Understanding the Difference Between SOCs and CSIRTs

Building an effective security strategy in organizations today requires the right combination of experts, processes, tools and technologies. Luckily, there are many different ways in which you can organize them to fit your company’s needs.

The two types of teams most often mentioned today are Security Operations Centers (SOCs) and Computer Security Incident Response Teams (or CSIRTs). SOCs and CSIRTs have distinctive roles and responsibilities, so deciding which one is better for your organization’s security program isn’t always easy. This blog post will focus on explaining their main objectives and how they differ in structure, which may help you to decide which one is more suitable for your organization’s internal infrastructure and strategy, especially if you are looking to set one up in the near future as your business expands.  

Security Operations Center (SOC)

The term SOC bears the connotation of an environment designed specifically to defend corporate data and networks, and it can be used to describe the facility where carrying out security tasks takes place or the people who are responsible for that.

A SOC is the “brain” of a security organization, as it acts as the center of all roles and responsibilities, with the main goal of protecting information within the organization. Its main tasks are:

  • Prevention
  • Detection
  • Incident management / response
  • Reporting
  • Anything that involves managing and protecting information within the company

Furthermore, the SOC also monitors people, technology and tools, and processes involved in all aspects of cybersecurity. Often companies have a SOC before they decide to establish a separate CSIRT. The end objective of every SOC is to monitor and take care of every cyber activity that takes place and ultimately ensure the organization is protected against any type of attack.

The SOC is also responsible for incident response if there is no formal CSIRT established within the organization. If there is, the SOC helps the CSIRT in responding faster and more efficiently to a cyber threat.

The SOC is responsible for the following:

  • Monitoring the security of users, systems, and applications
  • Prevention, detection, and response to security threats
  • Creating and managing procedures
  • Integration of security systems with other tools

What makes a SOC unique and different from other units within the organization is its centralized role with a strong focus on combining techniques, skills, and technology, by utilizing tools to increase the protection of the company against threats. It’s also important to underline that even though incident prevention and management is not its specialty, a SOC may still cover these events as well, being a department that covers all things related to cyber security.

Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT)

CSIRT is a centralized department within an organization whose main responsibilities include receiving, reviewing, and responding to security incidents. CSIRTs may work under SOCs, or function individually, depending on the organization’s needs and structure.

The main goal of a CSIRT is to minimize and control the consequences from an incident. It’s not just addressing the attack itself, their role involves communicating with boards, executives, and clients about the incident.

Some of its main responsibilities include:

  • Prevention, detection, and response to security threats
  • Ranking alerts and tasks
  • Investigating and conducting forensics on incidents
  • Coordinating strategies
What do CSIRTs do?

The basis of every CSIRT is providing incident management. The CSIRT is the central point of contact in the event of a security incident. Depending on how fast a CSIRT team responds to an incident, it can limit the damage from the incident by providing rapid response and recovery solutions. This ensures the workflow is uninterrupted and lowers the overall costs.

Incident management presupposes three functions: reporting, analysis and response. With this being said, the CSIRT activities usually involve the following:

  • Understanding incidents – CSIRTs must be aware of the nature of the incident and the consequences that might arise from it. A repository helps teams gain insights of the patterns of a certain cyber attack and this could lead to future activities that could prevent the occurrence of such attacks.
  • Handling negative impact – CSIRTs carry out elaborate research of a certain problem and recommend solutions for it.
  • Assist other departments – CSIRT teams distribute alerts across the organizations on the latest threats and risks.
  • Compose security strategies
Does my organization need a CSIRT?

The CSIRT within an organization may be a formal unit or an ad-hoc team, depending on the company’s needs. If your organization is not facing a cyber threat on a regular basis, the need for a CSIRT might not be as big as for larger organizations, or companies in high-risk industries, such as healthcare, finance or government. In industries such as these, responding to threats happens daily and there’s a need for a formal, full-time CSIRT.

Whatever the needs of your organization, don’t forget that a CSIRT team will evolve with time. What might start as an ad-hoc team may develop into a fully functioning department as the business expands and progresses.

Final Thoughts

Regardless of the final choice, which will depend on a number of individual requirements and factors, (including but not limited to the size of the organization, the number of threats it faces, the industry and the company’s security program maturity), don’t forget that whatever team is established, it is always important to clearly define roles and responsibilities, have efficient processes in place that can be automated, and implement the right tools and technologies that will help your team do their job more effectively. Set up correctly, SOCs and CSIRTs will facilitate the organization to respond to all security alerts and react faster to the ever-evolving cyber security incidents.

A Weekend in Incident Response #35: The Most Common Cyber security Threats Today

Companies across different industries around the globe, along with government institutions, cite cyber attacks as one of the biggest security threats to their existence. As a matter of fact, in a recent Forbes survey of over 700 companies from 79 countries, 88 percent of respondents said that they are “extremely concerned” or “concerned” by the risk of getting attacked by hackers.

This fact is a clear indication that organizations have to ramp up efforts for enhancing their cyber resilience, but to do that successfully and in the most effective manner, they need to have a clear understanding of where the biggest cyber threats come from nowadays so that they can shape their cyber defenses accordingly. We take a look at the most common cybersecurity threats today, ranging from internal threats, cyber criminals looking for financial gains, and nation states.

Internal Threats

When talking about cyber security, some of the first things that usually come to mind are freelance hackers and state-sponsored attacks between hostile nations. But, many cyber security incidents actually come from within organizations, or to be more specific, from their own employees.

Pretty much all experts agree that employees are some of the weakest links in the cyber defense of every organization, in part due to low cyber security awareness, and sometimes due to criminal intent.

Employees often put their companies at risk of getting hacked without meaning to, by opening phishing emails or sharing confidential files through insecure channels, which is why organizations should make sure their staff knows the basics of cyber security and how to avoid the common cyber scams and protect data.

Connected Devices

With so many devices connected to the Internet nowadays, including video cameras, smart phones, tablets, sensors, POS terminals, medical devices, printers, scanners, among others, organizations are at an increased risk of falling victim of a data breach. The Internet of Things is a real and ever-increasing cyber threat to businesses and institutions, deteriorating their vulnerability to cyber attacks by adding more endpoints that hackers can use to gain access to networks, and by making it easier for hackers to spread malicious software throughout networks at a faster rate.

The Internet of Things is one of the factors that make DDoS attacks more possible and more easily conducted, and these types of attacks can have a significant and long-lasting impact on organizations, both in terms of financial losses and reputation damage.

Nation-State Attacks

Private entities and government institutions that are part of the critical infrastructure in their countries are under a constant threat of different types of attacks by hostile nations. As the number of channels and methods that stand at the disposal of hackers aiming to gain access to computer networks grows, organizations in the public and private sector are facing a growing risk of cyber attacks sponsored by nation-states that might have an interest in damaging the critical infrastructure of other countries, hurting their economies, obtaining top-secret information, or getting the upper hand in diplomatic disputes.

Most commonly, nation-state-sponsored cyber attacks use malware, such as ransomware and spyware, to access computer networks of organizations, as a means of gaining control over certain aspects of the critical infrastructure of another country.

No matter what types of attacks are common today, the number and level of sophistication of cyber threats to organizations are certainly going to grow in the future, which is why they have to constantly update and adjust their cyber defenses accordingly.