Security Operation Centers. Outsourced or Internal? Which is Better?

By Ron Samson Jr

What a SOC Needs to Do

An organization’s security operations center (SOC) is the core of its cybersecurity program.  The SOC includes the people, processes, and tools that the company uses to detect, protect against, and remediate cyber threats to the organization.

Workers in Security Operation Center

While an organization can implement a SOC internally or outsource this responsibility to a third-party provider, it is essential that a SOC has certain capabilities regardless of its deployment details.  Some core capabilities of a SOC include:

  • 24/7 Network Monitoring: Cyberattacks do not only occur during standard business hours. A cybersecurity incident can occur at any time, and a rapid response is essential to minimizing damage and cost to the organization.  For this reason, a SOC must be able to sustain round-the-clock threat detection and response.
  • Incident Response Capabilities: Threat detection is only the first step in managing a potential cybersecurity incident. An organization’s SOC, whether internal or external, should have the ability to perform full incident response, including incident triage, investigation, and remediation.
  • Proactive Threat Hunting: Not all cyberattacks are detected and blocked by an organization’s security solutions, meaning that attackers may be resident within an organization’s network without detection. Proactive threat hunting includes searching for signs of these potential attacks within a network environment and is an essential part of a SOC’s duties.
  • Compliance Management: All organizations are subject to one or more data protection regulations, and a core component of these regulations is protecting sensitive data against unauthorized access and breaches. A SOC’s responsibility for regulatory compliance includes both actively protecting sensitive data against exposure and demonstrating that the required security controls and processes are in place during compliance audits.

 

Internal or Outsourced?

The rapid evolution of the cybersecurity threat landscape and organizations’ growing dependence on IT systems means that a SOC is a necessity for the modern business.  Every organization will be targeted by multiple different cyber threats, and the difference between a successful and unsuccessful attack is likely to be the effectiveness of the organization’s SOC.

Security Professional at server room

In recent years, the concept of a third-party SOC has grown more popular as organizations have acknowledged that they lack the resources to effectively defend themselves against cyber threats.  When considering how to implement a SOC – or when considering a change – it is important to consider the pros and cons of both internal and external SOCs.

 

Advantages of an Internal SOC

datacenter

The primary advantage of an internal SOC is control since an organization does not need to rely upon a third-party provider for anything.  This translates into a few different benefits:

  • In-House Expertise: Operating an internal SOC means that an organization will have security experts solely devoted to protecting their network. This breeds a level of familiarity with internal systems and network architecture that is hard to match with an outsourced provider.
  • Internal Data Storage: An internal SOC means that an organization has the option to store all log files and other security data on-premises. This helps an organization to maintain visibility and control over their security data.
  • High Customizability: With an in-house SOC, an organization has full control, meaning that it can select and deploy whichever security solutions that it wishes. An external SOC provider will have a preselected security stack that it operates.

 

Advantages of an Outsourced SOC

Female Outsourced SOC Worker

On the other hand, an organization making the decision to outsource their SOC operations to a third-party provider like Clearnetwork’s Managed SOC Service is placing the responsibility for security with an organization for which cybersecurity is its specialty and core business focus.  This enables an organization to take advantage of a number of advantages:

  • Better Security Staffing: The cybersecurity industry is experiencing a skills shortage, making it difficult to attract and retain cybersecurity personnel. This means that an external SOC provider has a higher probability of being able to fully staff its security team than an internal SOC could.
  • Access to Cybersecurity Specialists: The cybersecurity skill shortage also impacts an organization’s access to cybersecurity specialists, like incident responders and malware and digital forensics analysts. During a cybersecurity incident, an organization may need immediate access to these skill sets.  While an organization is unlikely to be able to retain this expertise in-house, a SOC provider keeps these experts on staff and can provide access to them to their customers on demand.
  • Round-the-Clock Detection and Response: 24/7 network monitoring is an essential part of a SOC’s duties, but it can be difficult and expensive for an organization to implement in-house. An outsourced SOC provider will offer round-the-clock monitoring as part of its core suite of services.
  • Reduced Cost: An internal SOC needs to pay for the required personnel, tools, licenses, etc. on its own, which can add up to a significant bill. An external SOC provider can distribute many of these costs across its entire customer base, resulting in a much lower total cost of ownership of security.
  • Access to State-of-the-Art Security: Investing in security is expensive, meaning that organizations often need to build up a program over multiple years and cannot afford to always deploy cutting-edge security solutions. An external SOC provider, on the other hand, has the resources to ensure that its customers are protected with the latest security solutions.
  • Rapid Solution Deployment: Deploying and configuring SOC tools requires significant expertise and can be time-consuming. An outsourced SOC provider will have most of its infrastructure already in place and a streamlined process for deploying solutions to customer networks, enabling an organization to become secure much more rapidly.
  • Room for Growth: When deploying an internal SOC, an organization must select solutions that balance capacity with cost. If the company’s security needs grow to exceed its current capabilities, then existing solutions must be augmented or replaced, which can be an expensive process.  On the other hand, an outsourced SOC provider will already have the solutions required to support an organization’s growth, and the purchase of a higher-tier plan will be much cheaper than an update of an internal SOC.
  • HIgher Security Maturity: Building up the tools, personnel, and processes required for a mature security program is a long and expensive process. When working with a third-party SOC provider, an organization gains access to its existing tools and security expertise, enabling it to achieve a much higher level of security maturity than it would be capable of achieving in-house.
  • Service Level Agreements: A third-party SOC provider is like any other service provider, and the terms of service will be governed by service level agreements (SLAs). This means that an organization with an outsourced SOC can be more confident in the level of service and security that it will receive than one maintaining an internal SOC with no such SLA.
  • Support and Consulting: An organization with an internal SOC has no fallback in place if the internal security team does not know how to address a potential situation. A company with an external SOC provider can contact their support team and take advantage of their provider’s experience.  Since the SOC provider has worked in a much greater range of environments and situations, it is much more likely that they will have experience with the situation and knowledge of how best to address it.
  • Threat Intelligence Feeds: Robust threat intelligence is essential to an organization’s ability to detect and protect against the latest cyber threats. An external SOC provider will have access to high-quality threat intelligence feeds that are supplemented by internal data analytics and threat research.  This enables an organization to take advantage of much higher quality and more tailored threat intelligence than would be available otherwise.
  • Compliance Support: The data protection regulatory landscape is rapidly growing more complex, and organizations need to be able to demonstrate compliance during audits. A SOC provider should include support for an organization’s compliance activities, including incident response support for potential data breaches and data collection and report generation to demonstrate that required security controls are deployed and effective during an audit.

 

Selecting the Right SOC Provider

Making the choice between an internal and outsourced SOC is an important first step for an organization designing its security program.  Both options have their pros and cons, and the right choice can depend on an organization’s unique circumstances.

However, choosing to go with an external SOC is not the last step in the process.  After making this decision, it is important to choose the provider that is best for your organization.  When doing so, consider the core capabilities of a SOC provider and the listed advantages of an outsourced SOC and ensure that the chosen provider offers all of them, enabling your organization to take full advantage of its outsourced security.