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SOC Operations: 6 Vital Lessons & Pitfalls

There is no one road to security operations success, but these guidelines will smooth your path.

Today's modern security operations centers (SOCs) face a variety of challenges, ranging from organization and structure to technology and budgets. Third-party SOCs (such as Arctic Wolf, and other companies) are responsible for detecting and responding to threats, leaving the organizations that rely on them to focus on improving internal security operations. Here are six vital lessons about SOC effectiveness that we have learned in our operational journey with customers.

Lesson #1: Locate and Retain High-Quality SOC Talent
Finding good SOC analysts is difficult in the best of times and is particularly challenging in the present growth economy, where talent is scarce. Organizations need smart people to understand the threat surface, interpret security telemetry, and find and analyze threats. Today's latest artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning innovations will help these professionals operate more effectively. However, technology alone will never replace smart people who understand a company's specific environment and threats. Organizations need to implement the right programs to locate, train, and retain the good people.

Lesson #2: Improve Your SOC Incrementally
The "big bang" theory of ramping up SOC operations is fraught with risk and has a high probability of failure. Organizations need to take time to analyze what they do well, then build from there. Incremental improvement always wins out over grandiose projects. 

Lesson #3: Coordinate SOC and Network Operations
Integrating your SOC and network operations center (NOC) will greatly improve success across the board. A NOC manages, controls, and monitors networks for things like availability, backups, ensuring sufficient bandwidth, and troubleshooting network problems. A SOC provides incident prevention along with detection and response for security threats. The two functions can overlap when, for example, events like a denial-of-service attack might manifest itself as a network outage but is in fact a security threat. While the two functions can be organizationally discrete, they need to coordinate to achieve an optimal outcome.   

Lesson #4: Realistic Goals
It's critical for organizations to be realistic about what they want to achieve and clear-eyed on how to achieve it. Your first step: Get executive support, and then determine how much the effort will cost. This exercise includes thinking through all of the pieces you'll need to put in place to establish an effective SOC, including people, processes, and technology. You will also face "build versus buy" decisions that will require a process for evaluating the best approach for your organization's specific goals.

Lesson #5: Staffing Delusions
Consider the security challenges that your business faces, and then staff at an appropriate level to address those challenges. Referring to your two or three security professionals as "my SOC" is not the optimal solution. A handful of people will struggle to provide the 24x7x365 coverage required for an effective operation. Furthermore, relying on alerts sent to phones during off hours is a risky recipe for success when that middle-of-the-night alert beeps while someone is asleep. The "Gartner 2018 Market Guide for Managed Detection and Response Services" suggests that the minimum needed to provide 24x7x365 coverage is eight to 12 analysts. Consider what happens when an incident occurs when your staff is at home celebrating on New Year's Eve and there isn't eyes-on-glass coverage. 

Lesson #6: The "AI Cure-All" Fallacy
AI will not solve all of a business's security problems, and organizations cannot automate their way out of the security monitoring challenge. Maintaining a well-functioning SOC requires finding, training, and retaining experienced personnel who can leverage sophisticated tools with AI to identify the threats that matter by providing feedback from which automation can learn. The major challenge in finding and retaining these professionals is in providing them with a variety of interesting and challenging work.

Check out The Edge, Dark Reading's new section for features, threat data, and in-depth perspectives. Today's top story: "Surviving Alert Fatigue: 7 Tools and Techniques."

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