.
  • Think like a hacker. Cybercriminals are exceptionally clever and creative, able to disguise malware and all other manner of cyberattacks in more innocuous forms. In order to outmaneuver a hacker, SOC professionals must first think like one. This mentality has led many organizations to add ethical hackers — that is, individuals who try to break into computer systems on the company’s behalf — to identify vulnerabilities and protect company assets.
  • Invest in tools that enable analysts to collaborate. SOC team members need to be able to communicate with one another on a moment’s notice in order to rapidly respond to threats. To that end, it’s important that your organization invest in messaging platforms such as Microsoft Teams or Slack to foster prompt communication. Such platforms are especially vital for organizations with a distributed SOC workforce.
  • Save time and effort by outsourcing to a third-party provider. Of course, the easiest way to address any of the challenges discussed here is to enlist the managed security services of a third-party provider to handle them for you.

Benefits of Outsourcing Managed Security Services

When it comes to securing your environment, the best practice of all is to save time and effort by outsourcing managed security services to a third-party provider. There are numerous benefits to working with an external SOC or a co-managed SOC, from the cost savings that result from paying for a service rather than salaries for an entire department, to round-the-clock monitoring and faster incident resolution.

By outsourcing managed security services, you get the support of a team that’s solely focused on security, rather than one that’s forced to multitask, as is often the case in internal SOCs. Outsourcing your security operations center can reduce your company’s security risk — and the less risk you face, the greater your customers trust, satisfaction, and loyalty.

At Hitachi Solutions, we know you’re under a lot of pressure, which is why we want to give you one less thing to worry about. We offer a wide range of SOC monitoring services, including alert management, alert tuning, SIEM management, incident response, and remediation assistance. Although we specialize in private and public cloud security, we also offer managed security services for on-premises servers. Most importantly, we take a unique, end-to-end approach across all Microsoft security products, which enables us to identify vulnerabilities and potential threats that our competitors might miss.

Let us do the heavy lifting, so you can remain focused on your business; contact us today to get started.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why do you need a security operations center?
A: Data breaches and other types of cyberattacks jeopardize business continuity and, as a result, customer loyalty and trust. Cybersecurity threats grow more sophisticated by the day and require an equally sophisticated response, which is why it’s important to employ a team of information security engineers and other cybersecurity professionals tasked solely with protecting your environment.

Q: What should a security operations center monitor?
A: A SOC should monitor all traffic, whether internal or external, within a network environment; this includes data from network devices, servers, domain controllers, routers, databases, and more.

Q: What is the difference between a SOC and a NOC?
A: A SOC is a dedicated team of information security engineers responsible for proactively monitoring enterprise security systems, detecting abnormal activity within the network, and responding to possible breaches and other cybersecurity threats. A NOC is a team of IT professionals responsible for providing dedicated infrastructure monitoring and management to ensure as much enterprise uptime as possible. Although a SOC and a NOC both identify, analyze, and resolve issues before they can harm the business, they serve very different purposes and there’s little overlap between the two.

Q: What is the difference between a SOC and a SIEM?
A: A SOC is a team of trained cybersecurity professionals working together to safeguard an organization against cyberattack. A SIEM is a software solution that aggregates and analyzes data from multiple different sources within an organization’s IT infrastructure. A SIEM is just one of many tools that SOC technicians might use in order to do their jobs.