As cybersecurity threats increase in sophistication and frequency, the demand for skilled Security Operations Center (SOC) analysts continues to rise. In tandem with defensive strategies and advanced security software, SOC analysts fill a critical role in keeping enterprises safe from attacks.
They are responsible for identifying and mitigating oncoming threats, protecting sensitive information, and ensuring the overall security of an organization’s digital assets. Demand for skilled SOC analysts climbs so aspiring defenders need to ensure they have the technical knowledge, analytical skills, and critical thinking abilities required for the job.
This is part two of a three-part blog post series covering the top tips and skills that aspiring analysts will need to master as they begin their journey toward success in the SOC analysis field. In this second post, learn about the top four topics significant to building an understanding of security platforms and tools needed in SOC analysis. Read Part One of the blog series here.
1. Know Your Cloud
In today’s digital world, businesses of all sizes rely heavily on technology to operate efficiently. Effective SOC analysts strive for a deep understanding of the latest technologies and tools used in cybersecurity. One area that is becoming increasingly important is cloud computing.
Cloud computing refers to the delivery of computing services over the internet. Instead of hosting software applications and data on local servers or personal devices, users can access these resources remotely over the internet. Cloud computing services can include infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and software as a service (SaaS). Essential cloud concepts for SOC analysts include cloud service models, deployment models, security controls, compliance frameworks, and incident response.
There are many benefits to using cloud computing, such as cost savings, scalability, and flexibility. However, potential risks also need to be considered, such as data security and compliance. As a SOC analyst, it is important to understand cloud computing basics to monitor and respond to security incidents effectively.
Cloud computing has fundamentally changed how IT infrastructure is designed, implemented, and secured. With the adoption of cloud services, traditional security measures such as firewalls and intrusion detection systems are no longer sufficient to protect against modern cyber threats. SOC analysts must now be able to monitor and analyze data from cloud environments and traditional on-premises systems.
One challenge in cloud computing is the shared responsibility model. Cloud providers are responsible for the security of the underlying infrastructure, while the customer is responsible for securing their own data and applications. This means that SOC analysts should understand the cloud provider’s and the customer’s security controls to detect and respond to security incidents effectively.
2. Know Your Active Directory
Active Directory (AD) is a centralized database that stores information about users, groups, computers, and other resources. It’s the backbone of most organizations’ identity and access management systems and is critical in securing access to sensitive data. Active Directory naturally presents an attractive target for attackers.
To effectively monitor and secure AD, SOC analysts must understand its key concepts, including domains, users, groups, and permissions. Domains are logical groupings of computers and other resources managed as a single unit. Users are individual accounts that are granted access to resources within the domain. Groups are collections of users or computers that are assigned common permissions, and permissions define what actions users can perform on specific resources.
SOC analysts must be able to effectively monitor and manage AD to identify and respond to security incidents. They should thoroughly understand AD security best practices, such as implementing strong password policies, restricting administrative access, and regularly auditing AD activity.
They should also be familiar with AD security tools, such as Microsoft’s Active Directory Users and Computers (ADUC) console, which allows them to manage users, groups, and other AD objects. Another tool, Active Directory Domain Services (ADDS), is used to manage domain controllers and replication. SOC analysts use AD to perform the following functions:
- Centralized Identity and Access Management – Active Directory is Microsoft’s centralized identity and access management tool, which enables system administrators to manage user accounts and access resources across an entire organization. This is critical for SOC analysts because they must quickly identify who has access to what resources to investigate security incidents properly.
- Log Analysis – AD logs can provide valuable insights into the behavior of users and systems within an organization. SOC analysts need to be able to analyze these logs to detect anomalies and identify potential security threats.
- Group Policy – Active Directory Group Policy allows system administrators to enforce security policies across an organization’s IT infrastructure. This is crucial for SOC analysts because they must quickly identify any security policy violations that could lead to a security incident.
- Attack Surface Reduction – Active Directory includes tools such as Group Policy and security baselines that can be used to reduce an organization’s attack surface. SOC analysts must deeply understand these tools to analyze and mitigate security incidents effectively.
Active Directory Tools and Concepts to Master for SOC Analysis
- Domain Controller – The domain controller is the heart of AD and is responsible for authenticating users, storing user account information, and enforcing security policies. SOC analysts must understand how domain controllers work to investigate security incidents properly.
