What is a Managed Security Operations Centre (SOC)?

This blog was co-authored by SenseOn’s Head of Security Operations Centre, Callum O’Brien.

If an organisation’s IT systems were a city, security operations centres (SOCs) would be the dispatch centre for emergency services. When something goes wrong, or simply looks like it might be going wrong, SOCs are the first to know.

When a recent survey asked information security professionals how important a security operations centre (SOC) is to their cybersecurity strategy, 99% said it was important, very important, or essential. 

No organisation should go without the incident response capabilities that a SOC brings. But not every company is able to resource one.

Building an effective SOC in-house necessitates careful planning and coordination—as well as a significant upfront investment. 

Fortunately, creating and resourcing a SOC in-house is not the only path to gaining SOC benefits. There is another way: outsourcing it to a third-party provider by using a managed SOC service. 

What Is a Managed Security Operations Centre? 

A managed security operations centre (SOC) is a type of SOC offering that involves outsourcing your security operations to a third-party provider. 

Sometimes called “SOC as a service”, a managed SOC is designed to provide the same or similar capabilities as an internal 24/7 SOC. The major difference is that some or all of the capabilities of a managed SOC are rented from another business rather than owned by the end user.

However, any organisation considering a managed SOC needs to know that managed SOC services vary. 

For example, depending on the contractually agreed scope, a managed SOC may not respond to and investigate all security alerts. Similarly, a managed SOC may or may not deploy patches, configure and monitor an organisation’s firewalls, antivirus solutions, proxies, etc. 

The scope of what a managed SOC does will depend largely on how the SOC contract is set up and what the outsourced provider offers. 

What Is the Difference Between a Managed SOC and MDR?

Managed Detection and Response, or MDR for short, is an outsourced security service that monitors, identifies, and responds to malicious behaviour within an organisation. 

An MDR team is generally composed of several threat experts who consistently deal with malicious activity.

Although the distinction between a managed SOC and MDR varies between vendors, a managed SOC usually handles a wider range of security tasks, such as configuration changes, recommendations and additional security improvements. In comparison, an MDR provider will often focus primarily on threat detection and response. 

Benefits of Managed SOCs

Here are six main benefits of a managed SOC. 

Reduce costs

A managed SOC is typically less expensive than maintaining an in-house SOC. This is because in a managed SOC, equipment, solutions, and security experts are shared between different customers. 

Beat cybersecurity staffing shortages

The ongoing cybersecurity skills crisis means hiring and retaining skilled security professionals is already challenging for most organisations. Unfortunately, research shows that the cybersecurity talent shortage may get even worse in the next few years. 

With a managed SOC, it becomes easier for organisations to gain access to talented cybersecurity experts, including those with specialised security expertise who, given their position across many customer environments, have exposure to a wide range of threats.

Speed up detections and remediations 

With a 24/7/365 service, a managed SOC will monitor an organisation’s environment and make it less likely to miss suspicious activity than potentially overworked security analysts working in-house.

At the same time, managed SOCs tend to have a variety of clients, which exposes them to a wider variety of cybersecurity threats. This means managed SOC teams are often more experienced and are more likely to be able to deal with cyber threats quickly. 

By responding to cybersecurity incidents quickly, organisations can mitigate exploited vulnerabilities, prevent lateral movement, and minimise losses tied to cyber attacks. 

Free up internal security teams

High alert volumes mean that SOC analysts spend a lot of time dealing with false positives and triaging alerts. By outsourcing routine operations to a managed SOC, internal teams can instead focus on higher-impact tasks. This allows them to take the security recommendations they’re receiving from a managed SOC and free up time and resources to implement effective change.

Raise your security maturity level

Building a mature in-house SOC from scratch can be a time-consuming and complicated process. With a managed SOC, organisations can get access to an existing SOC tool stack, processes, and people. This access allows organisations to rapidly increase their security maturity and address core gaps in their security monitoring capability. 

Scale up or down quickly

A managed SOC can be scaled up or down as needed. 

On the other hand, an in-house SOC is generally harder to scale, as deploying additional IT security tools and hiring more people typically takes time. 

Frequently, a managed SOC will be used to make up for a lack of monitoring for attacks and breaches whilst the organisation builds their internal SOC or Cybersecurity function. This approach provides organisations with breathing room to hire the right staff and operate more strategically.

When Should Organisations Consider a Managed SOC?

Whether or not an organisation should get a managed SOC depends on three factors:

In other words, how many people do you have currently, how skilled are they in security, and what is your budget?  

For example, you might not have any security personnel, which means that your team’s skill set is not security related. But if you have enough IT employees, budget, and time, you can look at upskilling your current staff and building an in-house SOC. While your team gets up to speed, you can get a managed SOC or MDR to help with your security operations. 

On the other hand, if building a SOC internally is not realistic—for instance, your IT staff don’t want to move into security, and/or you have no budget to hire security professionals/train your existing team—a managed SOC is a good option. 

A managed SOC can also be the answer for companies that have a 9 to 5 in-house SOC but want to move to a 24/7 capacity. 

To avoid a significant increase in overheads and the need for contractual changes for existing staff around on-call requirements and shift pattern expectations, organisations can instead adopt the hybrid SOC model. 

Disadvantages of a Managed SOC

Here are three key challenges of a managed SOC. 

Different service levels 

Not every managed SOC will provide the same level of service. Before you choose a managed SOC provider, make sure you do your research and are clear about what you’ll get. 

For example, some managed SOCs might have a limit on how many intrusion detections are created or a threshold on monitoring, such as only investigating and responding to a certain volume of alerts a month. If your organisation generates more, they might not be able to look at them or may charge you an increased rate to do so. 

Loss of oversight

Using a managed SOC means trusting a third party with your security operations. 

As a result, having a process for regular feedback and quality control is essential. Without a review process in place, the quality of the service provided by a managed SOC can deteriorate over time. 

You can ensure quality by asking your managed SOC to: 

Data storage and sharing

Contracting a managed SOC involves sending highly sensitive information outside of your organisation. 

This can be a legal minefield for organisations subject to laws like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which need to ensure that the data is not sent out of their regions and is treated correctly. 

It can often be difficult for organisations to access data audit logs from third-party providers and ensure compliance with data storage and processing laws. 

SenseOn’s Managed SOC

A consolidated cybersecurity platform that combines the capabilities of multiple security solutions—including endpoint detection and response (EDR), network detection and response (NDR), security information and event management (SIEM), and security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR)—into a single platform, SenseOn offers managed SOC services to our customers. 

That means that if you get a security threat alert in the SenseOn platform and subscribe to our managed SOC service, our SOC experts will investigate security events in real-time and take action on your behalf. 

Other notable features of our managed SOC include the following: 

Want to learn more about our platform and managed SOC? Get in touch with us today.