With the rise of cyberattacks globally, the need for Security Operation Centers (SOC) becomes paramount. However, SOCs, like any other tool, need maintenance to ensure it doesn’t fail us in the time of need.
This article will discuss the security operation audit checklist and the essential aspects of the SOC companies should not ignore.
What is a Security Operations Center (SOC)?
A Security Operations Center (SOC) is where cyber professionals will monitor the health of your information system and carry out operations when the system has been damaged or attacked.
A SOC is an amalgamation of all the cybersecurity tools, processes, and people that all come under one roof to ensure the protection of the network.
A developed SOC is responsible for an organization’s cybersecurity. Some of the responsibilities and task you can expect a SOC to carry out are:
- Monitoring of threats and vulnerabilities
- Threat intelligence
- Security patching
- Incident response and recovery (triage)
- Compliance management and data protection
- Digital asset management
However, not all SOCs are the same. Some SOC providers might specialize in certain types of threats and therefore employ a specific defense technique. Other SOCs might be created for particular industries, for example, financial services or bulk energy supply.
What is a SOC Audit Checklist?
Although some SOCs might have niche applications or target specific industries, one thing that remains constant with all of them is upkeep.
A SOC is only as strong as the people and tools behind it, and like any machine, it requires all the gears and cogs operating at peak performance. A SOC audit is an excellent way to ensure the center is performing at its best.
Like any other type of audit, the objective of the SOC audit is to identify what the center is doing right and where improvements might be required.
Even the most advanced SOCs can benefit from an audit; the last thing you want is for your SOC to become complacent.
In the following sections, we will provide a checklist of elements you will want to account for when carrying out a SOC audit.
How To Conduct a SOC Audit
If you are familiar with audits, then you will understand the “skeleton” of the SOC audit. Before going through the checklist, you must prepare for the audit by:
- Defining the objective of the audit
- Assessing the scope of the audit
Defining the objective should center around what you want to get out of the audit. Ask yourself, where should I make improvements, and how should I structure the audit to get to that.
Assessing the scope of the audit requires you to understand the size and purpose of the SOC. What will you need to make the audit a success, who are the key stakeholders, and what kind of involvement would be required?
Another thing you will need to consider is the budget and the regularity of the audit. Generally, audits are more successful when conducted regularly; keeping your tools sharp is critical to their effectiveness.
Assessing Real-Time Threat Monitoring Capabilities
The audit checks in this particular checklist are in no specific order, so feel free to order them according to your preferences. With that in mind, you will want to assess the real-time threat monitoring capabilities of your SOC.
One of the main benefits of a SOC is the ability to monitor threats in real-time. When you assess the security operations of a department store, you usually have a centralized camera room with a handful of security guards that monitor the CCTV and carry out other security tasks.
In this room, the security personnel can see if a thief is trying to steal items in real-time. Unfortunately, for cybersecurity, it is not that clean-cut. While the SOC can detect intrusion, it takes the trained eye of a professional to assess the threat’s credibility.
As part of the real-time threat analysis, you will need to include the team as part of the audit, testing both the technical capabilities of the tools implemented and the expertise of the personnel at the hands of the devices.
Due to the nature of the job, SOCs will need to ensure compliance with various regulations, especially the SOCs which provide managed security services.
Establishing a SOC can be a costly endeavor, so many organizations will outsource their security needs to an already established SOC. These SOCs will offer managed security services, anything from, but not limited to, vulnerability management, endpoint security, and threat analysis.
Because the security seeker trusts the SOC to provide the best security, it is in the best interest of the SOC to comply with all the necessary regulations. And as part of the audit, you will need to check, firstly, what the relevant laws are, and secondly, how well the SOC is maintaining the standard.
However, you should note that compliance doesn’t necessarily have to be regulatory. There are some voluntary frameworks that security operations centers could benefit from implementing. To name a few:
- CIS CSC (center for internet security critical security controls)
- SOC 2 (service organization control)
- NIST Cybersecurity Framework
A SOC is only as good as the policies that guide it. Weak policies or policies that are not adhered to can compromise both the SOC and its partners (in the cases of managed security).
As part of the audit, you will need to ensure that the policy structure follows a robust security standard and that staff is taking all the proper steps to follow the procedure.
However, this might vary between SOCs. SOCs geared toward governmental or institutional security might have different policies from those that lean more in the private sector. Whatever the case, the audit must assess the integrity of the guidelines:
- Do the policies fall in line with best-practice security standards
- Are there regular updates to the policies
- How do staff respond to the policies? Are they adhering to best practice models?
SIEM Calibration and Maintenance
An integral part of any SOC is the Security Information and Events Management (SIEM) system. SIEMs are a fantastic security tool and are excellent in threat detection and response.
However, like any other tool, the user decides its effectiveness, and in this, a SIEM is no different. Being an essential tool for a SOC, the SIEM must be calibrated correctly. During this process of the audit, check to see if threat detection functions appropriately.
