Assessing Security Operation Centers Using a Balanced Scorecard

Measuring the effectiveness of a security operations center (SOC) can be a daunting task, but a balanced scorecard approach can make the task easier.

Existing SOC best practice tends to focus on operational metrics, such as response and cycle times. However, a focus solely on these metrics can lead to blind spots where critical aspects of performance may be overlooked and neglected. A wider perspective using the balanced scorecard technique from business management can be used to get a fairer assessment of a SOC’s performance.

What Is a Balanced Scorecard?

The balanced scorecard is a business performance management technique that aims to combine multiple metrics from different perspectives. It avoids sub-optimization, where a single metric is chosen above others. While the balanced scorecard was written for managers in businesses, the concepts can be adjusted for use in assessing a SOC.

The balanced scorecard introduces four perspectives: financial, customer, internal and improvement. Within each perspective, each team will identify key success factors and performance benchmarks that vary between workplaces. A balanced scorecard may go through annual updates to ensure that it has a good balance of metrics for each perspective.

Financial Perspective

On every financial manager’s list is cost. A SOC team that correctly defines and controls costs will be better received by internal management. While a headline budget is a good starting point, more insights could be derived from studying costs. These costs could relate to software licenses, personnel, storage and locations.

A SOC may be paying too much for storage, and could find a less costly storage solution. In addition, an excessive amount of underused software licenses might be an area to reexamine. Metrics for the balanced scorecard could include headline values, allocation between sub-teams or composition (fixed or variable).

Customer Perspective

The next topic to consider is that of other teams within the group. How well is the security team engaging with others? Especially when a SOC must deal with an incident management process, having a well-tested contact pathway is critical. Do other teams view security personnel as approachable or unfriendly? Are they rewarded or exhausted by reporting a possible incident?

The way customers view a security team is a critical part of success. Therefore, the importance of culture both inside the team and the wider organization is essential. Metrics for tracking this on a balanced scorecard could include surveys, internal engagement statistics or other forms of feedback.

Internal Perspective

This part of the balanced scorecard covers the SOC’s tasks. Depending on scope, this could be anything from monitoring to incident management or threat hunting. Metrics for tracking this are often the easiest to acquire, as most digital systems will already have this data in a usable format.

Consider other indirect metrics as well, such as employee turnover and staff morale. Certain SOC tasks can be banal or stress-inducing, and making sure management is tracking employees’ well-being is vital. A SOC that struggles to retain staff will lose vital knowledge, which in turn will hamper its future performance. Therefore, staff retention is a key predictor of future SOC performance.

Innovation and Learning Perspective

Finally, good security requires staying up to date and making improvements. A SOC must be able to keep pace with the organization as it deploys new technologies, and its staff must be aware of the latest advice, good practice and knowledge. Staff progression can be tracked on a balanced scorecard through roadmaps with milestones and mentoring pathways, which are good signs of a team’s progress. Other metrics to consider could reflect in-house SOC tool creation, system optimizations and other improvements. These can be used to assess future readiness for the team.

Using the Balanced Scorecard to Measure and Improve

In conclusion, if you’re only assessing the SOC from a single point of view, then you’ll find only one area for improvement. A well-designed balanced scorecard will better ensure attention and effort is spread across the SOC. This will both enable you to hold your team to account today and better prepare for the future.

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Author: Robert Calvert