What is a security operations center (SOC)? Explaining the SOC framework

March 18, 2021  |  Mark Stone

This article was written by an independent guest author.

If you’re responsible for stopping cyber threats within your organization, your job is more challenging than ever. The exposure to threats for any organization continues to escalate, and breaches are occurring every day.

If your company doesn’t have a security operations center (SOC), it may be time to change that. In fact, a recent study indicates 86% of organizations rate the SOC as anywhere from important to essential to an organization's cybersecurity strategy.

What is a SOC?

The security operations center (SOC) identifies, investigates, prioritizes, and resolves issues that could affect the security of an organization’s critical infrastructure and data. A well-developed and well-run SOC performs real-time threat detection and incident response, allowing SOC analysts to rapidly deliver security intelligence to stakeholders and senior management.

The SOC framework was introduced by The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP), a nonprofit foundation established to improve software security as a means for responding to cybersecurity incidents. The framework includes technical controls (Security Information and Events Management (SIEM) systems), organizational controls (processes), and also includes a human component (detection and response).

Perhaps the most crucial function for a SOC involves a detailed and ongoing attack analysis. This means gathering and reporting on attack data that provides answers to these questions:

  • When did the attack start?
  • Who is behind the attack?
  • How is the attack being carried out?
  • What resources, systems, or data are at risk of being compromised or have already been compromised?

A proactive and reactive mechanism

Beyond attack analysis, the SOC also provides critical cybersecurity functions that should be a cornerstone for every business today: prevention, detection and response.

An effective SOC prioritizes a proactive approach rather than relying on reactive measures. The SOC typically works around the clock to monitor the network for abnormal or malicious activity, which might stop attacks before they happen.

How does this work? SOC analysts are well-equipped to prevent threats because they have access to comprehensive network data and possess up-to-date intel on global threat intelligence stats and data covering the latest hacker tools, trends, and methodologies.

When it comes to response, think of the SOC as a first responder, carrying out the critical actions that “stop the bleeding” from an attack. When the incident is over, the SOC will also assist or lead restoration and recovery processes.

What are the goals of a well-functioning SOC?

A well-functioning SOC provides a multitude of benefits, but in order to get the most out of your security operations center, you’ll need to ensure you have experienced personnel to make up the team. For some companies, forming a SOC in-house is practical because they have dedicated security staff. For most organizations, however, a managed SOC is often an attractive solution. We’ll discuss managed SOC in the next section.

No matter how your company approaches SOC, you’ll want to make sure it meets the following goals:

Improve your security visibility
A good SOC operator is always looking to expand the company’s security visibility by maintaining an extensive inventory of all IT assets. The more concrete information they have about your systems and resources, makes identifying attacks against them much easier. The ability to harness near-real-time security monitoring data allows the SOC to be prepared if and when a threat happens.

Reduce incident response time
Today’s well-functioning SOC should be able to boost the speed of attack detection, investigation and remediation. The average time to identify and contain a breach is 280 days, so your organization should consistently strive for improved incident response times. When attackers don’t have the time to poke around your systems, they’ll either move on to the next victim, or, at worst, won’t be able to steal enough valuable data.

Minimize the impact of a breach
Just as important as reducing the incident response time, minimizing the organizational impact of a breach is another critical goal of the SOC. Leveraging threat intelligence and clear visibility into an organization’s assets, the SOC can play a huge role in preventing a small breach from blowing up into something more significant.

Maintain a consistent flow of reporting and communication
Today’s SOC is actively involved in the organization’s communication channels, keeping all stakeholders informed of financial and business risk. Data collected from the SOC can also help build security roadmaps for future planning.

Stay a step ahead of attackers
While all the reactive goals above are essential for a robust SOC, the best SOC operators and analysts also devote some of their efforts toward more proactive threat hunting. Smart hackers are always one step ahead, and the only way to keep up is to dive deep into the data and look for evidence of an early attack. In many cases, before an intrusion or attack is detected, the digital clues indicating a future attack are there to be discovered in the data.

The benefits of having your SOC managed by a third party

As mentioned above, the benefits of a well-functioning SOC can only be gained with a skilled staff. But that’s not the only thing holding organizations back from leveraging SOC to improve their security posture. The ability to tap into effective threat orchestration and automation of threat detection and response are equally important. With managed SOC, or SOC-as-a-service, companies get access to a wide range of cybersecurity experience from a talented pool of security analysts—without the hefty labor costs.

Like other managed cybersecurity services, many companies prefer the flexibility offered by a subscription service model.

Managed SOC essentially takes the concept of a fully-functioning internal SOC and turns it into an external cloud-based service. A managed SOC offers 24x7 monitoring without the significant additional investment in cybersecurity hardware, software, and other infrastructure. 

Finally, with a managed SOC service like AT&T Cybersecurity SOC as a Service, your organization can gain the following advantages:

Reduce cost and complexity with centralized security visibility

  • Ability to monitor SaaS, Cloud, on-premises, and endpoints through a single pane of glass           
  • Avoid the cost, complexity and confusion of maintaining multiple security products

Detect threats from day one

  • Gain immediate and broad visibility across your entire environment within minutes of installation

Threat intelligence: staying ahead

  • Keep up to date with emerging and evolving threats, letting the managed service partner do all the research

Faster, orchestrated threat response

  • Know where to focus and how to take action
  • The SOC analyst team works side-by-side with your incident responders to help you respond quickly and effectively

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