The Differences Between the NOC and the SOC

Both a Network Operations Center (NOC) and a Security Operations Center (SOC) work to ensure that the organization’s network is functioning properly.  However, it is their differences that create major distinctions for their roles, their tools, and the personnel necessary to staff each one properly.

A NOC is primarily responsible for ensuring that the corporate IT infrastructure meets service level agreements (SLAs) and is capable of sustaining normal business operations.  A SOC, on the other hand, focuses on protecting the network and other IT infrastructure against cyber threats.

These two teams have similar tools and techniques required to do their jobs.  However, they also differ in a few crucial ways.

NOC vs SOC Focus

A NOC’s focus is on the performance of an organization’s IT infrastructure.  NOC engineers will perform monitoring of endpoints and network infrastructure and attempt to identify issues and make changes to make the organization’s network ecosystem 

A SOC’s focus, on the other hand, is solely on security.  While it may perform much of the same network and endpoint monitoring as the SOC, it is looking for evidence of potential cybersecurity incidents, not performance issues.  SOC-driven network upgrades and redesigns will be focused on improving visibility and the prevention, detection, and response to cyberattacks.

Required Skill Sets

A NOC and a SOC analyst both need to share certain skill sets and knowledge.  In both cases, the analyst needs to have an understanding of the technology that they are working with – the network infrastructure, endpoints, etc. – and how to differentiate between normal and anomalous operations.

However, beyond this baseline knowledge SOC and NOC analysts specialize in different anomaliesthings.  A NOC analyst will focus on identifying and remediating situations where something is causing degraded performance or outages in the system.  They also will specialize in best practices for optimizing network infrastructure and how endpoints function.

A SOC analyst, on the other hand, will be focused solely on the security of the system.  While they need to be able to identify abnormal behavior, the goal is to use these anomalies to detect potential attacks in progress.  SOC analysts’ specialist knowledge will center on the different types of attacks that an organization may experience, triaging and investigating security alerts, and best practices for remediation. There are also 5 SOC models to be aware of.

Adversaries

A major difference between NOC and SOC analysts is the adversaries that they are facing.  While both of them deal with incidents that can impact an organization’s operations, the sources of these challenges are very different.

A NOC is tasked with dealing with naturally occurring events that can affect normal network operations.  This includes everything from system failures to power outages to natural disasters.  Their responsibility is to ensure that the organization continues to operate at the highest possible efficiency in all situations.

A SOC, on the other hand, deals with intelligent threat actors.  This means that, unlike a NOC, SOC analysts have to deal with situations where the threat is actively working to undermine and overcome their defenses and attempted remediations.  This adds an additional level of complexity to the maintaining normal operations and achieving their purpose.

Ensuring Network Performance and Security

NOCs and SOCs are similar but have very different objectives.  A NOC is tasked with ensuring that an organization’s IT infrastructure continues to function properly, while a SOC is responsible for detecting and protecting against cybersecurity threats.

To be both effective and secure, an organization’s IT infrastructure should be supported by both a NOC and a SOC.  Having distinct teams, whether internal or outsourced, is essential to ensure that the company has access to the proper expertise and gives adequate attention to both network performance and security.  That being said, collaboration and coordination between the NOC and SOC is also vital to maximize efficiency and ensure that network modifications or upgrades do not sacrifice performance for security or vice versa.

There are 5 SOC models to consider.  Most compliment NOC teams and one model even integrates NOC and SOC functions into the same team.  Organizations need to carefully consider which model fits their capabilities and needs the best.

Modern NOC and SOC Challenges

The modern IT trends continue to put pressure on existing IT teams attempting to implement NOC or SOC functionality.  Enterprises need to consider these challenges when building out either NOC or SOC capabilities.

More IT to Cover

The modern network continues to add devices and needs at a frightening pace.  In addition to the traditional endpoint computers and servers, the modern network also includes an explosion of connected devices such as:

  • Cellphones
  • Tablets
  • Internet of Things (connected TVs, printers, or even coffee cups!)
  • Operational Technology (pumps, air conditioners, etc.)

Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) also adds complexity to the mix because the IT team needs to verify if the BYOD device conforms to company standards for updates, endpoint protection, etc.  

Meanwhile, even as the number of devices increases, the bandwidth and traffic requirements also continue to increase.  Users need constant access outside of the network for Software-as-a-Service applications or bandwidth-hogging voice and video conferencing.

NOC teams struggle to adapt infrastructure scoped for past needs to the ballooning device numbers and bandwidth requirements.  SOC teams fare no better as each connected device and additional traffic stream adds to their monitoring and analysis requirements.

Dissolving Perimeter

Even as devices and applications increase, the definition of the network continues to erode and complicate monitoring.  Wireless 4G and 5G connections now connect operational technology that used to sit isolated on the factory floor and the shift to the cloud now moves many assets outside of the corporate perimeter.

Additionally, as workers continue to shift to remote work, corporate networks continue to be exposed to consumer grade or unsecured public wi-fi.  These external resources put pressure on both NOC and SOC teams to cope with managing the ever expanding scope of responsibilities.

Increasing NOC and SOC Urgency

The cost of downtime continues to increase putting pressure on NOC teams to fix network disruptions faster and faster even as they cover more devices and more physical and virtual distance.  Meanwhile, adversaries continue to move faster and attack more viciously putting increasing pressure on SOC to move faster to prevent damage.

Fortunately, many tools now incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML) to handle basic, repetitive analysis and improve teams’ response times.  Still, the AI/ML assistance also puts pressure on both NOC and SOC teams to learn more tools and change their methods to incorporate AI/ML assistance.

NOC and SOC Recruiting Difficulties

Employers attempting to build up staff for a NOC or SOC find themselves competing against many other organizations to build teams of experienced IT and security engineers.  Sadly, the supply continues to fall well short of the needs and companies must either train inexperienced staff or leave positions unfulfilled – and add stress to the existing team.

NOC and SOC Outsource Advantages

To implement SOC affordably, a SOC as a Service is a great route to go as it is quick to get up and running, affordable and extremely effective at finding and helping to remediate threats.

For more resources illuminating the importances of a SOC and the advantages of outsourced SOCs, please also see:

Whitepaper: Why a Managed SOC is Essential for SMBs (pdf)