- LDAP – Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) is used to access and manage directory services. SOC analysts need to be able to use LDAP to query AD and obtain valuable information for security analysis.
- PowerShell – PowerShell is a powerful command-line tool that can be used to manage AD. SOC analysts need to deeply understand PowerShell to automate tasks and perform advanced security analysis.
- Security Baselines – AD security baselines are recommended security settings that can be applied to an organization’s IT infrastructure. SOC analysts must deeply understand these security baselines to configure and monitor an organization’s security posture properly.
3. Detect & Hunt for Threats
Threats float in and out of visibility and may not leave a network, log or endpoint footprint. Additionally, there is a chance you’re not collecting or monitoring one of the mentioned data sources. Brute force attack detections need to be made for each source; if it’s targeting your SSO, it may not have a network or host footprint. The same can be said for other attacks.
Within SOCs, this creates an exponential amount of detections to be made. SOCs can often suffer from alert fatigue, trying to detect suspicious activity across multiple applications. This creates the need for high quality detections. To detect and identify malicious activity without burying yourself in noise.
Creating high quality detections is a skill, and similar to languages, once learned can be applied across platforms and technologies. An example of a more advanced detection could be one that identifies a user’s most common historical IP addresses for Okta. This can then facilitate alerting on activity that was previously too noisy. Being able to operationalize and improve the efficiency of alerts makes you a force multiplier within SOCs.
Similarly, threat hunting is also a skill. Often, you’ll be pivoting in the tool that you’ll be making a rule in, aggregating data together, slicing it, performing long tail analysis and investigating telemetry alerting. It is vital to develop the ability to visualize data in a way that produces high quality threat hunting leads, identifying and bringing obscure activity front and center.
Platforms for Threat Hunting & Detection Creation
- SentinelOne XDR – XDR allows for the ingestion of various sources.
- ELK Stack – Source available logstash can allow you to ingest multiple sources.
- Splunk – Log management platform and observability platform
4. Operate With A Tool-Agnostic Mentality
SOC analysts must be proficient in various tools and technologies used in cybersecurity. However, becoming too reliant on a specific tool or technology can hinder SOC analysts’ ability to analyze and respond to security incidents effectively.
Being overly reliant on a specific tool or technology can lead to several risks for SOC analysts. First, analysts may not be able to see the complete picture of their organization’s security posture if they only rely on a specific tool or technology. This can result in missed security incidents and vulnerabilities. Using multiple tools that need to be integrated is a common cause of inefficiencies in SOC analysts’ workflows. This can result in delayed incident response times and increased workload. Relying too heavily on a specific vendor’s tool can result in vendor lock-in, making switching to a different tool or vendor difficult if necessary.
To effectively master the art of SOC analysis and be tool agnostic, SOC analysts should follow these best practices:
- Develop a deep understanding of different tools and technologies used in cybersecurity
- Focus on tool integration to reduce workflow inefficiencies and improve visibility
- Use a mix of commercial and open-source tools to reduce the risk of vendor lock-in
- Regularly evaluate and update the toolset to meet the organization’s evolving security needs
As the threat landscape evolves, SOC analysts must remain agile and adaptable to effectively detect, respond to, and mitigate security incidents. Being tool agnostic is a crucial component of this adaptability, enabling SOC analysts to select and use the best tool for the job, regardless of vendor or technology.
As more data breaches and ransomware occupy news headlines worldwide, enterprise leaders understand the absolute need for robust cybersecurity services such as security operation centers (SOCs).
Investing in aspiring security professionals means operational teams can detect intrusions and rapidly isolate them before they move deep into a sensitive environment and create long-lasting damage. SOC analysts are an essential part of this defense, proactively monitoring for early indicators of threat, providing real-time responses to security events, triaging actions, recovering assets, and triggering incident recovery mechanisms.
For aspiring SOC analysts, a combination of technical knowledge, analytical skills, and critical thinking abilities ensure they can truly understand the digital environment they are protecting. Together with the right stack of security tools, cybersecurity strategy, and top-down support from enterprise leadership, SOC analysts can keep their businesses safe from evolving threats in the cyber landscape.
If you enjoyed this post don’t forget to check out Part One and follow us to find out when the third and final part of the series is published.
Contact us today or book a demo to learn more about how SentinelOne can augment your business’s cybersecurity posture against even the most sophisticated threats, tactics, and techniques used by threat actors today.
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