PDF Version of Book: Cybersecurity Arm Wrestling available for download

The PDF version of my latest book “Cybersecurity Arm Wrestling – Winning the perpetual fight against crime by building a modern Security Operations Center (SOC)” is now available for download. You can share this link, print it, and use it for your personal purposes. However, you are not allowed to modify it, or distribute in any shape of form. Thank you!

You can still get printed copy of book from amazon.com if you choose to do so using the following URL.

Get a Printed Copy from Amazon.com

Outside of the United States, you can also purchase printed copy from relevant Amazon web sites (e.g. amazon.de or amazon.co.uk etc.)

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Perspectives on Information Security Architecture

There are few things that every architect should do but most forget. As you know, there is no shortage of technology architecture frameworks and standards. You may have come across TOGAF for enterprise architecture and SABSA (Sherwood Applied Business Security Architecture) for security architecture. Without going into detail of any of these, I just want to touch base on a few things that every architect should keep in mind to ensure success of themselves as well as people around them (engineers, developers, operations, etc.).

These are: Business, Operations, Technology and Service  or “BOTS”. When creating architecture for security projects, everyone should focus on “BOTS” which are the perspectives and “views” listed below: 

  1. Business View – First and foremost, ensuring that the architecture meets business needs. You may have a perfect architecture but it may hinder business instead of enabling it.
  2. Operational View – Don’t forget the operations. Someone has to run it on a day to day basis. Operations teams are one of the main stakeholders but often forgotten. Consider how your architecture will make their life easy and not difficult.
  3. Technology View – I know this is already the main focus area of all architects. However, technology has many aspects that are ignored sometimes. These include cost, maintainability, complexity, maturity etc. You should remember that complexity is the enemy of security. Complex systems are not only difficult and expensive to maintain, many times they are not as secure as simple systems.
  4. Service View – Whatever you are building, at some point “people” are going to use it, directly or indirectly. Consider the service that you are providing and usability of the overall system. A multi-factor authentication could be very cumbersome or very transparent for the end users. You know which one would be more successful!

Business, Operations, Technology and Service (BOTS) views are essential for success of any information security project. In my last 20 years of experience, I have seen many projects either completely fail or not realize their potential just because architects forgot about one or more of the BOTS views. Don’t do that!

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Book “Cybersecurity Arm Wrestling” Published.

My latest book “Cybersecurity Arm Wrestling: Winning the perpetual fight against crime by building a modern Security Operations Center (SOC)” is published and available on amazon.com worldwide.

This is a relatively short book with 11 chapters, three sections and about 130 pages (excluding front matter like table of contents). I will be looking forward to getting your feedback to make improvements for the next editions.

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Final Draft of Book – Cybersecurity Arm Wrestling

The final draft of “Cybersecurity Arm Wrestling – Winning the perpetual fight against crime by building a modern Security Operations Center (SOC)” book is complete and is available for download and your comments. The book consists of ten chapters as listed below:

  1. Introduction
  2. SOC Business Case Development
  3. Logs and other data sources
  4. SOC Human Resources
  5. SOC Technology Stack
  6. SOC Implementation Planning
  7. SOC Operations and Incident Response
  8. SOC Staff Training and Skills Development
  9. Threat Intelligence and Threat Hunting
  10. Open Source Solutions for SOC

The final version will be published on paper and will be available through amazon.com for purchase and may contain additional content (based upon additional reviews). The expected timeframe for paper copy is April 2021.

Download the PDF Version

You can download the final draft version immediately from is this URL. Please provide your comments, recommendations, and any suggestions before the final version is published as paper copy.


I am extremely thankful to many individuals who provided their input and reviews to make this book better. They include but are not limited to the following:

  • Aaron Woody
  • Andres Ricardo Almanza Junco
  • Atif Yusuf
  • Chad Sturgill
  • Dan Bunner
  • Eric Tremblay
  • Eric Zielinski
  • Jeff Harrison
  • Kim Behn
  • Mick Leach
  • Phillip Crump
  • Yasir Khalid

Thank you all for your help!

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Six Essential Ingredients for Building a Successful Security Operations Center (SOC)

Over years of my professional work and research, I found six ingredients absolutely necessary for success of any SOC, big or small. When you combine these ingredients with continuous improvement activities, you will get excellent business results. On the other hand, you miss one of these and everything falls apart.

For more than a decade since I got involved in helping businesses build security programs and operations centers, it has been quite a learning process. To make this body of knowledge available to the information security community, about two and a half years ago I started writing a book about building a Security Operations Center (SOC). As part of my research for this book. As part of my research, I have interviewed a large number of SOC practitioners, talked to CISOs, read thousands of research papers and reports, explored commercial and open source products, and created tools for budgeting purposes.

