Integrating Data Security Into the Security Operations Center – Dark Reading

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By Rob Lefferts, Vice President, the Threat Protection organization at Microsoft

In the intricate landscape of modern cybersecurity, the security operations center (SOC) and data security teams often find themselves operating in isolated silos and working in different portals with limited collaboration. This compartmentalization, while intended to streamline operations, can result in critical blind spots and a reactive approach to threat and data incidents. With data security teams focusing on safeguarding sensitive data and security teams prioritizing detection and response, the synergy needed between them is often overlooked. Consequently, crucial insights and contextual information that could enhance threat detection and response remain disconnected.

This fragmented tooling landscape enables a false sense of security, as organizations with 16 or more tools experience 2.8x more data security incidents (registration required) when compared to organizations that use fewer and more integrated solutions. Manual correlation across data and security operations becomes a necessity, leading to inefficiencies and delays in identifying and addressing potential security breaches.

Bridging this divide between data security and the SOC is essential to fortify your defenses against evolving cyber threats. It also helps ensure a holistic approach to modern security that brings insights around sensitive data and its use into the SOC experience.

Data Is the Prime Target for Attackers

As data has become the No. 1 target for attackers due to its immense value, data security plays a critical part in safeguarding sensitive information against cyber threats. Whether it’s personal identifiable information (PII), financial records, or intellectual property, unauthorized access to data can have devastating consequences, with annual incidents potentially costing up to $15 million (registration required) to organizations impacted by severe security incidents.

A data breach can lead to financial losses, damage to reputation, legal repercussions, and loss of customer trust for affected organizations. Thus, implementing robust data security, governance, and risk and compliance standards is essential for organizations to mitigate the risks associated with data breaches and protect their most valuable assets.

Understanding Attackers’ Tactics

The SOC continues to defend against ever evolving cyber threats, with both the frequency and complexity of attacks on the rise. In the majority of these attacks, an adversary’s focus is data; in the past year, around 63% of data breaches (registration required) to companies were caused by inadvertent or malicious insiders with access to sensitive information. Some prominent tactics attackers use include encrypting devices that store sensitive data for a ransom, stealing an authentication key to gain access to databases, impersonating employees, and exfiltrating financial data by email. Once the attacker is in, they zero in on sensitive data like addresses, dates of birth, and social security numbers, intending to profit by selling it on the Dark Web. The impact is often loss of customer trust, incurred recovery costs, and heightened vulnerability to identity theft for those affected.

That’s why it’s critical for SOC teams to use context from data security tools that include insider risk insights, data sensitivity understanding, and data-specific alerts. This added context can help security teams proactively identify potential data threats before they become major incidents, better prioritize incidents, adjust alert severity levels, and allocate resources effectively. Therefore, data security must be woven into every facet of SOC processes.

An incident where an attacker has compromised user credentials and begins exfiltrating data can look like normal behavior. For example, copying a zip file to a personal cloud account due to the file contents being non-sensitive may be seen as a low-severity alert. However, by bringing insider risk insights into the incident, a SOC analyst might observe certain suspicious activities leading up to the alert and recategorize it as high severity. These activities could include someone downgrading a sensitivity label to disguise the file as general information, zipping the file, and uploading it to their personal cloud storage, outside the boundaries of what the SOC can see on a managed device.

Build Data-Centric SOC Practices

Building data-centricity into every step can empower the SOC to more effectively and quickly identify and respond to data breaches, therefore limiting your organization’s exposure. Consider the following:

  • Investigation: Ensure DLP and other data-centric and insider risk alerts are correlated into your threat incidents 

  • Hunting: Build proactive hunting practices that consider data sensitivity as part of the investigation as you search audit logs across files, locations, and users.  

  • Customization: Customize your incident queue and prioritize based on data sensitivity of involved files.

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As security teams continue to build more robust practices, choose a security operations platform that offers visibility across sources beyond endpoint and identity. Look for options that can natively enhance incidents with contextual insights from data loss prevention (DLP) tools, insider risk, email security, and more. By seamlessly integrating data security throughout the SOC framework, organizations can build platforms that facilitate cohesion and rapid adaptability in the event of a data breach.

About the Author


Rob Lefferts is corporate vice president of The Threat Protection organization at Microsoft. He leads the team responsible for Microsoft Defender XDR and Microsoft Sentinel products which provide end-to end comprehensive and cohesive Microsoft security experiences and technology for all of our customers. Lefferts holds a BS and MS from Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, PA.

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