Not all Security Operations Centers (SOC) are the Same.

Posted on: June 24, 2019 By: Carolyn Kuczynski

SOCs help organizations to improve security, compliance, and governance. Most security organizations today have been forced to do more with less. Working with smaller budgets, teams, and limited access to training to keep up with cyber threats. Many enterprises are opting to outsource their security operations rather than deploying it themselves. Building your own SOC is an expensive and complicated endeavor. Further, the costs of staffing and maintaining a SOC can add-up quickly from hiring, training, and the retaining talent, and purchase of hardware and software for monitoring and managing and keeping up to date with the latest cyber threats. However, not all SOC as a Service provider are the same.

In general, there are four tiers of SOC services each having vital functions. However, as a rule, they all have two common foundations with security monitoring tools to receive contextually relevant information from both inside and outside the network (e.g., persistent outbound data transfers, login/logoff, firewall activity, etc.). Also, these systems monitor cloud and on-premise infrastructure services like DNS, email, web, domain controllers, and active directory services. Each sends information to log analysis, endpoint detection and response (EDR) or security information and event management (SIEM) tools. The second foundation of a SOC is leveraging these tools to find, identify and report suspicious or malicious activity from alerts. Below is an overview of the four tiers of SOC services.

Tier 1 – Triage.

This level of SOC services focuses on reviewing and assigning urgency to potential threats. They are the front line when reporting security incidents. Tier 1 SOC analysts run vulnerability and security assessment reports and manage security monitoring tools.

Tier 2 – Incident Response.

As trouble tickets or help desk alerts generated by tier 1 analysts, tier 2 leverages security controls, policies, and intelligence (indicators of compromise (IOC), rules, and procedures) to determine the scope and origin of the attack. Tier 2 SOCs focus on mitigation, recovery, and remediation once an attack has occurred.

Tier 3 – Proactive Cyber Defense.

This tier requires a combination of methods, technologies, and experience to hunt and kill cyber attacks. In addition to reviewing and developing a defensive posture from Tier 1 data, Tier 3 SOCs consistently look for vulnerabilities and access points into a network – hopefully without detection. Many organizations, especially in highly regulated industries like financial services, are turning to tier 3 and 4 level SOCs to ensure regulatory compliance, governance, and auditing the auditors.

Tier 4 – Operations, Controls, and Management.

Tier 1-3 SOCs focus on the tactical activities of managing a SOC either defensively (tier 1-2) or proactively hunting threats (tier 3). At this level, the service provider typically oversees all aspects of a proactive – threat hunter – SOC operation including managing incident response programs, escalation processes, and developing the crisis communications plan across the organization. Tier 4 SOCs produce, report, and maintain performance metrics to protect their customer’s executives, brands, and reputations.

While many SOC providers claim end-to-end security services, most fall woefully short and are only able to perform at tier 1 – 2 level. Moreover, most end-user organizations do not have the confidence, talent, or skills to contain and respond to a data breach.  Research by an insurance service organization suggests companies can save over 65% (over a three year period) of the costs by outsourcing SOC services over building in-house, especially from an operational and personal perspective. When determining which route to go from building vs. outsourcing a SOC, each tier and service provider has their strengths and weaknesses. It is important to do your homework, understand the limitations of each provider, and choose the right SOC as a Service provider based on your goals, internal skill-sets, and risk tolerance.

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