So what are those six essential ingredients? While three of them are typical people, process, and technology while others go beyond that as shown in the diagram below.

Essential ingredients for building a successful security operations center (SOC)
  1. People (SOC Staff) with different levels of expertise in diverse areas including networking, operating systems, applications, operations management, scripting, Python, vulnerability management, incident handling, forensics and others.
  2. Defined processes for tasks under the scope of SOC. While there are many SOC processes, effective incident detection and incident management is a key process for success of every SOC. A SOC may also rely on other IT systems/processes like asset management, change management, patch management etc.
  3. Technology Stack for collecting log and other types of telemetry data, storing data, and processing/analyzing data. Main technologies used in SOC include Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) tool, log collection, network sensing, ticket/incident management, forensic tools, and vulnerability management tools.
  4. SOC Governance structure that enables SOC management and continuous improvement while ensuring the business objectives of SOC are achieved.
  5. Carefully selected Data Sources provide high value in threat detection. People need to be careful and selective in determining the type and amount of data that is fed into the technology stack. More is not always better!
  6. Threat Intelligence is a must for the success of any modern SOC. It helps in proactive threat hunting and helps in automation, responding to threats at machine speed.

While these ingredients are necessary to build a successful SOC, continuous improvement activities are absolutely necessary to keep SOC effective and continuously deliver value. Continuous improvements require that SOC managers look for opportunities of improvement in all of these areas including training of SOC staff.

Also note that while building a SOC, you don’t necessarily need to have all of the SOC components in-house. You can make business decisions about what to keep in-house and where to get help from your security partners/vendors.

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Achieving Excellence in SOC Operations and Incident Response

Draft of Chapter 7 of my book “Cybersecurity Arm Wrestling – Winning the perpetual fight against crime by building a modern Security Operations Center” is complete and available for download. This chapter is about “Operate” part of the “Plan-Design-Build-Operate” strategy and covers such areas like:

  • SOC governance
  • Human Resource management
  • Incident Detection and Response
  • Managing SOC technology infrastructure
  • Build and Improve use cases 
  • Dealing with stress and SOC burnout
  • SOC reporting and metrics
  • SOC and meeting compliance needs
  • SOC best practices and pitfalls 

The chapter summary and recommendations include:

  • Importance of SOC governance can’t be emphasized enough. This is the most critical success factor for long-term success.
  • Hiring the right kind of people, training, managing their stress levels, and scheduling shifts is very critical as well.
  • The most important process for SOC is incident detection and response. Building and improving use cases, automation and use of SOAR technologies is part of it.
  • Applying ITIL processes to manage SOC infrastructure is quite important.
  • Meaningful metrics, automated reports, and dashboards do help not only in meeting compliance needs but also facilitate effective communications across broader IT teams as well as business leadership.
  • Last, but not the least, maintain a risk register, plan for next year, and always be ready to respond to data breaches.

The chapter can be download from the link below. However please note that this is a draft and will be updated in the final version of the book.

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What is a Next Generation SOC and does it Cost More?

Historically Security Operations Centers (SOC) have been a combination of people, processes, and technology designed to protect information systems, detect and respond to incidents to minimize damage. Many times SOC were built to meet fundamental needs for log collection and analysis, achieve compliance, and provide incident response. However, traditional SOC has morphed into a modern SOC concept where there is a lot more focus on building capabilities for early threat detection (both known and unknown), minimizing dwell time, and using automation to improve efficiency. The nature of SOC has also morphed from a reactive organization to proactive hunting to identify threats before they strike.

Traditional SOC

If you think about the traditional SOC, the focus areas were as follows:

  • Log collection from systems and applications/
  • Use Security Incident and Event Management (SIEM) solutions for correlations.
  • Developing use cases to identify threats.
  • Integrate vulnerability scanning data for risk scoring.
  • Provide incident response through SOC as well as extended IT teams (first responders).
  • Putting significant focus on achieving compliance while managing risk.

Capabilities of NextGen SOC

A modern NextGen SOC takes into account all of the capabilities of a traditional SOC. However, the focus has shifted from managing tools to building capabilities and from reactive approach to a proactive approach. Modern SOC design also uses new sources of telemetry beyond traditional Syslog data collection and discovering unknown threats. When you think about a modern SOC, following are some of the salient features and capabilities of a NextGen SOC.

