What Is a SOC Analyst & What Does a SOC Analyst Do? (2024)

What Does a SOC Analyst Do

Do you want to learn what a SOC analyst is and what they do? If yes, look no further. You’re in the right place. 

If you've ever considered a career in cyber security or know anything about it, you've likely come across the term "SOC analyst." 

SOC analysts are the watchful guardians and first point of defense against cyber attacks on organizations. They stand on the frontlines of any organization's cyber security defense.

But what exactly does a SOC analyst do? This comprehensive guide dives deep into the world of SOC analysts, exploring their roles, responsibilities, and the exciting career path it offers. 

We’ll also discuss related topics, including SOC analyst jobs, salaries, skills, and requirements, which can help you build your career plan. 

What does a SOC analyst do? Let’s find out.

What Is SOC?

SOC is an acronym for Security Operations Center and refers to the cyber defense hub of any organization. 

It’s a “command and control” team or unit with its fingers on the organization's pulse. 

Think of it as a sort of mission control, manning the firewalls, systems, and networks to detect hacking attempts or security breaches of any kind—as well as any other suspicious activity that could point to a cyber attack.

The Central Point of Monitoring

Typically, the SOC is deployed as a central event management center, aggregating event data from all parts of an enterprise’s IT infrastructure. 

Event data is fed into the SOC from security tools and software, providing real-time dashboards for analysts that continuously show network and system traffic and activity and potential security events. 

The SOC is run by a team, including SOC analysts, who work around the clock to detect, analyze, and resolve security events. Note that typically, SOC analysts are categorized into different Tiers, which we’ll discuss in the later sections of this article. 

Depending on the Tier, a SOC analyst serves as a first responder to a subject matter expert who provides valuable areas of expertise in defending the organization from internal and external threats. 

Typical Physical and Technical Setup of SOC

A SOC can vary in size and configuration, depending on an organization’s size and what it seeks to defend. 

In broad strokes, though, it’s a secure environment with large flat panels and screens on the wall showing dashboards and a few dedicated conference and war rooms where analysts can huddle to work together. 

Tools used in a SOC

In terms of technology, the SOC has a robust set of tools at its disposal:

The SOC teams leverage the abovementioned tools, technologies, and other security services to effectively prevent, detect, and respond to security incidents.

Working Conditions

Working as a SOC analyst isn’t always a 9-to-5 gig—which isn’t surprising, considering that the internet never sleeps. 

Cyberattacks are known to take place at any time in the day, meaning a rapid response is required to avert loss or damage. This explains why most SOC professionals rotate 24/7 shifts, including evenings, weekends, and holidays.

Since the threats and threat actors are global, round-the-clock operations are also part of the SOC operations. The bad guys could be on the other side of the world. If so, they may target your organization during your off-hours when your security teams are not as alert. 

SOC analysts work in shifts, so there are always cyber incident responders on duty who are ready to detect and defeat threats immediately to reduce damage to the organization.

Team Dynamics: The Importance of Collaboration and Teamwork in SOC

Strong teamwork just scratches the surface of SOC effectiveness. Often, the operational work of the analysts touches every department in an organization. 

SOC analysts work across IT operations teams to analyze security events that affect network performance or the availability of security systems.  

They could also interact with a team of forensics investigators to collect evidence of incidents or assess the impact of a security breach. They might have to communicate with legal or human resources departments during incident response activities.

Given the pace and the often reactive nature of SOC work, excellent collaboration and verbal communication skills are essential; analysts rely on each other’s constant feedback and advice to share information, escalate incidents, and coordinate response efforts. 

Working together with the team in a stressful, high-pressure environment can lead to greater team resilience and mitigation of stress, especially when it comes to incident resolution.

What Is a SOC Analyst: Tiers and Levels

SOC analysts monitor and analyze security events to detect, investigate, and respond to potential security threats. They’re essential for protecting organizations from data breaches and other malicious activities. 

There are different tiers or levels of SOC analysts, each with varying responsibilities and skill sets. While the tiers below apply to most organizations, note that the setup may vary from organization to organization. 

Tier 1 SOC Analysts: Monitoring and Triage

Tier 1 SOC analysts (Level 1 or L1) are the SOC's first defense line. They’re responsible for monitoring security dashboards and SIEM consoles for security alerts. 

They analyze these alerts to determine their legitimacy and prioritize them for further investigation. This role involves a keen eye for detail and distinguishing between actual threats and false positives, which are security alerts triggered by benign activity.

