Expanded Definition: Security Operations Center (SOC)

What is a security operations center? 

Most cybersecurity glossaries would define a security operations center (SOC) as a 24-hour team of experts who proactively hunt for, triage, and respond to cyber threats in real-time. SOC teams rely on a combination of expert personnel, advanced technology, and a comprehensive set of processes to maintain effective threat detection and incident response strategies around the clock. 

In a time when threat actors are constantly changing the tactics and tools they use in their attempts to compromise important data, a SOC cybersecurity team can serve as the backbone of an organization’s threat mitigation efforts. Strong cybersecurity measures have become imperative for companies that want to not only survive but thrive in the modern digital world.

For those that ignore the crucial role of cybersecurity, the repercussions can be severe: According to the IBM 2021 Cost of a Data Breach Report, the average total cost of a data breach rose from $3.86 million to $4.24 million since 2020, the highest average total cost in the history of the report. However, the negative effects go beyond financial impact and loss of data. 

One of the most significant consequences of a breach is diminished customer trust. A survey from PCI Pal found that 83% of U.S. consumers will stop patronizing a business for at least a few months following a breach, and more than 20% said they would never return. These effects highlight the need for the enhanced threat detection and response solutions that a cybersecurity operations center can provide.

For those wondering, “what does a SOC do, exactly,” some of the high-level duties of SOC services include: 

  • Decreasing response time to stop the threat as soon as possible. 
  • Preventing minor security incidents from becoming significant data breaches by reducing cyberattack impact
  • Maintaining security visibility by keeping track of all IT assets and implementing near-real-time monitoring.  
  • Predicting the activity of threat actors to shut down cyberattacks before they begin. 
  • Keeping the organization informed of risks through frequent reporting so that the company can make informed cybersecurity decisions.
  • Remaining up-to-date on the latest industry trends to prepare for evolving security threats.

Companies offering virtual SOCs as a service have become a popular option for small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Cybersecurity service providers offer robust threat detection and response capabilities to companies that can’t take on the significant expense of a full-time, internal security operations center.

How does a SOC work?

A cybersecurity operations center is comprised of multiple elements. Team members, software, and security procedures all come together to accomplish the three main stages of the overall security process. Those stages are:

1. Threat detection and identification

SOC cybersecurity relies on proactive threat detection. Proactive threat management is the preferred strategy instead of reacting to threats after the fact. Reactively triaging and resolving cybersecurity threats can drastically increase the amount of damage done to your network, as well as customer data. Getting out in front of these threats is the best way to minimize damage and the financial impact of breaches and attacks.

This is where your SOC cybersecurity leans heavily on the human element. During this stage, a SOC analyst is charged with reviewing system reports and identifying threats. As soon as they see something out of the ordinary, their goal is to gather as much information as possible.

2. Investigation

Now that all applicable data has been collected, you can dig deeper into the cause of the threat. The analyst will identify the nature of the threat and determine its impact on your overall system.

To be effective, an analyst should be taking on the role of the attacker. They’ll examine your security measures from the attacker’s perspective to determine which vulnerabilities may have been exploited. Once the analyst has this knowledge, they’ll combine this intelligence with global updates on cyberattack tools, trends, and methods to isolate the incident.

3. Threat response

After the incident is isolated, the SOC team collaborates to remediate the impact of the cyberattack. Think of them as “first responders” in the wake of an attack.

Their goal is to isolate any end-user hardware or terminals that may be infected, as well as shut down damaged software applications, deploy data backups, and reset and restart user endpoints when necessary.

Using threat response techniques to bring things back to normal is the benchmark of what SOC-as-a-service is. An effective response effort should restore the network to its pre-attack state.

Benefits of using a SOC

Historically, implementing a SOC can provide businesses with the following general benefits:

  • Constant monitoring. Since businesses spend more time on the cloud now than ever before, attackers have more of an opportunity to compromise data. Threat detection is becoming a 24/7/365 job to keep your infrastructure protected. A SOC will keep your threat detection working around the clock to single out cyberattack tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs). 
  • Minimize threat impact. As mentioned earlier, the financial impact of a serious attack can be devastating. Using a SOC can directly affect the cost of cyberattacks by reducing dwell time. This is the amount of time an attacker stays in your system undetected. Where dwell time may typically be months, implementing an effective SOC may reduce that time to minutes.
  • Airtight cybersecurity. MSPs generally have a library of tools and third-party vendors to work with. These partners will provide things like firewalls, DNS, email security, and EDR. Clients can add these tools to the internal security stack they already use to provide even more layers of cybersecurity coverage.

Difficulties with building your own SOC

Experts within the cybersecurity industry cite a few commonly held limitations to effectively implementing a SOC. These limitations are:

  • Overhead costs. Many companies use a variety of tools to provide their SOC team with the necessary data. Sometimes, these tools exist in their own environment, requiring translation and interpretation across platforms and policies. This can cause security operations to become costly and complicated.
  • Incoming alerts. Your SOC team adding more tools to provide more data can lead to more security alerts. Asking your SOC analyst to respond to too many threat notifications can result in a phenomenon known as “threat fatigue.” These alerts can also include false positives, which waste time and energy and distract the team from actual attacks.
  • Small talent pool. Many IT managers and CTOs say that the skilled personnel necessary for a SOC analyst role is hard to find. Many SOC teams are understaffed, and what staff they do have doesn’t possess the appropriate skills to respond to threats quickly enough.

The managed service provider’s role in supporting security operations 

As MSPs continue to play a larger role in providing cybersecurity protection for companies, it’s essential to learn how you can help improve your clients’ security through your SOC-as-a-service offerings.

