What is a Security Operation Center (SOC)?

Security services are a large priority for companies of all kinds, from brand new startups to massive corporations with an international presence and a long history. In decades past, this largely meant physical security to protect equipment, files, and servers on site, but today, a big part of keeping your business safe means protecting yourself online, too.

With the rise in cloud computing, companies are finding themselves more vulnerable to cyber attacks than ever before, and a passive approach can spell danger for even the largest company. A security operation center, or SOC, can be a key part of keeping information safe, no matter what you’re storing in your data center.

What Is a Security Operation Center?

SOC services are an information technology function that specifically monitors and analyzes security protocols on an ongoing basis. The composition of a team can vary, but generally includes IT professionals, engineers, cyber security professionals, and managers, all of whom play a role in ensuring proper data center security and management. There are even third-party vendors that can manage SOC services. This is generally the first line of defense against cyber attacks; SOCs help companies to identify points of vulnerability and create action plans to address them. SOC teams are involved in all steps of information security, from monitoring to incidence response.

How Does a SOC Work?

An SOC is a boots on the ground sort of resource within a corporation, working on all aspects of security to create a comprehensive approach both to developing strategies and creating security architecture to providing ongoing, operational support. Security analysts play a dominant role in day to day work, working to analyze the state of a system, respond to attacks, report on potential issues, and prevent security incidents.

An SOC works by first creating a strategy that incorporates overall cyber risk prevention objectives across the organization, both on the individual department level as well as in the eyes of executives and board members. For larger companies, this strategy may be extremely complex, but this complexity may be necessary to accommodate varying points of view.

The strategy created by the company will then guide the creation of an infrastructure that best accommodates the cybersecurity risk management needs of the company. How this is accomplished can vary greatly, but will usually be specific to the roles and responsibilities of a company. Using a generalized plan can defeat the purpose of an SOC entirely. In many cases, infrastructures include tactics like firewalls, an a security information and event management system, probes, and IPS/IDS. Regardless, the measures implemented should be appropriated to collect information via techniques like data flows, syslog, telemetry, and other opportunities, providing the access necessary for thorough monitoring, analysis, and vulnerability assessments.

In many cases, SOC for cybersecurity make use of the NIST framework of security, or a set of guidelines established by the National Institute of Standards and Technology that guide private companies in establishing appropriate data management operations to prevent cyber attacks. The guidelines provide a comprehensive overview of rules, technologies, and languages that can be used to safeguard against breaches and streamline incident response. NIST is also the standard for many of the most common compliance requirements.

The Role of an SOC Analyst

As analysts make up the bulk of an SOC team, their work is critically important to day to day operations. Analysts are essentially first responders – they are the first to notice issues and act accordingly to either remedy the situation or escalate them up the chain of command when more serious threat arises. Primarily, analysts exist to notice vulnerabilities and active threat detection as well as implementing any fixes or upgrades as required by management. In many cases, analysts are essentially on call around the clock and must be prepared to act when things go awry. Analysts can also be involved in disaster recovery planning and procedures.

The Role of an SOC Engineer

Engineers handle much of the back end of implementing a security infrastructure as well as making updates and creating new tools to improve the way an SOC functions. If analysts are first responders, engineers are more like doctors – if an analyst can’t handle an issue without further help, engineers will be brought in to update systems to prevent against further or future cybersecurity threats. SOC engineers may also be responsible for documenting policies and procedures to ensure all team members are equipped to handle whatever may arise.

The Role of an SOC Manager

An SOC manager is at the top of the organization and is in charge of overseeing the working pieces and parts. Managers take on coordination of responsibilities, plan how to respond to issues, risk, or attacks, hire team members, and determine the scope and direction of any new programs or platform implementations and frequently oversee any vulnerability assessment. SOC managers often report directly to the Chief Technology Officer or Chief Information Security Officer, depending on the organization of the company.

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Why Is a Security Operation Center Important?

Compromised information costs companies in many ways. From a damaged reputation to a loss of revenue to even legal fees, failing to keep customer information safe is an enormous detriment to going concern.

Take, for example, Equifax – a once-trusted credit reporting bureau that, through its own inefficient practices and lack of risk management, faced an epic security breach that compromised the personal and financial information of millions of customers nationwide. The company is still facing ramifications, including cash payments or monitoring services to those affected. All in all, Equifax claims that the breach has resulted in over $1.4 billion in costs.

