Finding an affordable, efficient solution can be a challenge for higher education institutions. Tight budgets and staffing constraints can make an in-house cybersecurity team ineffective or too expensive to keep in place. However, using software alone leaves dangerous gaps in security. SOC as a Service (SOCaaS) provides the answer many higher education institutions are seeking.
What Is a SOC?
Your security operations center (SOC) is the human element of your organization’s cybersecurity plan. It’s the team responsible for cybersecurity for your organization and the tools and software used to accomplish this job. Simply put, your SOC is a cybersecurity office that houses a qualified team and the tools used to protect sensitive data from online criminals. A SOC works as the first line of defense against potential online crime attacks, handling the prevention and investigation of threats. The SOC will make the appropriate response to these threats as well. Perhaps most importantly, a SOC works around the clock to prevent your organization from becoming a victim of the growing number of online security threats.
While your IT staff is responsible for a variety of tech duties and issues, a SOC team specializes in cybersecurity. This team is composed of cybersecurity experts, security specialists, and engineers who are trained to detect and respond to continually evolving threats. As hackers develop new ways to access systems and the information they contain, SOC engineers study these threats and develop security methods to counter and prevent new types of attacks.
SOC teams use a variety of technologies, software, and processes to spot system vulnerabilities and avoid attacks. Some of the most common tools used by a SOC team include firewalls, probes, security information and event management (SIEM) services, and data logs. Whether your SOC team is composed of in-house experts or you prefer outsourced services, the primary goal is to prevent system breaches and minimize losses due to cyber attacks.
A quality SOC is tailored to fit the unique needs of your institution. Typically, you can expect any SOC to perform these tasks.
- Detection and Prevention: When facing a threat to sensitive data, it’s safe to say that prevention is the best line of defense. Instead of responding to threats after they occur, your SOC team works around the clock to monitor your system for signs of attack. This monitoring action allows the team to detect malicious activities and stop attackers before they accomplish their objectives.
- Investigation: Whether your SOC team detects a potential vulnerability or a full-fledged attack, an investigation is essential to eliminate the threat across a variety of systems. During investigation, an analyst studies potential vulnerabilities and the ways an attack could progress. These studies help analysts learn how to predict the actions of potential attackers and develop ways to avoid similar attacks in the future.
- Response: Information from the investigation leads to an organized response to repair the issue. The nature of the response is directly based on the severity of the attack. A SOC team response may vary from developing patches for system vulnerabilities to halting the path of harmful processes to avoid damage to files. Additionally, many security systems share knowledge across organizations for the prevention of future attacks.
In the aftermath of an incident, the SOC continues to work by restoring systems and recovering lost or compromised data. Ransomware attacks may require the use of data backups to stop the attack and maintain normality. A successful response to any attack returns your system to the condition it was in before the incident occurred.
Understanding the functions of a SOC is essential to having the tailored cybersecurity system you need to adequately protect any higher education institution. Today’s technology-driven world makes access to information a quick and seamless process that benefits practically every industry. Higher education is no exception. Unfortunately, this convenience also leaves organizations open to potential breaches, threats, and attacks. While software is continuously advancing to protect against these threats, it’s impossible to thwart sophisticated cyber attacks without human intelligence and analysis. A quality SOC performs these functions.
- Implementation and Management of Security Tools: All organizations have basic security tools like firewalls, data analytics, intrusion detection, and preventative technology. However, these tools are best utilized when they’re tailored to the needs of your specific industry and the ways your system infrastructure is used. An experienced SOC team helps select and leverage the tools needed for adequate data protection. These tasks usually include log collections and analysis to identify threats in real-time, preventative maintenance like firewall adjustments, and the implementation of security patches.
- Investigation and Analysis of Suspicious Activities: The SOC team continually receives information from your system. This data is constantly monitored with the help of SIEM tools to identify suspicious activity. Alerts are categorized and analyzed for importance and risk level. Once the threat is assessed, the team responds based on the severity of the incident.