Providing threat intelligence 

What is a SOC’s main role? It primarily acts as the main line of defense between a business’ important data and cybersecurity attacks from threat actors. Remaining proactive about your clients’ cybersecurity and taking steps to stay ahead of these potential threats is one of the most important services you can offer your client. 

Proactive threat intelligence can also drastically reduce the effort you would have to expend to remedy an actual data compromise as the MSP. In other words, offering a SOC as a service can be both a revenue stream and a cost savings opportunity for you as an MSP. 

Additionally, more and more MSPs are turning to threat intelligence providers, such as Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs), to gather data about emerging threats as they develop across the world. This allows MSPs to search for potential vulnerabilities in clients’ networks and patch them ASAP. 

To streamline this process, MSPs can even use a fully-managed SOC solution capable of integrating with multiple threat intelligence providers. This allows MSPs to better manage their clients’ threat indicators and gives them more control over data security.

24/7 monitoring of security threats  

Cyber threats can strike at any time. That’s why MSPs should have “always-on” threat detection and response capabilities, such as those provided by a SOC, in order to protect themselves and their clients. 

According to our research, creating an internal SOC team costs $2.3 million on average. Most businesses don’t have the budget and resources to build out a full-time, embedded SOC. Your MSP and its clients are likely in the same boat. 

To solve this challenge, MSPs can leverage the power of an outsourced 24/7 SOC to get all the benefits of a full-time security team without breaking the bank. This includes the ability to offer your clients SOC-as-a-service solutions that can easily scale as needed. 

Offering risk assessments  

Your clients likely know that cybersecurity is important. But they may not fully grasp concepts like “what is a SOC” or “what is SOC-as-a-service.” 

Your role as an MSP is to educate your clients on their existing security risks and how to protect themselves against threats. Offering strategic risk assessments is a great way to show customers that your team takes cybersecurity seriously and that you know how to provide actionable insights for remediating any issues.  

If you’re looking to implement comprehensive risk assessments as part of your services, contact us at ConnectWise for details on what to include. But, at the very least, a comprehensive risk assessment should highlight:

  • Network vulnerabilities 
  • Insufficient device management 
  • Data compliance issues 
  • Internal threats 
  • Potential impact of an incident 

It is also recommended that the risk assessments you offer are based on an internationally recognized standard, such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF).   

FAQs

What is a SOC?

A SOC, or security operations center, is an around-the-clock operation focused on mitigating cybersecurity attacks. Today’s digital threat actors are becoming savvier and cleverer by the minute. 

As a result, SOCs need to leverage both expert personnel and cutting-edge technology to identify, triage, and respond to cybersecurity threats in real-time.

What does SOC stand for?

SOC stands for Security Operations Center. A SOC may be situated in a physical location, referred to as a “SOC headquarters,” or organized in a virtual environment.

What does a SOC do?

A SOC is responsible for identifying, remedying, and responding to cybersecurity attacks. With more business being done on the web via cloud-based applications, threat actors have more opportunities to identify and expose network vulnerabilities now than ever before.

A SOC provides businesses with the “always-on” security necessary to identify and respond to threats in real-time.

What are the benefits of using a SOC?

Some of the benefits of using a SOC are:

  • Constant monitoring. Remain protected from threat actors 24/7/365.
  • Minimize threat impact. Improve proactive threat response and reduce threat actor dwell time within your system.
  • Airtight cybersecurity. Leverage your network of third-party tools to minimize coverage gaps and loopholes via a layered cybersecurity presence.

How does a SOC work?

Think of a SOC as the “first responders” of your cybersecurity efforts. Your SOC should monitor every device, network, and database in your network. Collecting data from as many sources as possible allows you to be proactive in implementing the three stages of the security process: Prevention/detection, investigation, and threat response.

 

Did you know?

73% of organizations with a SOC say that these teams are essential or very important to their overall cybersecurity strategy. 

Additional Resources

work plan icon
How to Provide 24/7 SOC Services without the Need for In-house Expertise

Have the costs, complexity, and staffing needs that are required to get started with a security operations center (SOC) been holding you back? Here’s how you can offer your clients flexible SOC-as-a-Service options without having to hire a full-time SOC team.   

Guide >>
toolbox icon
ConnectWise Cybersecurity Starter Kit

Want to start selling cybersecurity? We’ve put together a kit to help. Download the kit today for helpful resources that will transform your business from an MSP to an MSP+ model, including educational information for your SMB customers, templates, and more.

Kit >>
work plan icon
The SMB Cybersecurity Checklist

How secure are your SMB clients? Chances are, they may not fully understand their risks and exposures. Use this 30-item checklist to start the conversation around cybersecurity, help them understand the cybersecurity landscape, and assess their security postures. 

Checklist >>
reporting icon
Creating Opportunity from Adversity: The State of SMB Cybersecurity in 2020

SMBs are not immune from cybersecurity risks—quite the contrary. Our 2020 survey of 700 SMB decision makers uncovered interesting findings about how these businesses are thinking about cybersecurity, their spending plans, and what motivates them when it comes to security.

Report >>
ebook icon
The Security Journey Self Assessment

Wondering where you stand in your cybersecurity journey? Take this assessment to understand how advanced your cybersecurity knowledge is and to identify areas where you can expand upon your understanding of key cybersecurity concepts and precautions. 

eBook >>
blog icon
Scary Stories from the SOC

If you’re looking for ways to be more proactive about cybersecurity and uncover potential threats in unexpected places, we have you covered. Here are a few cybersecurity incidents we’ve helped our partners solve, plus our advice for dealing with a similar situation with your MSP.

Blog post >>