While a large company may be able to weather this kind of storm, a similar issue for a small company can spell disaster. It may be decades before Equifax becomes a trusted name again – if ever.
While no company is perfect, an SOC is a good stepping stone to improving security controls and measures and helps prevent against future incidents. A team that operates cohesively based on organizational values goals can be a great asset, ensuring total and complete attention to security protocols and a continued emphasis on improving processes and staying up to date with emerging trends, like machine learning.

An SOC is important to keep your business safe, but it can also be a large asset for those who must comply with industry regulations, like hospitals that are required to protect patient information or financial institutions. With superior cyber risk management security, companies can make sure they are always operating in a compliant manner. Companies that operate overseas and may be subject to policies under GDPR, for example, will require strict security guidelines to prevent against attacks, as allowed information to be compromised could be costly.

Reporting: SOC Audits and SOC Compliance

While the structure and organization of an SOC is up to the individual company, public or government entities, or those covered by various forms of industry regulations, may need to meet certain expectations that go above and beyond internal needs. SOC audit reports are intended to provide further detail into how companies go about protecting their information, including financial data. SOC reports can provide this kind of insight, ensuring the approach companies are taking with their security operations center are appropriate, both internally and externally.

These kinds of reports are often used by clients using a company’s services, and can be particularly important for cloud service providers. They may be required by customers’ auditors in order to ensure service providers can properly manage and protect customer information – or, in other words, the efficacy and appropriateness of a company’s security operation center.

Kinds of SOC Reports

There are three main kinds of SOC reports: SOC 1, SOC 2, and SOC 3. Each of these reports serves a different purpose and may not be required or relevant for all companies. All of these reports are a part of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, or AICPA, Service Organization Control reporting framework. All three reports must be issued by a CPA firm; they are not something that can be generated in house.

SOC 1 Reports

SOC 1 reports, which are more formally known as Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements, provide an audit of a company’s internal controls over financial reporting. This refers to controls related to both information technology as well as business processes and speaks to the entirety of how a company uses information. In essence, these reports are used to evaluate management’s description of the controls in place as well as how well the tools in use actually achieve corporate goals. If, for example, a company claims to use a particular approach to cybersecurity threat intelligence, a SOC 1 report can determine both the veracity and impact of these claims.

There are two types of SOC 1 reports: type 1, which is generally a point in time report, and type 2, or reports that examine controls over a period of time, like 12 months.

These reports are best suited for enterprises that deal with a client’s financial reporting, like payroll processors or financial institutions.

SOC 2 Reports

SOC 2 reports are compliance reports that are very important for companies operating in the data center space. This report specifically looks at what is known as trust service principles, of which there are five – security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality and privacy. These key tenets are essential for managing sensitive data, and a failure to properly attend to all five can create compliance issues for service providers. Despite the importance of these criteria, SOC 2 readiness assessment reporting is specific to each business rather than being incorporated uniformly. SOC 2 reports assess things like data classification policies – a company’s approach to managing sensitive information – as well as the use of threat intelligence, protections against data breaches, and other valuable information related to security.

Like SOC 1, reporting is available in two types: type one, or a description of a vendor’s system and how well it meets designated needs, and type two, an analysis of the operating effectiveness of these systems.

SOC 2 isn’t a requirement for data center providers, but going through these steps can provide confidence in services to clients and customers.

SOC 3 Reports

SOC 3 reports are similar to SOC 2 reports as they also concern trust service principles. However, instead of being used to provide highly in-depth information to be used internally and by clients, SOC 3 reports can be made available to the public and thus contain higher level information surrounding the efficacy of data management and cyber security controls.

Who Can Use SOC Reports?

SOC reports are generally confidential reports that are to be used internally as well as by clients and clients’ auditors. However, those considering partnering with service providers, like third party cloud computing providers, may be able to request copies of these reports, particularly SOC 3 reports, to ensure proper management of IT systems. Companies that cannot or will not provide these reports, or who appear deficient in important areas on these reports, may not be reliable partners.

A trusted third party provider can be an essential part of getting started in cloud computing. An advanced cloud security operation center with a demonstrated commitment to trust service principles is the best possible choice to host your proprietary information in a cloud data center.

Considering a third party provider for private cloud operations? Contact Avatara to learn more about our comprehensive CompleteCloud solution.

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