Cyber Security Operations Centre (SOC): A Comprehensive Guide

Read time 10 mins

Written December 2020


What does SOC stand for?

Let’s start with the basics: the SOC abbreviation stands for Security Operations Centre.


What is the difference between SOC, CSOC and NOC?

Speaking of abbreviation, in addition to a managed SOC, the cybersecurity field also works with the terms CSOC and NOC.  If you’re not an avid cybersecurity enthusiast, chances are that you are probably asking yourself what the difference is. We can help you with that!

CSOC or CyberSOC stands for Cybersecurity Operations Centre. It is also known as Advanced SOC and involves cutting-edge upgrades to a traditional SOC framework. Let’s put it simply: your cybersecurity doesn’t get more advanced than CSOC.

NOC, or Network Operations Centre, is a little bit different than the previous two. While SOC and CSOC both focus on security, NOC ensures the network service functions well and without interruptions. It’s not aimed at actively combating external malicious threats.


What is SOC and what does SOC do?

We would define SOC as your very own information security team, responsible for maintaining the highest cybersecurity levels attainable for your business.

In simple terms, the goal of your security operations team is to keep your information safe from cyberattacks. The SOC functions fall under three main tasks: to detect, prevent, and respond to cybersecurity incidents.

OK, but what does the security operations centre do for you exactly? The answer varies. A managed SOC could perform dozens of functions, depending on your particular business needs. Those often include the following responsibilities:

  • Carry out a cyber risk assessment and identify potential threats
  • Respond to cyber incidents promptly and efficiently
  • Recover compromised data
  • Ensure regular cyber defence system updates and maintenance
  • Analyse behaviours in the business to improve its cybersecurity
  • Educate staff on compliance policies to avoid unintentional criminal behaviour
  • Stay up-to-date with new threats and technology

Your SOC team will be responsible for the maintenance of all systems used in your company, any websites or applications you support, as well as your networks, servers and endpoints.


Do I need a SOC? 

From intellectual property to personnel data and business systems, your organisation has more assets vulnerable to cyber threats than what you may realise. With information being a highly-sought after commodity, protecting your business’ data is crucial in today’s world. In many sectors, cybersecurity operation centres are implemented as a common practice. Those include:

  • Financial services
  • Healthcare providers
  • Military operations
  • Education industry (schools, colleges, universities & more)
  • Government
  • E-commerce sites
  • Hi-tech companies

As we’ve seen in recent years, no business, no matter how big or small it may be, is invincible to cyber attacks. Over the last decade, many well-known names, such as Adobe, Canva, eBay, and more recently Zoom and Twitter, have all had hundreds of millions of accounts compromised by cybercriminals.

Therefore, if you work with sensitive information and/or online services accessible to the public, you should probably consider investing in a cybersecurity operations centre.

Wondering if a generic cyber defence system would suffice? It depends on your individual business needs. Discuss this with your IT team, or book a consultation with a cybersecurity provider to go over your options.


The benefits of having a SOC

There are many benefits to having a cybersecurity operations centre at your disposal, as opposed to choosing a standard cybersecurity system. See some of the top ones below.

  • Saving money for larger business: If you have multiple offices, SOC gives you centralised protection for all of them, reducing the overall cost.
  • Bespoke security that fits your business: SOC is not a one-fits-all solution. It’s a bespoke, constantly-developing service, designed to align with your business goals. So, your SOC will cover your particular business needs.
  • Rapid response: Having a dedicated cybersecurity team means that threats will be detected and neutralized faster, minimising the loss of data.
  • Staying ahead of upcoming threats: The best way to stay protected is to be one step ahead of those who may want to harm your business. Hackers and cyber thieves get more and more creative every day, so your cybersecurity has to constantly evolve as well. Your SOC will call on the shared expertise of multiple experienced professionals who stay on top of the current trends and intelligence.


In-house vs outsourced: what type of SOC should you choose?

A security operations centre can be either built in-house or outsourced to a high-class cybersecurity provider, such as Littlefish. But how do you decide which one is the right option for you?  Here are a few things to consider before making your decision:


Can you provide access to your database? 

To protect your business, an external SOC provider will have to be granted access to all your data. If the data you work with is of  a sensitive nature, or if you’re aware of industry regulations which would prevent you from sharing information with external sources (even for the purposes of protecting said data), then an in-house security operations centre is a better option for you.


What resources do you already have in-house?

Before you outsource your cybersecurity, you need to evaluate your in-house capabilities and decide whether or not you can maintain good cyber protection with the talent you have within your own business. Some questions you should ask yourself are whether you can perform forensic investigations and how well you understand the possible cyber risks your organisation may encounter. Usually, you’ll find that, in order to set up your own SOC, you’ll need to hire a lot of new talent.


Can your cybersecurity wait? 

One of the major downsides to an in-house SOC is that it takes a long time to set up. Recruitment in itself is a time-consuming process, as you probably already know. Then, you have to account for the time needed for your brand-new cybersecurity team to build a working infrastructure and to devise, test and implement a set of processes designed for your company.

Going with an external SOC service provider, on the other hand, saves you time by giving you access to a well-oiled team of cybersecurity specialists that can implement their services immediately.


How much are you willing to allocate to your cybersecurity budget? 