- Reduction of Downtime: Higher education institutions can’t afford to shut down an entire system due to a potential threat or even an actual security event. The SOC team works to eliminate downtime with alerts to stakeholders and mitigate risks before any attack reaches key infrastructure.
- Audits of Regulatory Compliance: Regulatory compliance is an important issue for all Title IV education institutions. As new threats emerge, compliance requirements increase to mitigate the potential risks. Your SOC performs regular audits to ensure your system is maintaining compliance with the most up to date information.
Cybersecurity Requirements for Colleges and Universities
As a responsible higher education institution, you have a desire to protect the information of students, parents, faculty, and other employees. It’s also important to protect sensitive academic information that could be misused. Still, the legal compliance requirements these institutions must follow is a vital part of any higher education cybersecurity plan. Failing to meet the compliance of federal laws regarding safe storage and transfer of sensitive information can lead to fines, suspensions, and even loss of federal funding.
Higher education institutions are required to follow the security regulations of a variety of federal protection laws, including:
- Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA): Designed to ensure the privacy of student education records, FERPA applies to higher education institutions that receive funding from programs administered by the US Department of Education.
- Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA): Typically reserved for medical facilities, HIPAA applies to colleges and universities that have medical staff to tend to the needs of students. HIPAA regulations must be followed by institutions that bill providers for services.
- Gramm-Leach Bliley Act (GLBA): Designed to protect sensitive financial data, GLBA applies to Title IV colleges and universities that provide federal financial aid.
- Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (FACTA): Sometimes called the Red Flags Rule, FACTA applies to the way colleges and universities collect, store, and use student financial records. These requirements surround awareness of the warning signs of identity theft and the steps needed to respond to incidents.
Traditional SOC Approaches in Higher Education Institutions
SOC isn’t a new idea for higher education institutions. IT teams and cybersecurity teams develop part-time solutions in house to log and analyze activities that occur across the network. Unfortunately, these solutions often have gaps that allow criminals to exploit a variety of vulnerabilities that exist within the networks of higher education institutions.
In-house SOC solutions for academia require a full-time, highly experienced staff to take care of a plethora of daily tasks. Keeping your team in-house means you need additional office space for the team to work and the tools necessary to effectively protect against cybersecurity threats. These necessities quickly become expensive to maintain. Additionally, staff burnout and turnover is common in the high-stress environment created by a heavy workload and the potential risks involved with non-compliance and human errors.
As attackers turn to targeted human-led attacks, more cybersecurity gaps are being recognized. It’s impossible for even the most up-to-date software to recognize zero-day attacks or ransomware disguised as routine network activity. All too often, higher institutions don’t have the funds to implement the SOC team they truly need to defend the many potential attack points that exist within their open system infrastructure. These shortages leave colleges and universities unprepared for the types of cyber attacks that can hurt them most. Ransomware attacks and large data breaches put thousands of students at risk and undermine the credibility of learning institutions. Finding new ways to eliminate these ever-present risks is essential. Since colleges and universities often have tight budgets and limited IT staff, outsourcing SOC tasks could provide the solution.
SOC as a Service
As online attackers back away from widespread attacks in favor of targeted ransomware attacks, software alone is becoming less successful at preventing network breaches. When hackers target a specific institution and learn about the inner workings of the system, they often wait for the exact right moment to strike a system vulnerability. This type of targeted attack allows attackers to gain access to a system within seconds during the periods of lowest security. Often, ransomware attacks occur at night or during the weekend, and a full-scale attack is realized on Monday when it’s already too late.
SOC as a Service (SOCaaS) is an outsourced subscription or software-based service that provides 24-hour monitoring for your logs, devices, clouds, and network to identify and prevent incoming online threats. The service works as a full-time assist team for your IT staff to provide the knowledge and skills necessary to prevent sophisticated cyber attacks. SOCaaS provides end-to-end protection, threat detection, and incident response without the prohibitive cost of in-house hardware and staff. Going beyond the use of software alone, SOCaaS provides your institution with layers of protection designed to prevent even the most advanced online attacks.