Tier 2 SOC Analysts: In-Depth Analysis

Tier 2 SOC analysts (Level 2 or L2) take up where Tier 1 leaves off and go a little deeper on detection, probe, analysis, root cause, affected systems, and impact. 

Knowledge of many tools, which can be applied in many situations, is part of the role. Critical thinking, intelligence, and problem-solving are other skills involved.

Tier 3 SOC Analysts: Advanced Investigations

Tier 3 SOC analysts (Level 3 or L3) work at the highest level in SOCs. They’re the SOC veterans handling the organization’s most profound and sophisticated security incidents. 

They’re rather technical and proficient in advanced security areas such as malware analysis techniques and threat hunting, which are essential for tracking sophisticated security threats. 

Tier 4 SOC Analysts: Strategic Security Leadership

Tier 4 SOC analysts (Level 4 or L4) use their extensive cyber security knowledge to plan the organization's strategic security posture. 

They train, mentor, and build out Tier 1 and 2 analysts, creating a skillful SOC team. They develop metrics to track the SOC's performance and stay on top of the latest cyber threats and trends. 

Tier 4 SOC analysts occasionally implement new security technology, create new security policies, or align the SOC’s run-time activities with an organization’s integrated cyber security vision. They also serve as SOC Managers or SOC Leads in various organizational setups. 

What Does a SOC Analyst Do?

With a better understanding of the different tiers of SOC analysts, let’s examine what a SOC analyst typically does in a working day. 

Here are some of the primary duties or responsibilities of a SOC analyst:

  • Monitoring and detection: This is most of what a SOC analyst does. They analyze security dashboards, SIEM consoles, or network traffic in search of anomalies or potential malicious activity, look through logs, see unexpected spikes in network traffic, or detect potential malware infections.
  • Response: When a security incident is detected, SOC analysts jump into action, starting the incident response process. This includes containing the threat, investigating the extent of the breach, and eradicating the attacker. It can involve isolating affected systems, collecting digital evidence, and returning them to normal.
  • Threat hunting: SOC analysts proactively go after adversaries or advanced threats in the network through specialized tools and techniques. This is more than just network analysis. They actively hunt for potential threats lurking within the network. These threat-hunting activities involve detecting unknown or undetected threats inside the organization by understanding the threats' tactics, techniques, procedures, and behavior.
  • Documenting: In the SOC, documentation is everything. All detected security issues must be appropriately documented and standardized, including the steps taken to investigate them and their resolution. These reports will serve as invaluable reference information to the organization for trending purposes and future troubleshooting of the same or similar issues.

Depending on the size and culture of the SOC, these core responsibilities are carried out by individual SOC analysts or assigned across various internal teams. Some organizations might employ specialized personnel for threat hunting, intelligence, forensic investigations, or incident response.

Routine SOC Analyst Tasks

Beyond the core areas of responsibility, SOC analysts perform various routine tasks that keep the SOC running smoothly, ensuring the analysts are prepared and the technology functions optimally.

  • Daily Check-ins: Each shift typically begins with a handover meeting or review of alerts triggered during the previous shift. This ensures continuity and keeps analysts informed about ongoing security incidents. System check-ups to verify the health and functionality of security tools are also part of the routine.
  • Collaboration Meetings: Regular team meetings are essential for collaboration and knowledge sharing. These meetings provide a platform for analysts to discuss security incidents, share best practices, and learn from each other's experiences.
  • Updating Security Measures: The cyber security landscape is constantly evolving, as are the tactics employed by attackers. To avoid emerging threats, SOC analysts are crucial in updating security measures such as firewall rules, intrusion detection signatures, and endpoint protection configurations.

SOC Analyst Skills

A SOC analyst faces reams of data to deal with, fine-grained anomalies to spot and make sense of, and high-stakes decisions very quickly. 

A combination of these abilities separates a good analyst from a great one, a person who can anticipate the game and keep the adversary on the defensive.

