Building an Intelligent Security Operations Center

Have you ever wondered what goes on “behind the curtain” in a security operations center (SOC)? It’s the SOC’s job to keep the enterprise safe from cyber threats, but how does that happen today and how can SOCs become more intelligent to stay ahead of the bad guys and prevent breaches?

What Is a Security Operations Center?

A SOC is a group of security professionals who work together at a facility or collaborate as a remote team. They are responsible for monitoring and analyzing an organization’s overall security posture by focusing on threat detection, incident response, and analysis. The SOC team combines a variety of technology solutions such as Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) for real-time event monitoring, analysis and alerts.

Security operations center teams are security analysts and engineers, as well as managers who oversee security operations. It is common for SOC teams to work in shifts around the clock, with teams continuously monitoring threat intelligence.

The SOC team’s monitoring includes data inputs from telemetry that comes from across an organization’s IT infrastructure (e.g., networks, computers, appliances, IoT devices, and data storage systems). With all of this information, the SOC is the correlation point for system event logs. This allows the SOC team to supplement its threat intelligence data set and gain better visibility into potential security threats.

How a Traditional Security Operations Center Works

Security operations centers implement security strategies, work on systems built according to specific security architectures, and use telemetry that comes from protective tools (e.g., network devices, firewall). The responsibility of the SOC team is to operationalize security systems and tools so the organization can quickly resolve alerts and mitigate threats. While the SOC team does not install many of the security tools (e.g., firewalls, intrusion detection systems, intrusion prevention systems, breach detection solutions, probes, security information, and event management systems), they are the primary users of these tools. The SOC team correlates and analyzes the information that is collected from data flows, telemetry, packet capture, Syslog, and other methods to bolster its threat intelligence and expedite incident response.

Security Operations Center Challenges

Given the blinding speed at which alerts pile up in security information and event management (SIEM) logs, the SOC team’s job can be overwhelming, with many more alerts than nearly any team can possibly review and no end in sight.

  • Twenty-seven percent of SOCs receive more than 1 million alerts each day.
  • The average security analyst investigates 20–25 incidents on any given day.
  • It takes 13–18 minutes to compare indicators of compromise (IoC) to logs, threat intelligence feeds, and external intelligence.
  • Manual research can yield false-positive rates of 70 percent or higher.
  • To make matters worse, as security analysts struggle against an ever-increasing volume of complex alerts, the SOC team is facing a talent crisis. Sixty-six percent of cybersecurity professionals believe there are too few qualified analysts to handle the alert volume in the SOC.

In addition to having to manage a mountain of alerts, the other challenge is the reactive nature of a SOC. When a security alarm goes off in a traditional SOC, security operations personnel aim to handle the incident as quickly as possible so that a breach is avoided. In recent years, the rate and variety of daily security events faced by most SOCs has increased rapidly to the point that defenders can’t keep up. While adoption of managed services and automated response in security incident handling helps the situation somewhat, the fundamentally reactive nature of traditional security operations makes it difficult to proactively reduce the likelihood of breaches.

Moving Toward “The Intelligent SOC”

To proactively reduce breaches, SOCs need to be increasingly intelligent and self-learning. An intelligent SOC (iSOC) leverages the power of AI and other sophisticated tools to enable proactive cyber-defense strategies rather than just reacting to alerts and events.

The iSOC enables proactive security operations with continuous and comprehensive risk assessments that quantify the potential monetary impact of assets exposed to cyber threats. It starts with the automated discovery of IT assets and the identification of vulnerabilities within those assets. Asset data is enhanced with relevant business context. Prioritization and mitigation strategies are then directly tied to business impact according to the likelihood of a breach and its impact in financial terms.

The likelihood of a breach considers vulnerability severity, threat level, asset exposure and security controls. In contrast, traditional SOCs primarily focus on threat levels. Intelligent SOCs also provide granular remediation instructions for security teams to fix vulnerabilities before they’re exploited. All of these proactive steps help security analysts more effectively manage the huge volume of alerts and prevent data breaches.

Some of the key tools used by iSOCs include:

The Next-Gen Security Operations Center

Built around these intelligent self-learning tools and highly skilled personnel, the next-gen security operations center model can be characterized as smart, continuous, comprehensive, predictive, and prescriptive. As such, the SOC team has the ability to maintain a laser focus on what is critical to the business, keep their fingers on the pulse of an ever-evolving threat model, and stay ahead of the bad guys.

As hackers and cyber-criminals launch increasingly sophisticated attempts to steal sensitive data and worm their way into business-critical applications, security operations centers are the dedicated teams on the front line working to stop them. SOC teams stay up to date on the latest threats and mitigation techniques so they can act as an early warning system. As traditional SOCs transition to smarter iSOCs, they provide detailed insights and actionable intelligence based on continuous risk assessments. iSOCs also have automated tools to continuously measure and enhance the effective cyber-resilience of the network, providing an increasingly critical service to organizations across the globe.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is a SOC important?

A SOC is important, because it improves security incident detection by providing continuous monitoring and analysis of data activity across an organization’s networks, endpoints, servers, and databases—around the clock. This enables the timely detection and response of security incidents.

Who works in a SOC?

The security operations center team consists of security analysts and engineers who oversee all activity on servers, databases, networks, applications, endpoint devices, websites, and other systems. The focus of SOC teams is on identifying potential security threats and stopping them.

What are the responsibilities of SOC?

The SOC team is responsible for the operation, management, and maintenance of the security center as an organizational resource. This includes developing an overarching strategy and plan and creating processes to support the operation of the center. It also includes evaluating, implementing, and operating tools, devices, and applications and overseeing the integration, maintenance, and updating.

What is an intelligent SOC?

An intelligent SOC (iSOC) leverages the power of AI and other sophisticated tools to enable proactive cyber-defense strategies rather than just reacting to alerts and events. The iSOC includes continuous and comprehensive risk assessments that quantify the potential monetary impact of assets exposed to cyber threats.  Automated discovery of IT assets combined with their business context and identification of vulnerabilities within those assets allows for prioritization and mitigation strategies directly tied to business impact according to the likelihood of a breach and its impact in financial terms.

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