  • Less focused on tools and more on capabilities as more and more SOC tools are now available in the Cloud and as-a-Service.
  • Threat intelligence integration is now an essential component of SOC.
  • Using automation to shorten analysis and response time through Security Orchestration, Automation and Response (SOAR) tools.
  • Proactive threat hunting, not only from internal telemetry data but also going outside of corporation boundaries and discovering threats through dark web research.
  • Finding unknown threats with help from machine learning techniques like anomaly detection and unsupervised learning.
  • Cloud telemetry integration and use of APIs.
  • Cater for convergence of IT/OT (Operational Technologies), including IoT.
  • User and Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA) going beyond just log data and known threat detection.

Businesses who have adopted nexgen SOC concepts see improvement in threat detection, quick incident response and better satisfaction of their staff as well as their internal or external customers.

Does a NextGen SOC Costs More?

Not necessarily. Many times it is just a cost shift. Efficiency is achieved through reducing mean time to resolve (MTTR) incidents through automation and proactive capabilities. Cloud based tools (e.g. Cloud based SIEM technologies) help in better cost management as well as capacity planning. What the security leaders need to do is to build cost models and business cases keeping in view the total cost of ownership.
SOC is a continuous and unending journey and a perpetual Cybersecurity Arm Wrestling with threat actors. Infosec leaders must continuously evaluate where they stand right now and where they should be going to achieve goals and provide value to businesses they support.

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Setting up Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT)

Once SOC analysts declare an event as a security incident, the CSIRT takes the ownership of the incident, take necessary actions and close it. The objective of CSIRT is to execute workflow for responding to the incidents once it is escalated by SOC analysts. The main reason of having a CSIRT is to keep SOC analysts primarily focused on threat monitoring activities instead of getting into response activities which may take long time and may divert their attention away from their primary goal of threat monitoring and detection. A typical high level workflow (corresponding to NIST incident response process) for CSIRT team is shown below that also shows collaboration between SOC analysts and the CSIRT.

CSIRT Incident Handling

Note than the CSIRT team will be working with the SOC analysts in some phases of the incident response whereas it will take lead in containment, eradication, recovery and post incident activities. However, collaboration among all stakeholders is crucial during incident response and you should not strive for drawing hard lines for where role of one team starts/ends as long as the responders are clear about who is the lead on certain activities.

ENISA and other organizations have published good material about CSIRT establishment, training, and handbooks in case you need further help.

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The Case for a SOC Conference

Credits Pixabay

The current model of building security operations center (SOC) is not sustainable. This is probably not a news for many of my readers. Working with many businesses, small to large and regional to international organizations, I have been thinking about this quite a lot lately. I have been publishing CISO MindMap for over eight years to explain and highlight complexities of work that security professionals have to do. With digital economy taking a foothold, the CISO’s work is just getting more complex as new technologies are adopted by businesses, strict privacy laws are enacted globally, and attack surface is expanding by each day. Networks are no longer confined to data centers or corporate offices, and older ideas of managing security operations are obsolete.

With digital economy taking a foothold, the CISO’s work is just getting more complex as new technologies are adopted by businesses, strict privacy laws are enacted globally, and attack surface is expanding by each day.

Working on my latest book “Cybersecurity Arm Wrestling – Winning the perpetual fight agains crime by building a modern Security Operations Center (SOC)” has made me even more convinced that something needs to change (or many things need to change depending upon how you frame the challenges). Managing cost of security programs is a challenge, SOC analysts are stressed out by overwhelming number of incidents, and CISOs are living in the constant fear of when the next data breach is going to happen and how would it impact their career. This can’t continue. It is not sustainable.

Why SOC Conference?

There is a need for major changes in foundational thinking about how to run security operations. Most security conferences are too generic and focusing on tactical and derived work. There is a need for new, original, and thought-provoking ideas to change our practices for managing security operating and optimizing risk. Our industry needs this badly. For these reasons, I have started thinking about a 3-day conference in 2021 to exclusively focus on SOC by gathering best minds and exploring new ideas.

What could/would be the Conference Focus Areas?

Per my initial exploration, following are some of the major areas of focus for the conference. However, I believe these would evolve and change as I get more feedback from industry leaders.

  1. Alternate models for the SOC of the future
  2. SOC for IoT, OT, Autonomous Vehicles and other emerging industry needs
  3. Implication of Cloud, Containers, Serverless Computing on SOC
  4. Threat visualization, Threat Intelligence
  5. Cooperative SOC for vertical markets
  6. SOC Innovation and frameworks, Meaningful Metrics
  7. SOC in the Cloud, SOC as a Service
  8. SOC People: Stress management and well being
  9. Automation, Machine Learning for SOC technologies
  10. Open source SOC
  11. Incident Response, Digital Forensics
  12. Planning and implementation, Business case development
  13. Emerging SOC technologies
  14. Global SOC challenges, privacy laws, data sharing across physical boundaries
  15. Integrations, APIs, Ticketing Systems
  16. Knowledge Management

Want to be Involved?

