Signs of an Inadequate Security Operations Center

The security challenges faced by organizations are critical, and the ability to detect and navigate these challenges can determine a business’ survival. This means the role of a Security Operations Center (SOC) has never been more crucial than it is today, and an effective SOC stands at the forefront of an organization’s cybersecurity defense. Whether you have established an in-house SOC or you partner with a Managed Security Service Provider (MSSP), it is vital to recognize that not all SOCs are created equal. Some inadvertently fall short in delivering the necessary protection protocols to properly safeguard sensitive data and systems.

As we have seen in recent big company hacks, money and large budgets alone cannot buy security. Just because you’re paying a lot for your SOC does not guarantee it is effective. There are several indications of an inferior SOC, and it’s essential to watch for these telltale signs to ensure your organization remains well-protected. Taking the time to assess your SOC and look for gaps in effectiveness and integration can make a significant difference. This process also allows organizations to realign operations, make informed technology choices, and select a service partner that can transform operations into a robust and secure environment, aligned with the top-level mission.

Awash in Signals

SOCs face a myriad of challenges and problems that can impact their ability to effectively detect, respond to, and mitigate security incidents. To describe these challenges as complex would be an understatement, however there are several key signs that should raise red flags:

1. Unclear Focus

SOCs should undergo a measurable, continually improving range of clear, meaningful behavior incentives. When a SOC prioritizes behaviors that do not directly contribute to security effectiveness, it’s a sign the team’s focus may be misguided. Attributes of this condition include:

  • Ticket Quantity Over Quality: Some SOC environments gauge performance based on the number of tickets opened and resolved. While ticket volume is an important metric, it should not overshadow the quality and thoroughness of incident detection, response, and resolution.
  • Alert Fatigue: SOC analysts may find themselves inundated with alerts that are poorly tuned or irrelevant to real threats. If analysts are chasing false positives or dealing with an excessive number of low-priority alerts, it indicates an inefficient SOC.
  • Compliance Over Security: An inferior SOC may prioritize meeting compliance requirements at the expense of robust security. While compliance is essential, it cannot be the sole focus; it may not cover all potential threats and vulnerabilities.
  • Focus on Alerting vs. Resolution and Root Cause: Ineffective SOCs often prioritize alerts and incident notification at the expense of comprehensive resolution and addressing root causes. While timely alerts are crucial, a myopic focus on alerting can lead to a reactive approach. A proficient SOC should not only detect incidents, but swiftly move towards resolution and identifying the root causes behind breaches. The ability to resolve threats and address underlying vulnerabilities is fundamental in minimizing the impact of security incidents and preventing their recurrence. Without a concerted effort to shift from alert-centric operations to a resolution-driven mindset, an SOC may find itself repeatedly grappling with the same issues, leaving the organization exposed to persistent risks.

2. Depth of Expertise

Most traditional SOCs adhere to the traditional Managed Detection and Response (MDR) framework. While MDR services encompass specific steps needed to address security concerns, such as identifying which alerts require the most attention, sandboxing, malware analysis, and troubleshooting security vulnerabilities, they often fall short in the most critical aspect – “responding” to the threat and mitigating the underlying vulnerability. A modern SOC should possess the following capabilities:

  • Ability to Remediate Infrastructure: The ability to dive deep into infrastructure and patch systems is essential. Threats often linger within networks and systems for extended periods, requiring strong IT expertise that many SOCs lack. This capability may involve deep networking knowledge or close collaboration with the Network Operations Center (NOC). Without these capabilities, issues may take an unnecessarily long time to resolve, burdening IT teams further.
  • Recovery Capability: The SOC should be able to invoke a recovery plan from a well-established Disaster Recovery or Managed Backup program, depending on the organization’s Recovery Point Objectives (RPO) and Recovery Time Objectives (RTO). Without these skills, timely and graceful recovery in the event of a breach may be unattainable.

3. Gaps in 24/7 Coverage

Security controls that are not operational around the clock are a significant concern. This can lead to vulnerabilities going undetected for extended periods. Key indicators to watch for include:

  • Scheduled Downtime: If security controls are routinely taken offline for maintenance, it should be done strategically and with minimal impact. Prolonged downtime can leave the organization vulnerable.
  • Outdated Signatures and Rules: Neglecting to update and maintain security control signatures and rules can result in these controls missing newer threats and attacks.
  • Inadequate Resource Allocation: A lack of sufficient resources, such as personnel or technology, can lead to intermittent monitoring and control failures.

4. Stagnation in Operations

A robust SOC should continually strive for operational improvements. Any sign of stagnation or a lack of active efforts to enhance processes should raise concerns. When you encounter this, you may observe:

  • Repetitive Incidents: If the same types of security incidents persist without effective mitigation or proactive preventative measures, it suggests a lack of operational learning and improvement.
  • Manual and Time-Consuming Tasks: Inefficient processes that rely heavily on manual tasks can be a red flag. An advanced SOC should leverage automation, AI and machine learning to streamline operations and respond more effectively to threats.
  • Lack of Training and Skill Development: An inferior SOC may not invest in ongoing training and skill development for analysts. This can result in outdated knowledge and ineffective response to emerging threats.

