A security operations center (SOC) has gradually progressed over the years from something that is “good to have” to being an “essential component” of any organization’s cybersecurity strategy, irrespective of the nature of its business or its size. A SOC is a centralized function where a team of security specialists monitors, analyzes, and responds to cyber threats in real time. Organizations can detect and mitigate cyberattacks, comply with regulations, and improve their security posture by having an efficient 24/7 SOC facility.
However, due to the constantly evolving cyber threat landscape, SOC teams may face various difficulties in keeping up with the latest threats, new technologies, and best practices. In this article, we will discuss some of the common challenges in operating a modern SOC and how to overcome them.
Challenge 1: Bridging the Skill Gap
One of the biggest and consistently talked about challenges in managing a modern SOC is finding and retaining skilled and experienced security professionals. According to a report by (ISC)², the global cybersecurity workforce gap was 3.4 million in 2022. This implies that there are not enough skilled security analysts, engineers, managers, and leaders to fulfil the demands for SOC roles across various organizations worldwide.
To overcome this challenge, organizations must invest in training and upskilling programs for their existing SOC team members, as well as recruit and retain fresh talent so that they gain sufficient real-world experience. Alternatively, organizations can also leverage managed security services providers (MSSPs), to augment their internal cybersecurity capabilities with added cost benefits. MSSPs can provide specialized people, next-gen technologies, and streamlined processes that can complement an organization’s in-house security team, or even be completely outsourced.
Challenge 2: Staying Ahead of the Steep Cyber Threat Curve
The next big challenge in operating a modern SOC is having the necessary means for offering an effective response to persistent threats from the various sophisticated techniques and tools used by attackers to evade detection and compromise systems. These attackers usually attempt to exploit vulnerabilities in networks, applications, devices, and users to gain access to sensitive data and cause disruption or damage. Some examples of such cyber-attacks that happened recently include:
- A ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline (the largest fuel pipeline in the US) disrupted the supply of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel to millions of customers across the East Coast. The company reportedly paid $5 million in ransom for restoring its operations to a hacker group called DarkSide that claimed responsibility for this attack.
- A massive phishing campaign targeted more than 100 organizations in the US and Europe. The attackers used fake emails from trusted sources such as Microsoft, Google, and LinkedIn to lure victims into clicking on malicious links or attachments. The campaign was aimed at stealing credentials, installing malware, and exfiltrating data.
- A zero-day exploit discovered in Microsoft Exchange Server allowed attackers to access email accounts, install backdoors, and execute remote commands on vulnerable servers which are used by millions of businesses worldwide. The attack was attributed to a state-sponsored group from China known as Hafnium.
To overcome this challenge, organizations must adopt a proactive and intelligence-driven approach to security. This means that the SOC teams should continuously monitor their environments for signs of suspicious and malicious activity, conduct threat hunting and analysis, and respond quickly and effectively to security incidents.
“Additionally, organizations can greatly benefit by leveraging high-quality threat intelligence feeds that provide timely and relevant information about emerging threats, indicators of compromise (IOCs), and best practices for mitigation.”
Challenge 3: Harnessing the Power of Big Data
A third challenge while running a modern SOC is managing the huge amount of data that is generated by various systems in an organization’s technology environment. These sources include logs, alerts, events, network traffic, endpoints, applications, cloud services, and more. According to a report by IDC, the global datasphere will grow from 64 zettabytes in 2020 to 181 zettabytes in 2025. This means that SOC teams will have to consistently handle and manage more data than ever before.
To overcome this challenge, organizations should implement effective data management strategies that can help them collect, store, process, analyze, and visualize data in an easily scalable and efficient way. Organizations can leverage advanced analytics and automation techniques that will help them eliminate noise, optimize indexing and searching, prioritize alerts, correlate events, identify patterns, and generate insights from data. This can help SOC teams reduce manual workloads, improve accuracy, and enhance decision making.
Challenge 4: Combatting Alert Fatigue
Another challenge in the daily operations of a modern SOC is coping with alert fatigue, wherein security analysts are overwhelmed by the large number of alerts triggered by the events received from various security tools and IT systems. This usually leads to reduced attention span, decreased productivity, increased stress levels, and missed or delayed responses to critical incidents.
To overcome this challenge, organizations must continuously optimize their alert management systems and use tools that can help streamline their alert response process, reduce human errors, and increase efficiency. This requires the SOC teams to define clear alerting criteria, thresholds, rules, workflows, and escalation procedures. Organizations can also use automation and orchestration tools that can help them triage alerts, verify incidents, enrich information, and execute response actions.
A SOC can provide a strong defense against many modern cyber threats, as well as a strategic advantage for any business in this digital age. However, to achieve these benefits, organizations need to overcome a variety of challenges that come with managing a modern SOC to secure their business. We believe that following the best practices and implementing the solutions discussed in this article can help organizations enhance their overall security posture and safeguard their business from cyber threats.
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