SOCaaS provides many benefits for organizations, including:
- Up-to-date technology without the expensive price tag: Providing your institution with on-site hardware needed to protect against today’s sophisticated cyber attacks is an expense many businesses can’t afford. Outsourcing allows your SOC team to utilize advanced hardware remotely.
- A combination of efficient software and human elements: SIEM software has the ability to quickly sort, categorize, and normalize data that would require intense manual work for humans alone. Still, human intelligence is necessary to detect zero-day threats, prioritize attacks, and keep the software updated and running correctly.
- Threat ranking and appropriate responses: Software creates a variety of alerts to help your IT team eliminate potential threats. This leads to a deluge of false alarms. SOCaaS provides 24-hour monitoring that ranks threats by severity and provides automated reactions that always keep you in the loop.
- Crowdsourced intelligence gathering and immunization: Outsourced SOC teams have the benefit of working with many various organizations. With up-to-the-minute threat responses, coordinated information gathering protects hundreds from a new threat at once. When a new threat or vulnerability arises in one organization, many others receive protection before the threat even occurs within that organization.
- Compliance reporting: For many industries, cybersecurity is a legal requirement that must be carefully followed. Without the right tools and most up-to-date information, maintaining and reporting compliance can be a hassle. SOCaaS provides automated modules that make compliance reporting easier and less expensive.
The Benefits of SOC as a Service for Higher Education
Colleges and universities require large and diverse networks to provide easy access for students, faculty, and office staff. These types of open systems provide a variety of vulnerabilities for attackers to exploit. For many industries with large on-site networks and increased mobile access, the cost of a sizable cybersecurity hub is considered a necessity with a reasonable ROI. Colleges and universities are forced to work under vastly different circumstances. While they need large, open networks to operate efficiently, funds are often spread thin and used to consistently attract students. This leaves the budget lacking for an in-house cybersecurity team that such an institution would require. SOCaaS for higher education can provide the best of both worlds.
SOCaaS from BitLyft provides answers to many cybersecurity challenges in colleges and universities, including:
- 24/7 Monitoring: Sophisticated attacks are designed to occur when you least expect them. SOCaaS provides 24-hour monitoring, so your IT team is always on alert for real-time threats. This is especially essential for colleges and universities that provide access points for hundreds of mobile devices during off-hours like nights and weekends.
- Expert-Level SOC Team: An SOC team works as an extension of your IT team to provide you with instant access to combined knowledge and expertise at a fraction of the price of an in-house cybersecurity team.
- Collaboration and Communication: An outsourced cybersecurity team is designed to work alongside your IT team to provide complete protection without security gaps. This means the SOC team will always be available to listen and respond to your biggest concerns.
- Crowdsourced Immunization: As attackers realize the vast amount of information that can be obtained from higher education institutions, no college or university is ever truly safe from potential attacks. When one institution faces a potential attack, many others can be alerted and immunized from the threat before it even reaches you.
- Reduced Remediation Time: Downtime is an enemy to most businesses, and colleges are no exception. Faster response times mean attacks are identified in seconds instead of days, leaving them with no time to damage your system.
- Faster and Easier Compliance Reporting: Title IV schools rely on federal funding to keep hundreds of students on campus. Noncompliance with any of the mandatory laws could lead to a loss in funding and the loss of students. SOCaaS for higher education provides automated modules to ensure compliance and the necessary audits and reports are completed automatically.
- Contextual-Based Protection: Every higher learning institution is different. SOCaaS learns the unique trademarks of your network to provide customized solutions based on the needs of your institution.
- Faster Processes and Response: Alerts are most effective when they immediately reach the expert qualified to handle the situation. SOCaaS provides automated alarms, tasks, and actions to reduce manual processes and increase response time.
To learn more about a complete cybersecurity solution designed to meet the needs of higher education institutions, talk to the experts at BitLyft Cybersecurity today. Our team provides you with a cybersecurity partner with the tools and expertise to prevent sophisticated attacks that target higher learning institutions.