ISMS | Managed Security Services

May 7, 2018

What factors do CISOs take into account when choosing a SOC service model?  Information security is high on the agenda of every UK and Australian board these days, especially given the changes in privacy legislation and mandatory data breach notification. However, security is a highly complex issue and requires a deep conviction throughout the business to be successful. 

Good security can be expensive;  to build a capability that extends across an organisation’s people, processes, information and tools, requires investment that may seem like it’s providing no return on investment. Let’s look at some of the factors senior managers need to consider before they decide whether to insource or outsource their security function to a managed security services provider (MSSP).

The Cyber Security Dilemma – In-house or Outsource

Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) are often faced with the difficult decision whether they should insource or outsource their security capability to an MSSP. This decision is often underpinned by several key factors, such as the current capability of internal support teams, the organisation’s culture, and the available funds for developing such a capability. There is no doubt, security can be an expensive function to maintain as an internal capability, since it’s not just about the tools; security is a business process and requires considerations across people, processes, technology and information.

A team of security experts along with their tools and expert processes is a complex function to run and govern, especially if it’s not something the organisation has expertise in, and even if your CISO is a deeply proficient security person, if they are the only person in the business that gets the security problem, it’s too big a problem to address on their own. Before any decision is made, the CISO must undertake a cost-benefit analysis of each possible operating models before deciding whether insourcing, outsourcing or a blended model is best.

The Top 4 SOC Service Models

The concept of a Security Operations Centre (SOC) becomes the focal point for all operational security controls, where the SOC, be it physical or virtual, is the nexus and management point for security threat management and incident response. There are a variety of models the CISO can adopt, such as:

Dedicated SOC: internal capability, with its own facility and full-time staff;

Virtual SOC: internal capability, no facility and part-time staff;

Outsourced SOC: service provided by MSSP, MSSP facility and MSSP staff; and

Hybrid SOC: internal and MSSP responsibilities, staff and facilities (dedicated or virtual).

These four operating models each have their own benefits and drawbacks, therefore, the choice should be carefully evaluated.

Overview of a Dedicated SOC

The dedicated SOC operating model is one where the business retains complete control over all aspects of the security lifecycle. The CISO commits to building an internal security team capable of handling all aspects of security, including strategy, architecture, risk management and operations. This requires a heavy investment in expertise, as well as a special facility for the SOC, which becomes the focal point for all security matters across the enterprise. For larger organisations, this model can require multiple SOCs, each reporting to a Command SOC, especially in an organisation that has more than one company operating within its group. Cost is the key consideration, since hiring the right people is expensive, along with all the technology needed to maintain this internal capability, especially if it’s running 24x7x365.

Overview of a Virtual SOC

Some organisations bolt the SOC responsibilities onto their existing team, whereby security becomes an additional concern for, for example, the network operations team. The facility the SOC resides in is also virtual, either as a function within an existing facility (like the network operations centre) or the term SOC doesn’t describe a facility at all, rather it’s just the processes used by teams to manage security outcomes. This is by far the cheapest model, but it’s also the least effective. The virtual SOC operating model seems like a good option for smaller or even frugal mid-sized businesses, but experience shows that when an incident or data breach occurs, the lack of skills and well-managed security technologies ends up costing the business more.

Overview of an Outsourced SOC

Outsourcing the SOC to an MSSP is an option that many businesses opt for, since the MSSP is contracted to provide the SOC, the technology, the people and the response needed to keep the business safe. Furthermore, this can be a cost-effective way to get the expertise needed, monitoring your systems 24x7x365. However, governance over the contract and ensuring the MSSP is operating to your service levels is critical to success.

The CISO should align the MSSP’s deliverables against the business’s security objectives, ensuring the service’s success metrics are tightly defined and continually reported on. They should look for innovation and collaboration from the MSSP, and interview multiple providers before making a choice.

When visiting the MSSP’s facility, look beyond the theatre of big screens and fancy graphics, rather talk to the analysts and see how they go about their job. Furthermore, if there are critical business systems that need keen focus, make sure the MSSP has the means to protect them to the level required, and if not, consider keeping some aspects of protection in-house.

Overview of a Hybrid SOC

The hybrid operating model is for organisations who wish to maintain an internal security operations capability, while contracting an MSSP to fill the gaps. This may be because the CISO has a global responsibility and their team can’t cover the 24x7x365 shift pattern, so the MSSP provides the eyes on glass when the in-house team isn’t in the office. Furthermore, the hybrid model can augment the in-house team with expertise that isn’t maintained on the payroll, such as security architects, penetration testers and digital forensics experts.

The hybrid model suits organisations that will never fully outsource their entire security capability, but for the price of one or two full time staff, they can access the pool of expertise and monitoring capabilities of the MSSP.

Choose a Model that fits your organisation’s skills and resources

Determining which SOC service model to choose requires the CISO to fully evaluate your organisation and decide whether the internal team can deliver the outcomes required for the business. The least effective, cheapest operating model is the virtual SOC, but this only works for the smallest of organisations where the one or two members of the organisation who run ICT functions have the capacity to also take on security responsibilities.

Building an entire capability internally, especially for larger organisations, is expensive, so it’s important to decide how much time your CISO has to manage the security team. Keeping a team of penetration testers on the books will eat up cash and if they don’t have enough work to keep them stimulated, they will likely leave.

Outsourcing is a good way forward, but it’s imperative that your CISO tightly defines the success criteria in the MSSP services contact and demands continual service improvement and more than just alerts sent to the local team. An MSSP worth its salt should be providing threat verification, incident response and tuning advice for log sources. If they can’t provide this, they should not be contracted.

If you found this blog helpful, here are two more that may interest you:

Building a Modern SOC

Three Levels of SOC Maturity

Essential 8 Scorecard Overview


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