Overworked, understaffed teams? Reactive processes? Noisy tools and a river of false positives? Welcome to the “SOC hop,” the dysfunctional “normal” of the typical corporate security operations center (SOC). But it is a normal that is not sustainable, writes Steve Garrison of Stellar Cyber in this Security Ledger expert insight.

There have always been two ways to view the Security Operations Center (SOC). Idealized, the SOC runs with precision and control. Operations are linear, it is well staffed, and the workload is reasonable. Surprises may occur, but they are readily handled in stride. There is no real sense of panic or fatigue, because everything works as planned. Then there is the other view of the typical SOC, the one experienced by most companies. This is the SOC hop.

Enter the SOC Hop

The hop is characterized by an overworked, understaffed team that is constantly jumping from one fire to the next. As much as the team is qualified and desirous of being proactive, all their time is consumed by reacting to events and alerts. Most of the professionals are exhausted and some even question the value of certain tools that have too many false positives and lack the ability to prioritize alerts in a meaningful, productive way. Ultimately, the SOC hop is not sustainable. Security success is getting worse, not better, and a data breach or something even worse seems a foregone conclusion.

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Steve Garrison, Stellar AI
Steve is the Vice President of Marketing at Stellar AI

Fortunately, organizations are rethinking the SOC and how it works in a classic “there must be a better way” reevaluation. The SOC is being reimaged or reimagined to better deal with the realities of today and the ability to scale to challenges still to come. The considerations may seem trite or tired—all too familiar—but they represent the fundamental changes needed to leave the SOC hop and move on to something better.

The SOC: re-imagined

First, there is visibility. Everyone knows this. An old security adage is “you can’t secure what you cannot see.” This is just as true today as when it first became a cliché. Visibility is a combination of depth and breadth. Attackers may target any portion of an attack surface and will traverse networks and infrastructure to gain access to valuable assets. This means that every part of the attack surface must be monitored and that organizations can see across their entire infrastructure to find the East-West activities intrinsic to the work of a skilled attacker. At the same time, data must also provide contextual references for an event to help boost accuracy and understanding of findings.

Second, the re-imaged SOC needs combined intelligence. The silos of separate tools with their individual alerts—and SIEMs that cannot gather a deep and broad enough amount of data to provide comprehensive understanding and relevant admonitions—need to be united. Not only do security tools and systems need to connect, they need to correlate their data to help paint a broader, clearer picture of potential in-progress attacks. This is more than API connectivity and rudimentary integrations. It also means real time or close to real time. Again, attacks are not static; they are dynamic and attackers move, conducting a campaign to maximize the return on their activity. One event may be inconsequential and below the radar, but connecting the dots may clearly reveal an attack in progress.

Mind the Gap

Third, gaps need to be covered. There are normally gaps between coverage areas and the realm that each security tool ingests. Logs will only reflect a portion of the evidence. There are typically some kind of boundaries between what is monitored as perimeter, endpoint, cloud, server, data center, etc. In addition, gaps may come into being through the natural, dynamic change of a company’s networks and infrastructure. Ideally, gaps can be met with sensors to ensure full visibility and assessment. Data from these sensors may be instrumental in finding attack activity or bolstering findings.

The combination of full visibility, covering gaps and combined intelligence can be a game-changer for the SOC. It can substantially change the way the team works. Rather than hopping from incident to incident or between every alert or event that pops up, the cacophony of disparate can be put to an end to produce alerts that are fewer in number, higher in accuracy and relevance and prioritized for action. Here, the tools support the SOC team rather than the other way around. The tiresome SOC hop can give way to a wholly new way of working and getting an upper hand on the many challenges of protecting data, infrastructure and valuable assets.