In the dynamic world of cybersecurity, the security operations center (SOC) is the nerve center of an organization’s defense strategy. Yet, despite its critical role, the SOC is grappling with challenges that have persisted for nearly two decades. Everywhere security leaders turn, there’s another article discussing burnout in the SOC, false positive churn, staffing issues, and more. It’s clear that the attack surface is ever-expanding, with new applications and technologies requiring constant vigilance. The addition of cloud services, hybrid workspaces and remote work has also added to the complexity, creating more vulnerabilities that can be exploited by attackers. Additionally, the evolution and speed of cyberattacks combined with the significant cybersecurity talent shortage means security leaders are swimming in incredibly dangerous waters. Ultimately, the wide range of problems necessitates a reevaluation of how security leaders approach the SOC and its operations to ensure an effective and efficient approach to maintaining security.

From a chief information security officer’s (CISO’s) perspective, leveraging multiple controls in an environment is imperative. However, the looming question arises: Why, despite the many measures that are implemented, are security leaders still falling prey to so many attacks? The simple answer: Conducting business inherently creates vulnerabilities within the processes, people and technology. Risk reduction strategies like zero trust are often slow-moving and have their own difficulties in implementation. The SOC often serves as the last control, identifying the attacks that have slipped through other defenses. This underscores the SOC’s value as one of the most crucial controls within a security program. So, to evaluate for improvements, it’s important to pinpoint specific challenges and their impact and identify a solution to strengthen the role of a SOC.

One of the significant challenges faced by SOCs is the need for interoperable infrastructure. With the increasing number of applications and tools used by the SOC, the lack of interoperability can create significant issues in terms of delayed incident response and gaps in threat visibility. The absence of a "single pane of glass" is a common complaint in the security industry, and it refers to the inability to have a unified view of all the infrastructure components and tools used by the SOC. This lack of visibility can lead to significant delays in incident response times and can make it challenging to identify and mitigate security threats effectively. To overcome this challenge, it's critical that all infrastructure components used by the SOC can communicate and work together seamlessly. This means that the tools and applications used by the SOC must be designed to integrate with one another and share data effectively. Having an interoperable infrastructure that allows for seamless communication between different components can significantly improve incident response times and enhance the SOC's ability to detect and mitigate security threats effectively. It also enables the SOC to have a unified view of the security posture of the entire credit union, which is critical for effective security management.

Another important aspect of strengthening future SOCs is ensuring that individuals are placed in suitable positions that align with their skills and expertise. While the majority of platforms now have components of user and entity behavior analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and advanced correlation features that allow us to drill down to the information that matters much more quickly, cybersecurity tools can only go so far. Every network is different, and even networks with the same topology will have data moving in different ways at different times. The public is still a long way off from adaptive technologies that can shift and move with the landscape. This is where the human element comes in — where operators can make a difference. Consider the person employed in a SOC. Should a SOC be staffed by Level 1 analysts, or should it be comprised of more experienced security personnel? Part of the problem has been that traditionally, this was identified as an entry-level position and hasn't been treated as the critical security control that it is. When considering the tasks at hand — being the last line of defense on the network and the control most able to decrease the impact a successful attack has on an organization — it becomes clear that this is not an entry-level responsibility. As technologies advance and networks become more complex, the SOC must evolve accordingly with personnel who are prepared to tackle the role effectively, leveraging their education as well as experience. 

Focusing on the importance of the human element in driving technology, organizations should invest in security operators, as they carry heavy responsibility in times of crisis. This investment should also be focused on platforms — not just financially but in terms of “people hours.” Tuning the system to reduce false positives and conform to the organization’s unique needs is essential. This investment should focus on the quality of alerting, not only to reduce false positives to ensure the investigative force isn’t burnt out but to also equip them with the information they need to conduct thorough investigations.

The modern SOC is at a crossroads, facing an expanding attack surface, a significant IT talent shortage, and the critical need for interoperable infrastructure. To address these challenges, security leaders must rethink their approach to staffing, invest in people as well as platforms, and recognize the invaluable role of the human element in cybersecurity. By doing so, security leaders can ensure that SOCs are equipped to protect against the ever-changing landscape of cyber threats. The future of cybersecurity depends on security leaders’ ability to adapt, innovate and invest in the key components that make strong defenses.