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What is a security operations centre (SOC)?

security-operations-centre

A security operations centre houses an information security team. The team is made up of both security engineers and analysts and oversee the security operation for an entire organisation.

With responsibility for monitoring a company’s security stance, the team manages this on an ongoing basis. Detection and response to cybersecurity incidents are a vital part of the work. A security operations centre works closely and in conjunction with incident response teams. A combined approach, such as this allows cybersecurity incidents to be quickly and effectively addressed.

A security operations centre will protect many assets, including intellectual property, business systems, and personnel data, as well as brand integrity. 

Security operations centres are common in industries such as finance, education, healthcare, military operations, government, e-commerce, and advanced technology. Any business that relies on significant amounts of sensitive data should consider using a security operations centre.

What do security operations centres monitor?

The remit of the team encompasses the whole of the business infrastructure across all locations. The team is responsible for the business:

  • Networks
  • Servers 
  • Databases
  • Websites
  • Applications
  • Endpoints
  • All other systems

Security operation team members monitor and scan for suspicious activity across all of these systems. They will search for and identify anything that might indicate a security breach or a compromise in the system.

What are security operations centres responsible for?

A security operations centre is responsible for ensuring that possible security incidents are promptly and correctly identified. Swift action is essential to avoid compromising company data or interrupting business activities. The team members focus on the analysis, investigation, reporting, and defending against possible security breaches.

The steps a security operations centre will take include defining a strategy that works with specific business goals. For a broad company view, the team will consult and takes into account goals from different departments within the company. 

Input from company executives ensures that any strategies implemented will fall in line with business objectives. When all of these things have been taken into consideration, the security operations centre will put the strategy in place.

Some of the strategies that the security operations centre will choose to apply can include:

  • Firewalls
  • Probes
  • Breach detection solutions
  • IPS/IDS (Intrusion Prevention System/Intrusion Detection System)
  • SIEM (Security Information and Event Management)

Information and data are collected and tracked by the security operations centre in several different ways. Methods include using technology and telemetry, data flows, Syslog (Syslog server and Syslog protocol), and packet capture.

The key activities of a security operations centre include:

  • Alert severity ranking – The SOC team will rank cybersecurity threats in terms of possible damage. The most severe threats are handled first.
  • Compliance – The SOC will use a team that follows the compliance and regulatory standards for carrying out the business plan. Usually, one team member is charged with educating and enforcing compliance policies such as PCI DSS
  • Incident recovery – The SOC will recover data that has been compromised. This can occur through backing up systems, updating systems, and through reconfiguration.
  • Development and evolution of defence – A SOC team member, will create an IRP (Incident Response Plan) to help defend systems against cyber attacks. The response plan will be updated and adjusted as necessary. 
  • Behavioural monitoring – All systems are monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week. SOCs can put a combined effort into proactive and reactive measures. Behavioural models can be used to train data collection operatives on what equates to suspicious activity. It can be used to adjust information, such as false positives.
  • Asset management and discovery including high awareness of all software, tools, hardware and technology within the SOC. The team focuses on making sure all assets are working correctly and are up to date.
  • Communications and activity across the company are logged by the SOC. This allows the team members to track and pinpoint previous actions that may have caused a breach.

A security operations centre will use techniques such as forensic analysis, malware reverse engineering, cryptanalysis, and network telemetry.

The benefits of using a security operations centre

The benefits of using a security operations centre are many. First of all, the SOC is a central point of collaboration, coordinating efforts to assess, monitor, and defend against cyber vulnerabilities. Crucially, the operations centre continuous monitors security, which results in improved security incident detection. Data activity is analysed 24/7 to ensure that monitoring is effective and complete.

Round the clock monitoring puts organisations in a better position to protect against cyber threats. This is so, regardless of the time, the source, or the attack type. A security operations centre reduces the amount of time between attack and detection, and this helps companies stay on top of threats.

How security operations centres are evolving

Security operations centres are shifting their focus onto the human element of security and detection. This evolving approach intends to rely less on script and code, to be more active and intuitive.

Human analysts can monitor for existing threats as well as watch out for emerging threats. Most significantly, human input is essential for responding to major cybersecurity incidents. The SOC team will stay current with the latest intelligence and threats. They can then use this information to improve defences and internal detection.

By continually feeding in intelligence into the SOC monitoring tools, security is more responsive. Intelligence elements include external information such as threat briefs, news reports, vulnerability alerts, and signature updates. Today, security operations centres use a blend of highly-experienced security analysts combined with automated security tools.

Security operations centres are a vital component for organisations across the globe. A SOC will strengthen security, protect against cybercriminal activity, and enable businesses to respond quickly and effectively if a security incident occurs.

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