Today, the enterprise network topologies are becoming increasingly complex, a phenomenon that is exacerbated by an increasing remote workforce, the extensive use of cloud applications, and a need for agile IT everywhere. At such an inflexion point, it is natural for IT leaders to rethink the organization of their traditional Network Operations Center (NOC) and Security Operations Center (SOC).
As the dependency on networks becomes more and more mission-critical, the chances of severe cybersecurity incidents rises. Security can no longer be layered over like a shield; rather it should be a part of the network, so that the networks can be both agile and secure. SASE and ZTNA are two architectures that are gaining steam as organizations seek to better secure their increasingly dispersed remote workforces against attack.
“The lines between them (SOC-NOC) are becoming increasingly unclear as more advanced cyberattacks tend to freely jump between attack surfaces of different IT equipment.”
Case for convergence to an Integrated NOC/SOC
While these two groups ultimately serve different functions for an enterprise, significant overlaps do exist and SOCs and NOCs will typically need to collaborate in the event of an incident or emergency. Both NOCs and SOCs have incident response teams, call centers and monitoring. Both centers work hard to assure the integrity and availability of enterprise IT assets. Yet, despite the somewhat symbiotic relationship, only a small percentage of enterprises truly integrate these functions. Recent trends in responsibilities handled by these seemingly disparate entities indicates to a convergence of the two groups. Let us examine a few.
Unified Cross-Domain Visibility
Unified operations allow NOC and SOC administrators to have visibility of both domains simultaneously, often getting a composite view of issues that would not have been historically possible in a siloed arrangement. This could allow deep-dive into either security or network issues from one interface and explore cross-domain incidents that involve both. Response times are lower when the entire operation is orchestrated and act as a single entity.
AIOps and Automation
With increasing amount of data at disposal, automation and artificial intelligence can play an ever-increasing role in managing security and network efficiency. With efficiently captured cleansed data, training threat detection and predictive network outage models can become easier, and this would give additional reinforcement to NOC and SOC teams that are continually pressed for resources.
Reduced Costs, Increased Resources, and Faster Response
Bad actors and networks have one thing in common; they operate around the clock. This means businesses need to have separate network and security facilities, tools, infrastructures, and people available 24/7 to ensure their networks and business remain safe and functional. By unifying security and network functions, duplicate costs are eliminated, and overlapped expenses are consolidated. A unified operation center also eliminates redundant tasks, coordinating disparate functions, along with independent reporting, budgeting, and compliance.
Theoretically, a convergence of NOC and SOC is quite a compelling argument. However, how do organizations carry out the actual implementation and ensure they accrue promised benefits? To do this, organizations should look at such an integration on three different levels.
Integrated NOC/SOC Framework
Organizationally, a combined setup would prioritize cross-correlation of data that would help organizations identify threat and disruption patterns from shared NOC/SOC monitoring tools. Such contextually rich data would enable triage and collaboration among the entire NOC/SOC operations and increased the combined efficacy of the merged operation.
Secondly, an integration must work at the systems level. This means that the previously drafted standard operating procedures (SOP) and service level agreements (SLA) must now reflect the joint responsibility of the NOC/SOC operations. A crucial part of this integration would be process reengineering that streamlines legacy processes to reduce redundancies rather than eliminating them and design an audit schedule for these processes.
Distributing it through integrated tools and dashboards. The unified team should carry no baggage of the legacy demarcation between NOC/SOC and the best way to ensure that is by assigning accountability per key performance indicator for each area respectively.
The most significant efficiency gains via the creation of an integrated NOC/SOC are typically felt in Tier 1 operations. And this is amplified when automation is strategically applied to highly repetitive processes. IT leaders could use this to prioritize the convergence process.
A word of Caution
Organizations and IT leaders must recognize that the reorganization of NOC and SOC into a single entity is not the silver bullet to running a secure and reliable IT operation nor is it a trivial exercise. Security and network boundaries must be established to avoid creating new overlaps or to introduce new blind spots that go unattended by either team.
Specifically crucial are cross-domain procedures that need to be created or updated to drive workflows that align with the new operational architecture. Visibility and the ability to react depend on best-in-class tools, which need to be evaluated and adopted with accepted KPIs and lines of accountability. Simultaneously, essential tools used for security and network operations should be integrated into the unified platform to simplify access, use, and maximize their adoption value. Cross-training and knowledge exchange between network and security experts should be institutionalized and monitored on a continuous basis. Finally, as with every decision – timing is crucial. Deciding exactly when to migrate to a unified operations center is a complex decision and all necessary considerations need to be taken while planning the strategic shift.