Cyber ranges

Why the SOC operations teams needs a cyber range

January 26, 2021 by Lester Obbayi

Introduction

The Security Operations Centre (SOC) is the nerve center of the Blue Team or incident response team in any organization. This crucial team acts as the first line of defense for an organization and therefore needs to be ahead of the malicious hackers in detecting and thwarting an attack before it can cause damage within the organization. Such teams need to be well-equipped and skilled in preparing for incoming attacks. 

One of the most important forms of training technical security teams involves something known as cyber ranges. 

In this article, we define what cyber ranges are and what they entail. We then analyze how SOC teams can be improved by incorporating cyber ranges within the technical training.

Cyber ranges overview

The most common question about cyber ranges is simply, “What is a cyber range?” A cyber range is a virtual environment that is set up to mimic a real-world environment according to various operations of the real environment. The imitation of the real world comes complete with cyber threats, as well as network devices like routers, servers and user computers. 

The aim here is to provide learners with a safe environment to develop the skills necessary for offensive and defensive approaches to the security of a computer network. This is usually done in the defense or preparation of a cyberattack. 

Originally incorporated within the military, cyber ranges are now used by organizations as well. This is because they protect the critical systems of the organization by hosting the safe environment virtually or in an entirely different network.

Now that we know what a cyber range is and how it works, we can now review the following sections which discuss why your SOC team probably needs one.

Increase expertise and skill set for SOC teams

When considering training your employees (in this case, your SOC team), cyber ranges are known to dive deeper into concepts not well covered in many practical information security courses. The imitation to the real environment that is done is intended to recreate a real-world scenario; by doing this, the SOC team can develop skills necessary in combating threats that remain relevant in the real world. For instance, SOC teams can:

1. Modify and incorporate better Indicators of Compromise (IoCs)

Cyber ranges can allow SOC teams to discover and incorporate IoCs based on better detection mechanisms and improved software solutions and better research, all which can have been learned through unique scenarios demonstrated from the cyber ranges. These can be shared with the larger information security community and help identify attacks or attribute them to relevant cyber threat actors.

2. Better respond to security alerts from SIEM solutions

Cyber ranges can allow SOC teams to learn to better respond to SIEM alerts through prioritizing certain actions key to suppressing an attack before it can propagate the network deeper. These actions are usually informed by a lot of trial and error, up to the point where the most desirable course of action is determined and preferred. 

3. Improve on security solutions by adding better-working modules

Cyber ranges can allow SOC teams to practically learn the operation of their security solutions and understand the unique areas where improvements can be made. SOC teams can add onto modular solutions to improve their functionality to make these solutions more robust. When these solutions are applied to the real world, then SOC teams can get high performance and accurate results. This can mean the difference between successful and unsuccessful mitigation. 

4. Better document findings on incidences for escalation purposes

Cyber ranges make it possible to learn documentation skills. Reports can be fine-tuned to be easily readable in case of escalation of issues to the necessary cybersecurity teams, and for future reference. This can be especially useful when a breach needs to be examined or steps need to be undertaken to contain security issues. 

5. Learn to preserve evidence better for forensic teams to work on

Cyber ranges can also teach SOC team members how to preserve evidence for the sake of forensic departments. This prepares an incident to be handled by different teams.

The skills discussed above are but a few technical skills that can be better developed by SOC teams as they engage in different cyber range scenarios. 

Developing collaborative skills within SOC Teams

Cyber ranges can allow the different players within a SOC environment to work effectively together. The normal operation of SOC teams is structured, and the proper structure must be followed when managing or escalating security issues. 

For instance, in case of a security incident, the first line of defense falls within the incident responders. This team needs to know how to respond to incidents as they arise within the network and escalate the issue accordingly. Cybersecurity analysts, on the other hand, receive incidents and forward them according to perceived severity of the issue at hand. The risk might be, for instance, forwarded to a SOC manager; in the case of a properly tiered and large SOC team, it can be sent to the responsible tier to be handled.

Security engineers, on the other hand, are responsible for managing security solutions such as SIEMs, IDSes and firewalls. Whenever these solutions require maintenance and updates/upgrades, the security engineers work hand-in-hand with respective service providers to ensure that the solutions are effectively and perfectly functional. If these solutions are developed in-house, they work together with the software developers to ensure correct functionality. 

These teams can learn to work well together by handling mock scenarios set up through cyber ranges.

Making learning more engaging for SOC teams

Cyber ranges have the capacity to make learning more engaging and interactive by focusing on practical aspects of cybersecurity training. SOC teams can, for example, build a practical environment and engage in offensive and defensive exercises in teams. This is important, as it allows the different members of the SOC team to engage and interact together while, at the same time, learning different skills. 

Practical and interactive skills that are acquired while learning in such an environment can be well remembered in a real-life situation and sharpened and refined easily as the cybersecurity field evolves. This is because any modifications to the SOC environment do not largely restructure the entire SOC operation and can be incorporated only like a module within the SOC environment.

Conclusion

Cyber ranges are an effective way to train practical cybersecurity skills, as they mimic the real environment. They provide a safe learning environment where every conceivable scenario can be tested. They also provide teams with an opportunity to interact and engage and develop experience in working together as a team. 

Incorporating cyber ranges for your organization’s SOC team can be a good thing. The team can always be ahead of the competition when preparing for an attack or managing incoming threats.

Posted: January 26, 2021
Articles Author
Lester Obbayi
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Lester Obbayi is a Cyber Security Consultant with one of the largest Cyber Security Companies in East and Central Africa. He has a deep interest in Cyber Security and spends most of his free time doing freelance Penetration Tests and Vulnerability Assessments for numerous organizations.

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