5 tips for building an effective security operations center (SOC)

5 tips for building an effective security operations center (SOC)

Security is more than just tools and processes. It is also the people that develop and operate security systems. Creating systems in which security professionals can work efficiently and effectively with current technologies is key to keeping your data and networks secure. Many enterprise organizations understand this need and are attempting to meet it with the creation of their own security operations center (SOC).

SOCs can significantly improve the security of an organization, but they are not perfect solutions and can be challenging to implement. Lack of skilled staff and the absence of effective orchestration and automation are the biggest hurdles, according to a recent SANS survey. Despite these hurdles, more organizations are looking to follow in the footsteps of the enterprise and build SOCs. Read on to learn exactly what is a security operations center, and how to create an effective one.

What is a security operations center (SOC)?

A security operations center, or SOC, consists of a team of people who are responsible for monitoring systems, identifying security issues and incidents, and responding to events. They are also typically the ones responsible for evaluating and enforcing security policies. A SOC team is typically responsible for covering the whole organization, not just a single department. While it’s mostly been embraced by larger organizations, SOCs are useful for businesses of any size, since all organizations are vulnerable to cyberattack.

SOC team members typically include:

  • SOC Manager—leads team operations and helps determine budget and agenda. They also serve as team representatives, interacting with other managers and executives.
  • Security Analyst—organizes and interprets data from reports and audits. They conduct risk assessments and use threat intelligence to produce actionable insights.
  • Forensic Investigator—analyzes incident data for evidence and behavioral information. They can work with law enforcement post incident.
  • Incident Responder—creates and follows Incident Response Plans (IRPs). They also conduct initial investigations and threat assessments.
  • Compliance Auditor—ensures processes comply with regulations. They can also handle compliance reporting.

SOCs must be customizable to an organization’s needs. To meet these differing needs, several types of SOCs exist, including:

  • Internal—consists of in-house security professionals
  • Co-managed—consists of a combination of internal and third-party professionals
  • Managed—consists of third-party professionals working remotely
  • Command—manages and coordinates smaller SOCs; useful for large enterprises

How to build an effective SOC

Building an effective SOC requires understanding the needs of your organization, as well as its limitations. Once these needs and limitations are understood, you can begin applying the following best practices. 

1. Choose your team carefully

The effectiveness of your SOC is reliant on the team members you choose. They are responsible for keeping your systems secure and determining which resources are needed to do so. When choosing, you need to include members that cover a range of skill sets and expertise

Team members must be able to:

  • Monitor systems and manage alerts
  • Manage and resolve incidents
  • Analyze incidents and propose action
  • Hunt and detect threats 

To accomplish these tasks, team members must also have a variety of skills, both soft and hard. The most important among these include intrusion detection, reverse engineering, malware handling and identification, and crisis management.

Do not make the mistake of only evaluating technical skills when building your team. Team members are required to work together closely during high-stress situations. For this reason, it is important to select members who can effectively collaborate and communicate.

2. Increase visibility

Visibility is key to being able to successfully protect a system. Your SOC team needs to be aware of where data and systems are in order to protect them. They need to know the priority of data and systems, as well as who should be allowed access

Being able to appropriately prioritize your assets enables your SOC to effectively distribute its limited time and resources. Having clear visibility allows your SOC to easily spot attackers and limits places where attackers can hide. To be maximally effective, your SOC must be able to monitor your network and perform vulnerability scans 24/7.

3. Select tools wisely

Having ineffective or insufficient tools can seriously hinder the effectiveness of your SOC. To avoid this, select tools carefully to match your system needs and infrastructure. The more complex your environment is, the more important it is to have centralized tools. Your team should not have to piecemeal information for analysis or use different tools to manage each device.

The more discrete tools your SOC employs, the more likely information is to be overlooked or ignored. If security members need to access multiple dashboards or pull logs from multiple sources, information is more difficult to sort through and correlate. 

When selecting tools, make sure to evaluate and research each tool prior to selection. Security products can be incredibly expensive and difficult to configure. It doesn’t make sense to spend time or money on a product or service that doesn’t integrate well with your system.

When deciding which tools to incorporate, you need to consider endpoint protection, firewalls, automated application security, and monitoring solutions. Many SOCs make use of System Information and Event Management (SIEM) solutions. These tools can provide log management and increase security visibility. SIEM can also be helpful for correlating data between events and automating alerts. 

4. Develop a robust incident response plan (IRP)

An IRP is a plan that outlines a standardized way of detecting and responding to security incidents. It should incorporate system knowledge, like data priority, as well as existing security policies and processes. A well-crafted IRP enables faster detection and resolution of incidents. There are many templates and guides available to help you create an incident response plan. Using these resources can ensure that no aspects are missed in your plan. It can also speed up the creation process.

Once your plan is established, it is not enough to simply wait until an incident occurs. Your SOC should make sure to practice using the plan with incident drills. Doing so can increase their response confidence when a real incident arises. It can also uncover any flaws, inconsistencies, or inefficiencies in the plan. It is the SOC team’s responsibility to make sure that your IRP is kept up to date as systems, staff, and security processes change.

5. Consider adding managed service providers (MSPs)

Many organizations use managed service providers (MSPs) as part of their SOC strategy. Managed services can provide the expertise that is otherwise lacking in your team. These services can also ensure that your systems are continuously monitored and that all events have an immediate response. Unless you have multiple shifts covering your SOC, constant coverage is something you are unlikely to be able to accomplish on your own.

The most common use of managed SOC services are for penetration testing or threat research. These are time-consuming tasks that can take significant expertise and expensive tools. Rather than devoting limited time and budgets to cover these tasks, your SOC can benefit from outsourcing or collaborating with third-party teams.

Securing organizations with SOCs

Creating a security operations center can be daunting. After all, it is meant to be the first and last stop when it comes to system security. Despite this, you can create an effective SOC team that meets the unique needs of your organization. It takes time, effort, and careful assessment, but the reward is a confidently secure network. 

Start by using the best practices outlined here and pay special attention to team selection. The members you choose not only dictate the SOC processes and tools to be implemented, but ultimately, the overall effectiveness of your program.


Gilad Maayan

Gilad David Maayan is a technology writer who has worked with over 150 companies including SAP, Imperva, Samsung NEXT, NetApp, and Ixia producing content that highlights technical solutions for developers and IT leadership. Today, he heads Agile SEO, a leading tech marketing agency.