Due to the amount of time it takes for an in-house SOC to reach the desired level of competency and efficiency, it could be years before you see a return on investment. Therefore, when it comes to cost-efficiency outsourced SOC is the winner.

Also, based on your particular business requirements, you may need only a certain set of services, so your external provider could offer a package that suits your company. That’s why you should always approach any SOC provider with a budget in mind.


Can you provide 24/7 monitoring and protection in-house?

All credible external SOC providers on the market offer 24/7 services. They have teams working at all times of the day to service their clients’ needs. Due to budgeting issues, most companies are unable to afford to maintain a round-the-clock SOC service in-house.


Is shared experience something you’re interested in?

When it comes to SOC in-house, you’re the team’s sole focus. An external SOC service provider will undoubtedly have multiple clients and that has its benefits. By working together across different industries, an outsourced SOC will encounter various issues and will have a better understanding of the emerging threats on the market.

However, it’s worth noting that this goes both ways. Knowledge derived from working with your business will also be implemented in the defence of other businesses that use the same external SOC. Whether you see tapping into a shared experience as a pro or a con, is entirely up to you.


How to screen potential external SOC providers? 

Decided to outsource your security operations centre? Then you need to find the right SOC service provider. With cybersecurity emerging as a leading necessity on the market, you will come to realise that the number of companies that offer SOC is on the rise, which makes choosing that more difficult.

As this is a pricey project to invest in, making the right choice is paramount to the success of your investment in security. To help you out, we’ve come up with a few key points to consider when screening potential SOC providers.


Comprehensive communication

First and foremost, your cybersecurity expert should be able to explain to you their service in a way that you understand. This may sound like a given but it’s not.

Due to its technicality, the IT sector works with complicated processes and uses very specific jargon. You may feel lost when it comes to even the most basic elements of a SOC, such as perimeter, host and network, and specific application-based agents. You probably won’t understand most of the lingo used to discuss a cybersecurity system. But you know what? That’s OK because a good specialist will be able to explain advanced concepts by breaking them down into simpler terms.

Being able to communicate with your provider is something that you’ll need for as long as you use their services. A SOC will present you with regular reports. Furthermore, you will need to understand the changes in your SOC because many of those will occur as time goes on. As we said earlier, threats evolve and so does SOC, so the tech and even the processes are subject to change. In fact, if your SOC isn’t adapting to the current cyber scene, you should consider changing providers.


Privileged user access management & third parties

With GDPR rules in place, understanding how your SOC manages and controls privileged user access is absolutely critical. In order to maintain and implement compliance with standard privacy regulations, you must pick a SOC specialist that can easily demonstrate an understanding of who has access to your data and why.

You should also take into consideration that, to deliver its services to you, an external SOC may also rely on third parties. You need to be aware of those relationships before you can make an informed decision as to whether or not it’s appropriate to trust these parties with your information.


Clear SOC architecture & managing workflow 

A comprehensive SOC architecture usually means that the provider has a clear plan of action. The different architectural components are used to monitor different things in the organisation. With the help of network diagrams with clear annotations, you should be able to understand the SOC architecture you’re being offered.

Even if you’ve gone for an external SOC, it still is your security operations team, so your provider should inform you on who the product owners are, how the incident workflow is set out, and what the incident response protocols are.

All of this will come in handy when setting up realistic KPIs in the future.


The SOC’s own security 

That’s right – how can you trust anyone to take care of your cybersecurity if they can’t protect themselves first? As we mentioned earlier, a SOC will have access to all your systems and any sensitive information you possess. Therefore, it’s only natural to have a discussion about the mechanisms, processes and procedures that the SOC implements to protect itself against threats.

Another source where you can obtain information about your SOC provider’s performance is doing your research online. SOC, like any other service, is a product and as such it has its previous clients. Reading about their experiences can help you make an informed decision. A word of caution though, always take reviews with a pinch of salt as there are many reasons why someone would leave a negative review, some of which –  purely malicious. Use your better judgment to decide which reviews are trustworthy.


What do you need to do for your outsourced SOC to work?

Every relationship works only when all parties involved put effort into it and your relationship with your external SOC makes no exception. Here are some things you should do for your partnership to be successful.


Make sure your provider understands your business

Starting with setting out clear business objectives and giving your SOC a detailed overview of the operational environment they’ll have to work in, you have to paint a clear picture of where your business is and where you want it to be.

No detail is too small to mention. For example, if you have employees who work remotely from different locations around the globe, your SOC may flag their activity as suspicious. As a result, the data reflected in their security incident reports may be altered. As time goes by, a good security operations team will learn and adjust. However, until that moment comes, you may receive somewhat inaccurate data. Although there will inevitably be a learning curve, it can be flattened by simply offering in-depth information to your provider from the start.


Agree on data retention rules

How long your data can be retained for is a key issue to discuss with your SOC service provider before you enter a binding agreement.


Create a positive cybersecurity culture in your business

Introducing a new entity, such as a dedicated managed SOC, to your business may cause some tension in the workplace if the idea is not introduced well to the existing team beforehand. Your security operations teams will monitor other employees’ behaviour when using the system to help theme void cyber errors. They will also ensure that regulations are complied with. Even though those actions are beneficial to the business, they may be misinterpreted by co-workers as invasive.

This is where you, as a business leader, come in. You need to make sure your team is educated on what SOC is and how it works before it’s introduced to the business.

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