Home / Blog / Security Operations Centre / 5 Universal SOC Challenges… and What To Do About Them

December 2, 2022

The Security Operations Centre (SOC) is a crucial component of any cybersecurity program.

Organisations rely on it to quickly uncover and prevent security threats.

However, SOC teams worldwide face challenges that can seriously harm their ability to perform this vital function—leaving organisations vulnerable to cyber threats.

This article will cover five of the most common SOC challenges and explain what your organisation can do to minimise their impact.

Challenge #1: The Skills Shortage

This is perhaps the most frustrating issue in the cybersecurity industry, and it doesn’t look like it will go away any time soon. Many, many SOCs have unfilled positions for extended periods—not because they can’t afford to hire, but because they simply can’t find someone with the appropriate skills.

This leads to a related problem: overreliance on ‘security heroes’. Look, it’s great your SOC has one or more veterans you can rely on to fix almost anything… but this isn’t a sustainable strategy. It also creates risk—what happens if your heroes are on holiday or leave the organisation?

As frustrating as the cybersecurity skills shortage is, there’s only one solution right now: hiring individuals with less experience or skills than you would ideally like and training them up.

Yes, this creates its own risk, as they may leave. However, the alternative is simply to operate without key positions filled. And we all know how that ends.

Challenge #2: Lack of Budget

Building and maintaining an effective SOC can be costly, particularly if your organisation needs 24/7/365 coverage. Between tools, personnel, training, and other operational expenses, practically every SOC on the planet is forced to make concessions due to a lack of budget.

Compounding this problem, it’s easy to fall prey to a form of ‘Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS),’ where security teams are led astray by a constant onslaught of marketing messages about the ‘latest and greatest’ tools and technologies. There’s nothing wrong with buying tools—they are an essential part of your security program. However, overspending on new tools can eat into financial resources that would be more productively spent in other areas.

Simply, once you have the basics in place, you’re probably better off allocating budget to other areas, such as ensuring your team is fully trained and following clearly-defined operating procedures.

On that note…

Challenge #3: Lack of Documented Processes

Inconsistency is the enemy of effective security operations—particularly in larger SOC environments.

Without standardised, documented processes, you can guarantee that no two SOC analysts will approach a task in the same way. That might be fine in a low-pressure environment… but clearly, security isn’t low pressure. Inconsistent processes waste time and create a substantial risk that tasks will be completed suboptimally—not something you want to risk when resolving active security incidents or improving security capabilities.

The solution here is simple: create a comprehensive set of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)… and keep it up to date. This will take time (and money), and it may not always be popular with SOC staff. However, the benefits are clear:

  • Making it easy for new staff to get ‘up to speed’
  • Ensuring consistency in key security processes
  • Minimising human error
  • Improving process efficiency and outcomes

Challenge #4: Human Error

A SOC is a high-pressure environment where time is always short, and everything is an emergency. Naturally, it’s easy for people to make mistakes under these circumstances.

This is further evidence of the need for clearly documented processes. Think about it like this—paramedics, firefighters, and other emergency responders work under extreme pressure, yet they make remarkably few mistakes. Why? Because they know exactly what to do in different circumstances without having to make many ‘new’ decisions.

Your SOC should operate the same way.

Challenge #5: Alert Fatigue

When they identify suspicious or malicious activity, many security tools create alerts to prompt a human analyst to investigate. Unfortunately, with so much digital activity happening daily, SOCs receive quite a few of these alerts each day.

OK, that’s an understatement. SOCs receive a crushing onslaught of alerts each day that they have practically no chance of addressing. This leads to three undesirable outcomes:

  1. Alerts are triaged very quickly and may be mistakenly discarded.
  2. Alerts are missed or skipped over.
  3. Alerts are ignored altogether, as there are simply too many to manage.

Each of these outcomes creates substantial risk for your organisation—most notably, that a genuine threat will be missed resulting in a serious security incident or breach.

To be clear, this is not the fault of SOC analysts. There is only so much time in a shift, and analysts are only human—when faced with more alerts than they can manage, it ceases to matter how skilled or diligent they are.

The solution here isn’t an easy one—and it doesn’t involve hiring dozens of additional analysts (good luck with that, anyway). Instead, organisations must invest in systems, processes, and solutions that minimise the number of alerts without significantly increasing the risk of missing a genuine threat.

Typically, this involves the automated use of threat intelligence and internal telemetry to categorise and prioritise alerts before they reach your SOC analysts. This process can substantially reduce the volume of alerts and allow analysts to focus their attention on only the most critical alerts.

Overcoming SOC Challenges

While the solutions outlined in this article are far from a ‘quick fix,’ they are proven to substantially reduce risk while alleviating the staffing and budget challenges faced by today’s SOCs. However, there is another solution to consider—particularly if your organisation is at the stage of deciding whether or not to invest in building a SOC from scratch.

Increasingly, organisations are outsourcing their security operations function to managed SOC providers. These providers have the luxury of scale, allowing them to build and maintain a world-class SOC—including all the tools, SOPs, and ongoing training and maintenance required.

Working with a managed SOC provider allows organisations to sidestep the challenges laid out in this article while benefiting from a fully staffed and equipped security operations function.

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