As organizations face even more threats and attacks to their information systems and data, they are increasingly considering setting up security operations centers (SOC) to manage their detection and management of cybersecurity incidents centrally. Properly implementing a SOC is often a complex undertaking, requiring significant time, money and staff. Plus, organizations can face challenges such as SOC talent shortages and inability to scale. As a result, many businesses are exploring outsourcing or co-sourcing some or all of their SOC services to third-party companies.
These parties are known as SOC service providers, Managed Security Service Providers (MSSP's), Cyber Defense Centers (CDC's).
This article aims to help you in understanding the different types of services that are available from such CDC's, SOC vendors or MSSP's which features you should look for and how to choose services that are appropriate for your organization.
What is a CDC or a SOC?
A CDC or a SOC is a set of people, processes and technologies, often centralized, that -- at a minimum -- receives and analyzes user reports and data feeds -- logs, for example -- from information systems and cybersecurity controls. Typically, the primary goal of a CDC/SOC is to detect and prioritize cyber security incidents that could negatively impact an organization's information systems or data.
CDCs/SOCs vary from organization to organization and are implemented per structural cybersecurity priorities and risk tolerance. Some CDCs/SOCs will manage an incident from detection to remediation; others will focus on supporting and coordinating incident responders and handling incident response communication -- e.g., status updates and third-party communication.
Each organization must evaluate to choose the CDC/SOC services that are appropriate and reasonable for it.
How does a CDC/SOC work?
CDC/SOC employees and technologies are typically located in a central location that employees with different levels of expertise -- such as analysts, responders, and hunters -- staff 24/7 year-round. CDC/SOCs tend to be very process-driven: They have standard operating procedures, use cases and playbooks to define how CDC/SOC staff respond to and communicate about various cybersecurity events and incidents.
In addition to real-time analysis of incidents, alerts, reports, and data feeds, CDC/SOCs can also provide the following:
- long-term analysis of data feeds and incident data;
- normalization and storage of security logs;
- creation and dissemination of threat intelligence;
- automation and orchestration;
- threat assessment; and
- vulnerability detection or management (e.g., vulnerability scanning and remediation).
Organizations may consider outsourcing all or some of their CDC/SOC services to a CDC/SOC service provider for one or more of the following reasons:
- an inability to hire enough CDC/SOC staff with necessary skills;
- the desire to gain better value from existing cybersecurity products by having experienced specialists manage them;
- a requirement to quickly scale CDC/SOC services due to changes in an organization's threat landscape or business model (e.g., adding e-commerce);
- a preference or requirement to use cybersecurity budget dollars for operating expenses ("renting" CDC/SOC services) rather than capital expenses (buying CDC/SOC equipment, SIEM licenses and hiring employees);
- the ability to apply a third party's threat intelligence gained from monitoring many customers; and
- a strategic decision to have simpler, repetitive tasks like initial log reviews be performed by a third party so that own CDC/SOC staff can focus on high-level tasks, such as incident response or vulnerability management.
For all of the above reasons, the expectation is that the CDC/SOC service provider will be able to provide specific CDC/SOC services more effectively or less expensively than the organization itself.
Features to look for
CDC/SOC vendors can provide the following:
- monitored or managed equipment or unified threat management-technology (multi technology);
- monitored or managed intrusion detection systems (IDSes) and intrusion prevention systems (IPSes);
- managed or monitored hardware, application, web and email security gateways;
- monitoring or management of advanced threat defense technologies;
- triage and short-term analysis of real-time data feeds (e.g., system logs and alerts from applications and information systems) for potential cybersecurity incidents;
- long-term analysis and correlation of data associated with monitored or managed devices and incident response;
- managed vulnerability scanning of information systems and applications;
- monitoring or management of customer-deployed SIEM technologies; and
- current and relevant threat intelligence.
As the above list makes clear, CDC/SOC service providers offer many capabilities that could be useful for your organization's CDC/SOC. But the variety of services can be overwhelming. One way to start evaluating CDC/SOC providers is with two basic steps to identify those services of most value for your company. Understanding your current SECURITY MATURITY (what is your current position when it comes to security, versus your own ambition and your peer group, how do you compare to them).
Properly implemented and managed, out- or co-sourced CDC/SOC services can be a valuable asset of your business's cybersecurity program; partnering with a service provider can be a smart way to efficiently and effectively improve your organization's security operations center. Be sure to carefully evaluate CDC/SOC service providers so that you end up with the right services for your company.
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