Unpacking the Interview: Level 1 SOC Analyst

Many companies have moved away from reactive, break/fix infosec frameworks to create security operations centers (SOCs) to combat increasingly adaptive threats and evolving attack vectors. These centralized cybersecurity efforts allow businesses to capture and correlate data across their organization — including network traffic volumes, application resource requests, and specific device behaviors — to paint a proactive picture of potential issues and take immediate infosec action.

But these SOCs can't reach their full potential without skilled and knowledgeable security staff capable of detecting, identifying, and defeating cybersecurity threats. The result is a wealth of opportunity for Level 1 SOC analysts looking to get their foot in the door and jumpstart their security center careers.

The first hurdle? Translating experience and qualifications into a stand-out IT interview. Here's how.

Command and Control

Traditional, centralized IT networks prioritized control — by running all software and services from a single IT framework, companies could ensure consistency across their technology stack. The rise of BYOD, cloud, and IoT initiatives, however, changed the IT landscape; organizations recognized the benefit of distributed security services to empower speedy response at scale. The challenge? Increasing environment complexity created a commensurate loss of visibility, reducing the ability of IT staff to take command of emerging cybersecurity incidents.

The SOC emerged to combine the familiar need for control with the growing need for command. By creating a centralized framework that leveraged traditional centralized data collection, paired with the speed of new detection and defensive tools and new-collar IT professionals' skills, SOCs offer the best of both worlds.

As a result, landing a job as a Level 1 SOC analyst offers a host of career opportunities for talented and passionate staff. And it all starts with the interview.

Question 1: What is the typical SOC team framework?

Besides ensuring that prospective candidates have the right set of qualifications and training — such as CompTIA Security+ certification or skills in fundamental cryptography — interview teams are also looking to assess specific SOC knowledge. This starts with the general SOC team framework:

  • Level 1 Security Analysts
  • Level 2 SOC Analysts
  • Level 3 SOC Leads
  • SOC Managers

Answers should include a brief description of each framework level and its roles, along with a recognition of additional roles such as threat intelligence, incident handling, and penetration testing. Also, a good idea? Highlighting the critical impact of teamwork. Gone are the days of "lone wolf" security specialists — now, IT pros must work closely with other infosec pros, front-line staff, and C-suite members to deliver end-to-end defense.

Question 2: Describe some common SOC documentation

One of Level 1 SOC analysts' most important functions is creating, maintaining, and sharing security-specific documentation. As a result, expect questions around the type and purpose of documents being created and how they can improve overall security posture. Some of the most common include:

  • Log source onboarding and decommissioning
  • Threat intelligence gathering processes and methods
  • Incident logging and analysis
  • Data backup and recovery readiness assessments

As a Level 1 SOC analyst, primary responsibilities include protecting both on-site and cloud infrastructure, continuous threat monitoring, incident detection, and rapid reaction to emerging attacks. The result is a need for robust reporting, and real-time response as threat landscapes evolve — expect interview questions that assess both infosec attributes.

Question 3: Data is leaking. What are some potential sources and remedies?

Skill-based questions that require candidates to leverage the experience and extrapolate from given scenario data are now common across infosec interviews as a way to ensure IT staff can think on their feet and tackle challenges as they arise.

Expect questions like the one above, which provides minimal data but asks IT pros to offer both potential root causes and effective responses. For example, in the case of data leakage, common sources include human error in configuring or deploying systems, external breaches caused by attackers, inadequate or ineffective security controls, corrupt hard drives, or legacy applications that aren't designed to work with off-site services or solutions.

Effective responses start with an information risk profile that identifies the type of data at risk and its value to the organization. This allows Level 1 SOC analysts to develop tailored incident response by creating workflow incident diagrams, determining the staff skill sets needed to remediate potential risk, and defining key metrics to measure success.

SOC Market Management

SOC solutions are evolving to meet emerging business needs. Companies are looking to improve assessment and agility without sacrificing security from outsourced SOC options to virtualized initiatives and interoperable solutions. The result is a booming SOC market that offers a host of career options for trained and talented cybersecurity professionals. Armed with the right qualifications and bolstered by hands-on experience, IT professionals can earn their spot as level 1 SOC analysts and jumpstart their cybersecurity career potential.

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