Security operations center as a service (SOCaaS) is a cloud-based subscription model for managed threat detection and response that includes best-in-class SOC solutions and capabilities to help fill in gaps on existing security teams.
Like a traditional, on-premises SOC, SOCaaS includes 24/7 monitoring, threat detection, prevention and analysis of your attack surface, including internet traffic, corporate networks, desktops, servers, endpoint devices, databases, applications, cloud infrastructure, firewalls, threat intelligence, intrusion prevention, and Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) systems.
Cyberthreats include ransomware, denial of service (DoS), distributed denial of service (DDoS), malware, phishing, smishing, insider threats, credential theft, zero days and more.
In their research report, SOC Modernization and the Role of XDR, Enterprise Strategy Group found that more than half (55%) want security services so they can focus security personnel on strategic security initiatives. Others believe managed service providers can accomplish things that their organization simply cannot, with 52% believing service providers can provide better security operations than their organization can; 49% saying a managed service provider can augment their SOC team; and 42% admitting that their organization doesn’t have adequate skills for security operations
Source: -SOC Modernization and the Role of XDR, Enterprise Security Group (ESG)
Outsourcing security operations and information security management provides a handful of benefits, including the following:
Conversely, issues from legacy SOC environments can include:
Further key benefits of SOCaaS are outlined as follows:
Security analysts can monitor for alerts, events and indicators of compromise (IoCs). Integrate high-fidelity threat intelligence and actionable threat and impact reports. Learn from analytics and threat detection across all data sources to generate high-fidelity leads for threat hunting.
Faster response times help to reduce dwell time and improve both mean time to investigate (MTTI) and mean time to remediate (MTTR).
SOCaaS allows teams to proactively examine environments for attacker tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) to help identify new vulnerabilities that may exist in your infrastructure.
While SOCs come in many incarnations, they can consist of roles and responsibilities to include a SOC lead, incident responder, and Tier 1-3 security analyst(s). Additional specialized roles may include security engineers, vulnerability managers, threat hunters, forensic investigators and compliance auditors.
Key SOC monitoring capabilities are integral to enterprise compliance, especially following regulations that require particular security monitoring functions and mechanisms, such as GDPR and CCPA.
Sectors such as healthcare, financial and retail have their own sets of compliance to proactively manage risk and navigate regulatory changes. These include HIPAA, FINRA and PCI to safeguard the integrity of data and personal information from compromise.
Beyond investing in security solutions and tools, the most important factor in any successful SOC will remain the human element.
While machine learning and automation will undoubtedly improve overall outcomes like response times, accuracy and remediation — especially for low-level, repetitive tasks — attracting, training and retaining security personnel, including engineers, security analysts and architects, needs to be baked into any cohesive SOC transformation strategy.
There are numerous ways of designing and operating a SOC. In their paper, Security Operations Center: A Systematic Study and Open Challenges, Manfred Vielberth, Fabian Böh, Ines Fichtinger and Günther Pernul outline some factors that influence SOC operating models and various factors that can come into play when choosing to implement one.
Similar to on-premises and hybrid SOCs, managed SOCs come in different types. Like their counterparts, they can monitor an organization’s threat landscape, including their IT network, devices, applications, endpoints (attack surface) and data for known and evolving vulnerabilities, threats and risks.
Managed SOC services typically come in two models:
Choosing a managed SOC option can help reduce the complexity of managing and maintaining an internal SOC, especially for small-to-midsize enterprises.
The same is true for finding professional security staff to build and run a SOC that meets the ever-increasing IT security requirements and mandates. Hiring external security experts allows organizations to immediately scale their coverage and bolster their security posture with access to threat monitoring and research databases, which can result in a better return on investment (ROI) than a homegrown SOC.
With threat actors embracing their own forms of digital transformation and taking advantage of automation, organizations need security operations that can keep pace. Managed security providers can offer uninterrupted coverage and guaranteed service via service level agreements (SLAs) that define the scope and delivery of services, including required software updates and patches as they become available or countermeasures against a new threat are ready to implement.
While outsourcing security operations has numerous benefits, challenges and limitations may exist, which is why it’s critical to conduct your due diligence when comparing services, solutions and SLAs.
Managed SOC providers typically rely on their own security stack. As such, these solutions must be configured and deployed within a customer’s environment before the provider can start providing services. The transition during the onboarding process can be time-consuming and may result in potential risk exposure during this vulnerable phase.
An organization’s SOC-as-a-service provider needs access to gather insights into an organization’s network to identify and respond to potential threats. To achieve this, the organization needs to send large amounts of sensitive data and intelligence to its service provider. Yet, releasing control of potentially sensitive information can make enterprise data security and risk management more challenging, exposing vulnerabilities during this phase.
Storing sensitive threat data and analysis externally poses a potential risk of both data leaks and data loss if the SOC’s cyber defenses are compromised or if you part ways with the service provider. While you can usually keep track of threat alerts in-house, most of the data is processed outside the perimeter, which limits your ability to store and analyze extended historical data about detected threats and possible data breaches.
SOC-as-a-service providers commonly operate their cybersecurity solutions on-site using data feeds and network taps from their customers’ networks. This means that log files and other alert data are generated and stored on the provider’s network and systems. Gaining access to full-log data from a managed SOC provider can be expensive for an organization.
The roles, responsibilities and scope can differ between organizations, creating a disconnect if applying a one-size-fits-all approach vs. forming a team that is well-versed in the nuanced, unique environments and infrastructure of each client. An external SOC team may not offer customization of services as some may be shared among multiple customers, which can negatively impact efficiencies.
In servicing multiple customers and sharing SOC resources, managed SOC providers may miss possible gaps in an environment, not fully understanding an organization's business processes and procedures to protect them properly.
The regulatory landscape is rapidly growing more complex, and organizations need to put into place security controls and policies to achieve and demonstrate compliance. While a managed SOC provider may offer support for regulatory compliance, the use of a third-party provider may complicate compliance requirements, requiring trust in a service provider to fulfill their compliance-related duties.
An external SOC rarely offers complete customization of the services offered as they are shared among multiple customers. The limited customization options can result in reduced efficiency across the organization’s departments and the inability to properly protect certain endpoints, networks and other parts of the security infrastructure.
Overall, a dedicated SOC that provides organizations with multiple benefits, including continuous network monitoring, centralized visibility, reduced cybersecurity costs, and better collaboration means you can’t go wrong. Cybercriminals will never take a break, and neither should you.
For an overview of a Security Operation Center (SOC), read What is a SOC?