One way to do this is to simulate an attack on the information system. With the simulated attack, you can see if the SIEM alerts you of a threat. You should try different types of attacks, so you can see what the SIEM alerts you of and where it lacks.
Later on, we will discuss the red team exercise, a form of simulated attack that tests the SOC as a whole and not just one part.
Incident Response Planning (IRP)
One of the primary roles of a managed SOC, as found in this SANS Insitute report, is incident response planning. Furthermore, regulations and company policies will often mandate incident response planning as part of the security infrastructure.
Involving the IRP in the audit process is to test the plan’s effectiveness. It is challenging to understand how effective an IRP is unless it has already been tested during a breach.
However, there are cybersecurity frameworks that are industry standards when it comes to incident response planning. For the American base, both the NIST cybersecurity framework and the SANS institute offer some great examples of incident response planning.
Furthermore, the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity, European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA), has also developed an incident response planning framework. When picking an incident response plan framework, no one is better than the other; it comes down to personal preference.
With a SOC, you will need to consider what is suitable for your information system or the clients in the case of a managed SOC.
Either way, IRP is an essential SOC service and should be reviewed with a regular audit.
Perimeter Defense Responsiveness
Perimeter defense is another essential operation of a SOC. Without perimeter defense, outside internet traffic can easily penetrate the information system.
With a managed SOC, this reality could affect many organizations, making it even more dangerous if not handled correctly.
Before assessing the perimeter defense for the audit, take stock of what perimeter defense your SOC employs. Some examples of perimeter defenses and tools are:
- Firewalls and Next-Generation Firewall ((NFFW) that can act as IPS)
- Endpoint security
- Intrusion Detection Systems (IDSInstrusion Prevention Systems (IPS) and Wireless Intrusion Detection Tools
- Virtual Private Networks (VPN)
- Cyber Threat Intelligence Feeds and Databases
- Vulnerability Scanners and Penetration Testing Tools
- SIEM with Logging Management Capabilities
- Governance Risk and Compliance (GRC) Systems
Some perimeter security solutions involve blocking external traffic, like firewalls; others might mask your traffic, like VPNs. Both solutions help achieve perimeter security but in slightly different ways. Lastly, you have security at the device level, with endpoint security.
This perimeter defense involves protecting the perimeter at the device level (through encrypting laptops, mobile phones, tablets, etc.). A SOC likely implements multiple types of perimeter defense to cover a broader base of threats.
Again, like other tools in your arsenal, you must test them to ensure their long-term effectiveness.
Through an audit, it becomes apparent where the perimeter defenses are failing quickly. It will involve some degree of pen-testing when it comes to technical audits, which has been the theme so far in all the technical applications of a SOC.
As threat detection and incident response planning is a vital aspect of SOCs, the natural predecessor of the two is data recovery.
A SOCs data recovery or systems recovery capabilities are essential to its performance. Without a plan in place for recovery, all prior work might go to waste; it’s one thing defending from attacks, but it is just as essential to have the ability to put the information system back together.
Threat Readiness: Red Team Exercise
Although not strictly an audit requirement, red team exercises are a great way to test the overall effectiveness of the SOC.
You can view the red team exercise as the final exam if all previous audit points pass a satisfaction test.
What is a red team exercise?
Red team is a military term used to describe the “enemy team” during combat scenarios. Usually, the battalion will split into two teams, red and blue, where the job of the blue team is to thwart the attack of the red team successfully.
This exercise gives the whole battalion experience in both what the attackers might do and what the defenders do to stop them; hopefully, giving them an advantage on the battlefield.
Cybersecurity professionals saw the value of this type of training and brought it to the industry. Using the same logic, a SOC can run a red team exercise, giving the personnel experience attacking their system and defending it from the attack.
The ultimate goal would be to bolster the cyber resilience of the SOC, making it more effective at its operation.
How Can RSI Security Help You
A security operations center audit is unique to the center itself. Understanding the type of industry the SOC services and the sensitivity of processed data is the first step in understanding the audit scope.
The audit checklist outlined in this article will get you started to ensure your SOC runs smoothly and securely.
To recap; your SOC should:
- Assess the real-time threat monitoring capabilities
- Understand the regulatory environment and apply proper compliance measures
- Test the integrity of the policies that govern the SOC under one comprehensive risk management framework
- Ensure that the SIEM is calibrated correctly and is up to speed on threat detection and prevention
- Ensure the readiness of the SOC in times of data breaches by testing the responsiveness of the IRP
- Shore up the perimeter defenses by assessing the technical tools implemented for the task
As security professionals, RSI Security understands the need for communication in the security environment. It might seem strange, but hackers are highly organized and communicative, and if there is anything we can learn from them, the cyber defense community needs to do the same.
The cybersecurity of our nation and private sector depends on the efficiency and effectiveness of the industry and the SOC labs backing it up.
Get in contact with RSI Security today, whether for a security operations center audit checklist assessment or assistance in managed security; let us help each other bring about the best protection for our partners and clients alike and schedule a consultation here.