The skillset of a successful SOC analyst is a blend of technical expertise, soft skills, and a passion for cyber security. Here are some of the key skills required:

Technical Skills:

  • Working knowledge of operating systems and IT fundamentals (Windows, Linux)
  • Strong understanding of network security concepts and principles
  • Proficiency in security tools and technologies (SIEM, IDS/IPS, EDR)
  • Proficiency in log analysis
  • Basic scripting skills (PowerShell, Python, Bash, SQL) to identify attacks
  • Understanding of incident response procedures
  • Possessing documentation skills to write reports and briefing notes

Soft Skills:

  • Excellent analytical and problem-solving skills
  • Strong attention to detail
  • Effective communication and collaboration skills
  • Ability to work under pressure and make quick decisions
  • Adaptability and a willingness to learn new technologies

Always remember that a perfect SOC analyst combines these technical skills with soft skills such as communication and teamwork. 

In addition to the above, a SOC analyst is expected to possess critical thinking, problem solving and decision making skills. 

SOC analysts analyze large amounts of logs and data, identify subtle anomalies, and make quick decisions under pressure. This ability to think critically separates good analysts from great ones who can anticipate threats and remove false positives.

SOC Analyst Jobs and Salary

The job title of a SOC analyst depends on the organization. Some equivalent job titles include:

  • Cyber Security Analyst
  • Security Operations Analyst
  • Incident Responder
  • Information Security Analyst
  • Cyber Security Consultant

The salary of a SOC analyst can vary significantly depending on several factors, including:

  • Experience: Entry-level SOC analysts can expect a starting salary in a lower range, while experienced analysts with advanced skills can command salaries exceeding six figures.
  • Location: Salaries tend to be higher in areas with a high cost of living and a greater concentration of tech companies. For instance, SOC analysts in major metropolitan areas like San Francisco or New York City might see higher salaries than their counterparts in smaller towns.
  • Industry: The specific industry can also influence salary. Certain sectors, such as finance, healthcare, and government, may offer higher wages for SOC analysts due to the sensitive nature of the data they handle.
  • Company size: Larger companies with more resources may offer more competitive salaries than smaller ones.
  • Skillset: Analysts specializing in threat hunting, incident response, or digital forensics can command higher salaries.

SOC analysts are undoubtedly well-paid. As cyber threats increase, the demand for highly skilled SOC analysts increases exponentially. 

According to Indeed.com, a SOC analyst's salary ranges from $56,443 USD to $132,056 USD, with an average base salary of $86,372 USD.

Similarly, according to ZipRecruiter, the average salary of a SOC analyst is $99,157 USD per year, with a peak of USD $127,000 USD. 

Some Certifications To Become a SOC Analyst

While certifications are not always mandatory, some industry-recognized certifications can enhance your resume and demonstrate your expertise. Here are a few relevant certifications for SOC analysts:

  • CompTIA Security+: This entry-level certification validates your understanding of core security concepts and foundational skills in network security, system administration, and cryptography, providing a solid base for a career as a SOC analyst.
  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH): Offered by EC-Council, this intermediate-level certification dives deeper into offensive security techniques like penetration testing and vulnerability analysis. CEH equips you with the hacker mindset to identify and exploit vulnerabilities, a valuable skill for staying ahead of cyber threats in the SOC.
  • GIAC Security Essentials (GSEC): This foundational cyber security certification from GIAC (Global Information Assurance Certification) covers a comprehensive range of security topics, including access control, cryptography, incident response, and secure coding practices. GSEC provides a well-rounded foundation in security principles essential for success in a SOC environment.
  • CompTIA CySA+: This mid-level certification validates your ability to analyze security data, detect and respond to threats, and participate in incident response activities. It demonstrates the practical skills needed to thrive as a SOC analyst.

Our recent article, “Best SOC Analyst Certifications (2024’s Expert Picks),” discusses in more depth the best certifications you should consider for becoming a SOC analyst.

Conclusion

A SOC analyst has one of the most exciting and rewarding careers within cyber security for those with a passion for cyber security and wanting to be at the leading edge of cybercrime. 

If you like to continually develop your technical skills and play a key role in protecting the integrity of an organization’s most vital data and infrastructure, then you’re a good fit for the SOC analyst role. 

Join our StationX Accelerator Program to connect with StationX’s large cyber security community of industry experts, access more than 1000 courses and labs, join mastermind groups, and fast-track your career as a SOC analyst.

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  • Sai

    Sai is a Security Researcher and cyber security expert. Passionate about sharing his knowledge, Sai channels his insights through his blogs, where he covers a wide range of topics within the realm of cyber security, including ethical hacking, incident response, cyber threat intelligence, and more. Sai seeks to empower readers with valuable information and guidance, helping them navigate the ever-evolving cyber security landscape.

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