Always Evaluating and Improving

A security operations center should always strive to remain on the cutting edge of security, however for many this is not reality. Recognizing the signs of an inadequate SOC operation is crucial for maintaining a robust cybersecurity posture. Ensuring critical SOC initiatives, maintaining focus, continual improvement, and regular gap assessments are essential steps in guaranteeing the effectiveness and efficiency of your Security Operations Center. Organizations should regularly evaluate their SOC’s performance and make necessary adjustments to ensure the highest level of protection against evolving cyber threats.

This article was originally published in Forbes, please follow me on LinkedIn.

Enterprise SOCs: How They Work and Why Most Are Insufficient

In the realm of cybersecurity, the concept of a Security Operations Center (SOC) serves as a bastion against the relentless tide of cyber threats. However, delving deeper into the intricacies of how a SOC operates reveals that the notion of an enterprise SOC can sometimes be misleading, akin to a company attempting to run its own power plant in an era of renewable energy, or building their own data center amidst an abundance of cloud services. As we peel back the layers of SOC operations, it becomes evident that enterprise-launched SOCs can quickly prove insufficient in the face of today’s cyberthreats.

Decoding the Inner Workings and Challenges of a SOC

A SOC is the vigilant guardian standing between an organization’s sensitive data and the multitude of cyber adversaries seeking to breach its defenses. Its arsenal is comprised of a concoction of technological marvels, including Artificial Intelligence (AI), log analysis, and real-time threat detection mechanisms. To build and maintain an effective SOC, organizations invest in a spectrum of expertise from cybersecurity analysts to incident response teams. All of this sounds great; you want a well-structured SOC to act as your organization’s digital sentry, shield, and sword.

Realities begin to hit when significant challenges emerge for SOC environments, though. These challenges include:

  • Overwhelming Alert Volumes: The rapidly evolving threat landscape results in an avalanche of alerts from various security tools. Amidst this influx, critical alerts may become lost or buried beneath a sea of false positives or low-priority notifications.
  • Visibility Gaps: The lack of comprehensive visibility into an organization’s entire digital ecosystem leaves blind spots ripe for exploitation. Attackers then exploit these gaps.
  • Sophisticated Threats: Cybercriminals are adept at crafting attacks that evade conventional security measures. Advanced malware, zero-day vulnerabilities, and sophisticated social engineering techniques evade detection and call for heightened vigilance.
  • Alert Fatigue: Overburdened analysts grappling with a barrage of alerts can experience alert fatigue—a condition where the volume of alerts diminishes their ability to discern genuine threats from false positives.
  • Ineffective Contextualization: Isolated alerts provide limited context, making it challenging for analysts to gauge the severity and scope of an incident. This lack of contextualization hampers timely and accurate decision-making.
  • Legacy Solutions: Some SOCs rely on legacy technologies that lack the agility and sophistication needed to combat today’s modern threats. These outdated solutions struggle to keep pace with rapidly evolving attack techniques.

The flaws of an enterprise SOC begin to emerge with one subtle yet impactful component that can break everything in one cyber event: Why are you doing this anyway?

The Limited Lens of an Enterprise SOC

An enterprise SOC, no matter how robust, can only glimpse the threats present in its own digital kingdom. If Coca-Cola were to launch a SOC (and they might have), for example, that SOC has no insights into the flow of threats across the entire spectrum of the digital realm. Threat feeds are, at best, a backfill. This isolated perspective hinders a comprehensive understanding of the evolving threat landscape. Coca-Cola’s SOC probably knows a lot about threats to the food and beverage industry, but they are myopic by nature when it comes to the complex landscape of threats affecting organizations at large.

Service-Based Collective Security

Today’s cyber threats transcend company borders, necessitating more collective defensive capabilities than before. The digital landscape is brimming with cunning, malicious adversaries who are constantly evolving their tactics. Today’s cybercriminals seem to care more about attack opportunities than specializing in specific targets, and this interconnectedness of threats necessitates an equally interconnected defense mechanism.

Service-based SOCs wield the power of detection and protection for thousands of clients. They have assembled teams of seasoned cybersecurity professionals, implemented the best monitoring practices, incorporated cutting-edge technologies, and achieved scalability, flexibility, cost-efficiency, collaboration, and more. This reduces the burden for organizations, allowing them to focus on their core business competencies and what they were created to do. Going back to the Cola-Cola example, it allows them to focus on making and selling soft drinks.

Within the service-based SOC model, the intelligence gleaned from a single incident has immense value. Knowledge from a single event ripples across the entire network and all clients, allowing the service-based SOC to better fortify others against similar threats. By pooling resources, expertise, and insights, organizations can elevate their defense capabilities through security services that utilize a breadth of telemetric data from various sources.

It is time to challenge the notion of siloed defenses, often represented through the enterprise SOC. More importantly, it is time for organizations to break free from the idea of building their own.

This article was originally published in Forbes, please follow me on LinkedIn.