What is a security operations center (SOC)?

A security operations center, or SOC, helps organizations avoid attacks by identifying, investigating, and remediating threats.

Learning Objectives

After reading this article you will be able to:

  • Define ‘security operations center’
  • Learn how a SOC protects organizations from threats
  • Contrast the functions of a SOC vs. NOC

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What is a security operations center (SOC)?

A security operations center (SOC), also referred to as an information security operations center (ISOC), is a dedicated facility where security professionals monitor, analyze, and mitigate potential cyber threats. Due to the distributed nature of modern organizations, “SOC” is often used to describe the team of security engineers and analysts that carries out these functions.

While the architecture of a SOC varies from organization to organization, it fulfills several key functions:

  • Tracking activity across networks, servers, databases, and devices
  • Investigating and responding to threats
  • Ensuring compliance and improving security postures

Typically, an organization depends on a single internal SOC for threat management and remediation, but large enterprises may maintain multiple SOCs across different countries (sometimes called a global security operations center, or GSOC) or choose to employ a third-party group of security analysts and engineers.

How does a SOC protect organizations from threats?

A SOC can be configured in many different ways, and is likely to change depending on the needs and capabilities of an organization. Generally, its responsibilities fall into three buckets:


Asset inventory: To protect an organization from threats and identify security gaps, a SOC needs full visibility over its systems, applications, and data — as well as the security tools protecting them. An asset discovery tool may be used to carry out the inventory process.

Vulnerability assessment: To gauge the potential impact of an attack, a SOC may conduct regular testing on an organization’s hardware and software, and use the results to update their security policies or develop an incident response plan.

Preventative maintenance: Once a SOC has pinpointed vulnerabilities in an organization’s infrastructure, it can take steps to strengthen its security posture. These may include updating firewalls, maintaining allowlists and blocklists, patching software, and refining security protocols and procedures.


Log collection and analysis: A SOC collects log data generated by events across an organization’s network (like those documented by firewalls, intrusion prevention and detection systems, and so on), then analyzes those logs for any anomalies or suspicious activity. Depending on the size and complexity of an organization’s infrastructure, this can be a resource-intensive process, and it may be done via an automated tool.

Threat monitoring: A SOC uses log data to create alerts for suspicious activity and other indicators of compromise (IOC). IOCs are anomalies in data — network traffic irregularities, unexpected system file changes, unauthorized application usage, strange DNS requests, or other behavior — that indicate a breach or other malicious event is likely to occur.

Security information and event management (SIEM): A SOC often works with a SIEM solution to automate threat protection and remediation. Common capabilities of a SIEM include:

  • Log data aggregation
  • Alert monitoring
  • Advanced threat intelligence
  • Security incident analysis
  • Compliance reporting


Incident response and remediation: When an attack occurs, a SOC often takes several steps to mitigate the damage and restore impacted systems. These may include isolating infected devices, deleting compromised files, running anti-malware software, and conducting a root cause investigation. SOCs may use these findings to improve existing security policies.

Compliance reporting: Following an attack, a SOC helps organizations remain compliant with data privacy regulations (for example, the GDPR) by notifying the appropriate authorities about the volume and type of protected data that has been compromised.

What are common types of SOCs?

When creating a SOC, organizations have several options. The most common categories of SOCs include:

  • In-house SOC, or a dedicated SOC, is owned and operated by the organization that uses it. Benefits of in-house SOCs may include quicker incident response times and tailored security detection and response capabilities, though they may also be more expensive and resource-intensive to maintain than other SOCs.
  • Managed SOC, or SOC-as-a-service, allows organizations to outsource SOC responsibilities to a third-party security provider. Most managed SOCs fall into one of two categories: managed security service providers (MSSP) and managed detection and response (MDR).
  • MSSP is a managed SOC service that monitors systems and data. An MSSP's main role is to alert organizations when malicious activity is detected. It does so by cataloging network events and detecting anomalies.
  • MDR is a managed SOC service that expands on the forensic capabilities of a MSSP. In addition to tracking network activity and creating alerts, it also investigates potential threats, removes false positives from alerts, offers advanced analytics and threat intelligence, and helps remediate security incidents.

What is a network operations center (NOC)?

A network operations center, or NOC, oversees network activity and threats. A NOC team is responsible for monitoring the health of an organization’s network, anticipating and preventing outages, defending against attacks, and performing routine maintenance checks for various systems and software.

Unlike a SOC, which tracks and mitigates malicious activity across an organization’s entire infrastructure, a NOC is singularly focused on network security and performance.

Does Cloudflare offer SOC services?

Cloudflare Security Operations Center-as-a-Service combines detection and monitoring features with key security technologies, like a web application firewall (WAF), bot management solution, and DDoS attack prevention. By offloading SOC responsibilities to Cloudflare, organizations can maintain visibility over their infrastructure, track and mitigate incoming threats, and reduce overall security costs.