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Nilesh Dherange
Nilesh Dherange
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Retooling the SOC for a Post-COVID World

Residual work-from-home policies will require changes to security policies, procedures, and technologies.

Things have changed a lot since the start of 2020. Our workforces have shifted to a largely off-site model, as have schools, entertainment, and pretty much all other activities that can be maintained without face-to-face interaction.

Those organizations that have been able to keep functioning with pandemic work-from-home mandates in place did so by relying on VPNs and software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications. In the process, many of these businesses have found that their workforce is just as effective being remote and costs actually went down. Now, some are planning to maintain this "new normal" or remote workforce, and they're trying to figure out how to change their operations to match.

We know the security operations team, particularly in the security operations center (SOC), needs to adapt to this rapidly evolving environment as well as to the new generation of attacks and attackers that come with it. So, how do we deal with these changes?

The first step is understanding what people, processes, and technologies are already in place. For example, what information is the SOC receiving? What are team members trained for? Are current staffing levels sufficient? 

Typical SOCs are being inundated with terabytes worth of logs every day — sometimes many terabytes. Fortunately, most SOCs have tools in place that can consolidate and classify that incoming flood of data. The real challenge is deriving actionable intelligence from it, or finding the needles in the haystack. We've all heard — and may even have been part of — stories about SOCs that were so overwhelmed with data that they didn't catch a red team test until the team knocked on their door.

How prepared are SOC team members for responding to threats in this new environment? For example, when an incident is identified, how effective is the established process they'll follow to mitigate and remediate it? Has this process been reviewed and tested? Has it been updated to adapt for changes in the threat landscape? How will the SOC handle the new risks and new threats that are constantly turning up?

The human element is often overlooked in security reviews, and it can be one of the most complex parts to manage. The workforce occupies that center spot on the Venn diagram among myriad factors: security, efficiency, privacy, and culture. These are just a few pieces of the workforce puzzle. With the shift toward more remote work and SaaS applications taking over for on-premises servers, how has workplace policy kept up? How have the users been trained to deal with organizational and personal security?

Also, while existing threats will remain — possibly on a smaller scale because fewer people will be in office environments — attacks against familiar assets will continue to evolve. However, new threats introduced by a remote workforce have grown in scale. This will require the SOC to defend against more and broader threats due to the greater number of users being in the wild than previously. Are current SOC staffing levels sufficient to address this increased workload? Can more tools and/or automation fill the void?

Given these new challenges facing the SOC, consider implementing the following practices.

First, review existing policies and procedures to reflect the new remote working reality. Second, train users to protect themselves from the most common attacks they're likely to see working from home. These two steps will go a long way toward taking some of the load off SOC team members, making them more effective and efficient.

As for the SecOps team, make sure they've recognized the new normal, and that policies and procedures are in place to help them handle the increased percentage of work-from-home threats. Second, make sure they have the right tools in place to maximize their productivity and efficacy. This will require a review of existing tools and possibly adding new ones to fill in any gaps.

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Nilesh Dherange is CTO of security analytics vendor Gurucul, and an expert on identity, data science, and machine learning. Nilesh was an integral member of identity technology vendor Vaau, which was acquired by Sun Microsystems. He also co-founded BON Marketing Group and ... View Full Bio

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