What Is a Security Operations Center (SOC)?

An effective SOC provides organizations a significant competitive edge against an ever-evolving cyber threat landscape, keeping tabs on assets, networks and endpoints while monitoring them 24/7 to detect and prioritize alerts.

Reducing attack surfaces by resetting or isolating compromised systems, wiping or re-imaging disks, reconnecting lost identities and applications, recovering data and recovering identities are among the many tactics cybersecurity firms utilize to reduce attack surfaces and identify vulnerabilities and weak security processes.

Security Monitoring

An integral component of any SOC is its capacity to continuously assess and track threats against your organization, such as cybercrime. This requires 24/7 monitoring of IT infrastructure, endpoints, data and cybercriminals who exploit any gaps in security coverage.

Many SOCs use Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solutions to manage their alert volume effectively. These tools collect and analyze logs from on-premises, cloud and OT/ICS systems to identify abnormal trends or discrepancies that might indicate a threat and evaluate them further to ascertain impactful potential threats before initiating automatic response mechanisms such as firewalls or malware detection tools if applicable.

security operations center

A SOC might use tools such as user and entity behaviour analytics, which utilize AI to establish a baseline of normal activity across your environment and then detect any abnormalities - alerting the SOC team of any suspected malicious behaviour - to minimize false positives - alerts which do not need immediate action taken against.

SOC monitoring plays an integral part in detecting breaches as they happen, including identifying compromised assets and stopping an attacker from spreading to more systems, restoring systems to their original state and eliminating infected files or data from those systems. Once an attack occurs, SOC will conduct a comprehensive investigation to assess the damage and uncover vulnerabilities or flaws in security processes that contributed to it.

Building a Security Operations Center can be an extensive undertaking that takes significant resources to implement successfully, which is why many organizations outsource their SOC capabilities through managed security service providers (MSSP). With SOC as a Service, third-party vendors provide all of the security functions normally performed within a SOC, including monitoring, detection and response capabilities, incident response, threat intelligence support, compliance support, and forensics capabilities as part of subscription-based plans.

Incident Response

Incident response in a SOC refers to how an organization responds to cyber-attacks and includes providing stakeholders with an incident response plan (IRP) so that when an incident occurs, they can quickly coordinate efforts based on this plan. Common stakeholders for incident response planning include security teams, operations, legal counsel, executive management, external partners and customers.

Preparation involves reviewing existing security measures and procedures to evaluate their effectiveness while conducting a risk analysis to identify vulnerabilities and prioritize assets.

With this data at hand, reconfiguring systems and improving monitoring alerting tools may be possible.

When monitoring tools send alerts, the SOC is responsible for reviewing each to filter out false positives and assess potential threats. They then triage emerging issues based on priority; for instance, if an attacker exploits a vulnerability, they could shut down affected machines before any more damage can be done.

After detecting a threat, SOC teams use forensic investigations to pinpoint its origin and activities. Furthermore, they may need to notify employees, stakeholders, authorities and customers about what has transpired.

At this stage, it's also essential that a SOC be capable of quickly recovering from any incidents to minimize impact and minimize disruptions. This may involve restoring services, recovering lost data and improving monitoring based on lessons learned from attacks.

At its core, SOCs must include processes and tools for quickly recognizing, containing and eliminating malware attacks detected. This helps minimize incident response times so breaches can be dealt with early before spreading further. To enable this, organizations often deploy automated detection and response solutions like Cortex XSOAR into their SOCs to quickly identify anomalies or suspicious activity, allowing for faster threat identification and mitigation.

Threat Intelligence

Threat intelligence is a critical component of a SOC. By providing security teams with this insight into how cyber attackers operate and which devices and systems are targeted during an attack, threat intelligence enables security teams to detect breaches more quickly - protecting organizations against data breaches that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.

The SOC conducts comprehensive analyses on threat data derived from firewalls, intrusion detection systems and other security solutions; event alerts generated from them; and internal sources like vulnerability scans, malware analysis tools and forensic tools. This enables it to establish a baseline understanding of normal network activity quickly before quickly and accurately detecting anomalous activities that arise -- thus decreasing both Mean Time to Repair (MTTR) and Mean Time To Intervention (MTTI).

When monitoring tools generate an alert, the SOC evaluates it for validity by discarding false positives and evaluating any actual threats based on how aggressively they could act and who or what could be targeted by any existing threats. This allows them to triage alerts appropriately to prioritize more serious threats first.

As this process requires considerable human intelligence and time commitment, many SOCs utilize managed security service providers to lessen the strain on in-house staff and increase efficiency.

As well as using data from internal security tools, the SOC also leverages external cyber threat intelligence sources such as news feeds, signature updates, incident reports, and threat briefs to gain a comprehensive view of current and emerging threats.

Intelligence provided to SOCs should focus on understanding the tools and infrastructure attackers use to meet their objectives, helping the SOC understand how best to defend against them. Threat intelligence also includes patterns of behaviour which may indicate attacks, such as unusual privileged user account activity.

Threat intelligence collected by the SOC can also provide business stakeholders with a deeper insight into what's going on in the cyber landscape, aiding wiser investments, enhanced risk mitigation measures and quicker decision-making processes. This can especially benefit executives without technical backgrounds who must consider security risks when making strategic decisions for their companies.


A SOC must remain aware of all databases, cloud services, identities, applications and endpoints it is guarding; and any tools used to defend these assets, such as vulnerability assessment solutions, governance risk compliance (GRC) systems, Security Information Event Management (SIEM) platforms and threat intelligence systems used for defence. Full visibility over these assets allows SOC personnel to detect suspicious activity and prevent cyber incidents quickly.

A Security Operations Center (SOC) ensures all systems in an organization comply with its security policy, external standards, and best practices, such as ISO 27001x, NIST CSF, HIPAA, GDPR and PCI DSS. In addition, vulnerability scans must be run across the enterprise to identify vulnerabilities that require attention quickly.

After an incident, the SOC must assess when, how, and why a breach occurred. This process may include performing forensic analyses on log data to pinpoint its cause and prevent similar occurrences in future.

As well as performing its essential duties, the SOC must continually expand and develop its capabilities, which demands significant dedication and financial resources. Communication of the business value of a SOC to non-security leaders may be challenging, leading to a lack of investment, poor collaboration and reduced support from others. A new model known as "SOC-as-a-Service" may offer an alternative to the traditional in-house approach.

SOC-as-a-Service providers are accountable for providing all the people, processes and technologies necessary to run a SOC for an enterprise effectively. This model is quickly gaining adoption, offering real-world benefits such as faster cyber incident detection and response. Learn more by reading our free whitepaper: Benefits of SOC-as-a-Service Model.

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