In the short team, I would like to create an advisory council for the conference. However, there are many other areas where help is needed. Please check and fill out this Google Form if you are interested in getting involved.

Final Thoughts

While upgrading SOC technologies, bringing in new tools, and continuously training SOC staff are all great things to do, these don’t solve the fundamental issue of long term sustainability of the SOC model itself. With expanding sources of data and ever-evolving new threats, we, as industry need to bring new thought process to question what we are doing today and what is the best path forward. The objective of this conference is to do exactly that by challenging the status quo and bring fresh and original thoughts to meet new challenges. 

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Managing Cybersecurity Program Cost

With COVID19 and expected budget cuts across the board, cybersecurity leaders must prepare for a shrinking slice of their share in 2021. While hoping for the best, it is still a prudent idea to take a more critical look at security programs and find ways of better/smart management of the overall budget for the program. So where should a CISO be paying attention to find waste and opportunities for smart budget management? Here are some ideas.

Remove redundancy and start consolidating

An average organization is using a large number of technologies, by some estimates as high as 47, according to a Ponemon survey. However, the majority of security leaders (53%) are not sure if their tools and technologies are actually working. It is time to stop buying more and more tools and start consolidating. When you start taking a deeper look, you will see there is a lot of redundancy in technologies that you own. You will also find that you can replace many of the existing technologies with a single new solution. By doing so, you will also improve user experience. For example, imagine how many endpints run slow because of a large number of agents running everywhere.

Eliminate shelfware

You have more shelfware in your organization than you think you have. Many vendors sell tools and technologies in the name of incentives that you never use. We need to stop falling for buy-one-get-one-free tricks.

Use Cloud based security services

Cloud has revolutionized security services by more innovation, less cost, and giving you ability to avoid vendor lock-ins. Consider the following as few examples:

  • Are you using an old full packet capture solution that requires an insane amount of local storage? You must consider new solutions that compress data and store it in the Cloud drastically reducing the cost.
  • Are you spending too much on maintaining honeypots and still not getting the value? Well you have new Cloud based options where modern deception technologies are available “as-a-service” with much lower cost and exceptionally improved functionality.
  • You know how much you spend on network segmentation to protect crown jewels. Why not look at software-defined zero trust technologies provided from the Cloud?
  • Traditionally organizations have been doing content filtering with on-premises technologies that are too difficult and costly to manage when you take into account total cost of ownership. Why not go to Cloud based web content filtering solutions that provide the shortest path to the Internet and protect users whether they are on private network or on public network or working from home.

These are just a few examples of how Cloud based security technologies can help but there are many other areas to look into. Like everything else, security services are moving to Cloud fast.

Use of Open Source Software

The fact is that we already use so much open software in all businesses, but we don’t realize its presence. For example, “all” medium to large size companies use Linux (which is open source). Majority of smartphones run on Android which is also open source. Apache is a common web server used in ecommerce environments, again an open source technology. Many commercial products, including commercial security products also run on Linux behind the scene. There is no harm in looking at open source tools when you are constrained for budget. In many cases, these tools are as good as commercial options, if not better. For example, ModSecurity is an excellent open source web application firewall. Why not consider it as part of Apache web server for hosting web applications? Same is true for many network and host based open source security tools.

Better Distribution of Program Cost

Security program cost optimization is a tricky issue but can be achieved by some creative thinking. Doing everything in-house could be costly and outsourcing the whole program could have its own drawbacks. A balanced approach is usually the best. One of the methods is to split the overall budget into three major areas as evenly as possible:

  1. People and Payroll – This also includes education and training of security staff.
  2. Technology and tools – Purchase of technology and tools needed to run the security program. It also includes subscription based security services.
  3. Services – Instead of building a large security team, it is a good idea to identify areas where a service provider would make sense and outsource it. For example, if you do malware analysis once in a while, it would make sense to use services from a third party instead of building a team for malware analysis.

How much do we Spend on Security Programs?

Last but not the least, this is a common question on many CISO’s minds and is asked in board meetings. How much spending on security programs is good enough? The answer depends upon the current maturity level of the security program, the industry sector, and the risk that an organization needs to manage. According to different surveys and research reports, a good percentage of companies spend between 10-20% of their IT budget on security, with a median around 15%. However in case of data breaches, the portion of the security budget as a percentage of the total IT budget may go quite high. If an organization is spending more than 30% of IT budget on security, there is a good probability that they had a recent major breach.


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