Walls are crumbling between the security and network operations centers, but some tasks will remain separate

The line between the security operations center (SOC) and the network operations center (NOC) in some organizations is starting to blur, as the pressure intensifies on today's businesses to prevent more sophisticated and damaging security breaches -- and to do it on a budget.

Boston Medical Center, for example, recently merged its NOC and SOC operations, and is currently cross-training both groups, says Arsen Khousnoudinov, manager of network and security infrastructure for the medical center. "This is about efficiency and effectiveness and doing more with less."

Some security tools and network management tools, meanwhile, are obvious candidates for integration. The medical center's intrusion prevention system (IPS), Web filtering tools, and other security and networking tools, for instance, are already converging, Khousnoudinov says. "These devices are becoming appliance-based."

Khousnoudinov says he's been toying with the idea of integrating the medical center's McAfee IPS and its ArcSight Network Configuration Manager (NCM) tool. "Then that device based on policy [NCM] will decide whether or not to disconnect a user from the network," he says. "But we're not there yet."

But that doesn't mean the NOC and SOC will completely merge. In fact, security analysts say you need a healthy separation between some duties, especially where security policy implementation and auditing is concerned.

"There will be areas of convergence, but with boundaries," says Marc Nicolett, research vice president with Gartner. "There must still be a segregation of [some] duties."

Even Boston Medical, which is ahead of most organizations with its fusion of NOC and SOC duties, still keeps policy and auditing as well as its Windows Active Directory security separate from the overall NOC operation, according to Khousnoudinov.

That prevents conflicts of interest or other related problems when, say, security must investigate internal access of the company's resources, says Nicolett. "The security group in charge of investigations might [have to work on something] that involves privileged users," he says. "And some privileged users happen to sit in the NOC."

The first place the NOC and SOC are converging is in event monitoring. "But control over what's monitored and drilling down on this needs to be retained by the security staff," Nicolett says.

So start looking at your redundant call center or trouble-ticket systems, for instance, says Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group. "You need to start by aligning management and metrics."

Integrate tools that report security and network events, Enderle says, as well as tools that link trouble tickets and repair events to keep everyone on the same page. "So that one side always knew, or could know, what the other side is doing, and either help or get out of the way."

Merging even just the mundane management tasks can also solve operational problems such as security experts with little networking experience deploying network-based security tools, like an IPS. "We had security guys trying to implement all these network devices without true knowledge of network foundations in routing and switching, for instance," Boston Medical's Khousnoudinov says. "This eliminates that problem from a political and management" standpoint.

The bottom line is it doesn't make sense to keep an impermeable wall, either physical or virtual, between the two anymore. One of ArcSight's customers has its NOC and SOC groups located next to one another, separated by cubicles, says Hugh Njemanze, CTO and executive vice president of research and development at ArcSight, and the setup is symbolic of the problem of two separate groups.

"When something happened, such as the server going down, two sets of heads would pop up over the cube walls," he says. "They weren't sure if it was an operations issue or a security threat."

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

About the Author(s)

Kelly Jackson Higgins, Editor-in-Chief, Dark Reading

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Editor-in-Chief of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise Magazine, Virginia Business magazine, and other major media properties. Jackson Higgins was recently selected as one of the Top 10 Cybersecurity Journalists in the US, and named as one of Folio's 2019 Top Women in Media. She began her career as a sports writer in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and earned her BA at William & Mary. Follow her on Twitter @kjhiggins.

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