It’s not a question of if a cyber incident will occur, but when in today’s digital world, where cyber threats lurk around every virtual corner. Due to cyberattacks’ rapid evolution and complexity, a proactive approach is required to mitigate risks and maintain operational resilience. That is where cyber incident response planning comes into play.

In this post, we’ll discuss the importance of having a well-structured cyber incident response plan as well as the components that ensure a fast and effective response in the event of a cyber incident.

Let’s get started!

What is a Cyber Incident Response Plan?

An incident response plan is a documented strategy that your security team can use to respond to cyberattacks, data leaks, data breaches, and other security incidents. It is a guide for efficiently and effectively responding to and recovering from cyberattacks or threats.

Incident response plans usually cover different aspects of incident response, such as incident identification and classification, communication and reporting protocols, incident containment and elimination strategies, evidence collection and preservation techniques, system recovery and restoration procedures, and post-incident analysis for continuous improvement.

Why is Cyber Incident Response Planning Important?

Incident response planning is essential for organisations because it enables them to address security issues effectively, mitigate security incidents, and reduce the impact on their operations. Here are some of the reasons why incident response planning is essential:

1. Timely response: cyber incident response planning usually ensures that organisations have predetermined policies and processes to respond quickly to security incidents.

2. Reduced impact: A prompt and effective incident response can help reduce the effect of a security breach.

3. Protection of sensitive data: Cyber incident response planning helps protect sensitive data. Organisations can promptly identify and contain cybersecurity incidents to mitigate the risk of a data breach, data loss, or unauthorised access.

4. Preservation of business continuity: Maintaining business continuity even after a security incident is one of the primary goals of incident response planning.

5. Improvement through lessons learned: Organisations may improve their security measures, policies, and procedures and implement better protection to prevent future incidents by analysing them and identifying areas for improvement.

6. Improve stakeholder confidence: A well-structured incident response plan can boost confidence among stakeholders, including investors, partners, and customers.

What Are the Main Cyber Incident Response Phases?

Phase 1. Preparation

The preparation phase is the most important for securing your business in your incident response plan. Part of this phase includes:

  • Analysing potential risks and vulnerabilities: Determine threats, vulnerabilities, and weaknesses in the organisation’s systems and processes.
  • Creating a cyber incident response team: Assemble a team of skilled experts who will handle and coordinate the response to cyber incidents.
  • Create simulated data breach scenarios and practise incident response drills regularly to test the effectiveness of your security incident response plan.
  • Ensure all aspects of your security incident response plan are approved and funded.

Your response plan should be well documented, outlining everyone’s roles and responsibilities. Then test the plan to ensure your incident response team members are as trained as possible. The more prepared your incident response teams are, the less likely they are to make critical errors.

Phase 2. Identification

This is the phase where you determine whether you have been breached. A security breach, cyberattack, or cybersecurity incident could originate from different areas.

  • Monitoring and detection: closely monitor the organisation’s systems, networks, and logs for any indications of potential cybersecurity incidents or suspicious activities.
  • Incident triage and assessment: Assess the incident’s nature, severity, and scope to prioritise the response efforts.
  • Forensic analysis: Carry out a detailed forensic analysis to collect evidence, identify the root cause, and determine the scope of the compromise.

The incident response team should be able to identify deviations from the regular operations in organisational systems and, when an incident is found, gather more evidence, assess its severity, and document the incident.

Phase 3. Containment

When a data breach is discovered, you might think of safely deleting everything to get rid of it all. However, that’s not a good idea, as that won’t help you in the long run because you will be destroying crucial evidence that you need to determine where the data breach started and figure out how to prevent future incidents.

Instead, you should contain the breach so it doesn’t spread, causing further damage to your business. If possible, we recommend disconnecting the affected systems from the internet. Create short-term and long-term containment strategies. Having a backup system that can help restore business operations is also a good idea. That way, the compromised data is not lost.

Besides, this is a great time to update and patch your organisation’s systems, review your remote access protocols (which should require mandatory multi-factor authentication), change all user and management access credentials, and change passwords.

Phase 4. Eradication

After containing the issue, find and eliminate the root cause of the breach. This can involve patching vulnerabilities, removing malware, system hardening, updating the installation, or shutting down compromised services. Whether you do this yourself or hire an expert, you need to be thorough. Any remaining malware or security issues in your organisation’s systems might result in further data loss and increased liability.

Phase 5. Recovery

This phase involves restoring and returning affected systems, applications, or data from backups or other sources to your business. Verify the functionality and integrity of restored systems through thorough testing and validation processes. After that, you can get your systems and business operations back up and running without worrying about another breach.

Phase 6. Lessons Learned

After completing the process:

  • Have an after-action meeting with the incident response team members.
  • Conduct an in-depth review of the incident response procedures, including strengths, weaknesses, and lessons learned.
  • Determine what worked effectively in your reaction plan and where any gaps were.

Lessons learned from both simulated and real-world events can help you strengthen your organisation’s systems against future attacks.

  • Documentation and reporting: For future reference, legal purposes, and compliance, document the incident, response efforts, and any findings.
  • Continuous improvement: Based on the lessons learned, make the necessary adjustments to security policies, processes, security controls, or training to improve future incident response capabilities.

Best Practices for an Effective Incident Response Plan

1. Create a Simple, Well-Defined Response Plan.

An incident response plan should be simple, well thought out, and clear to be effective. This will ensure that the incident response team can conveniently implement the plan in the urgency of a real security incident.

2. Clarify Communication Channels.

The incident response plan should specify who the incident team should communicate with, through which communication channels, and what information needs to be shared. This is an essential and often overlooked part of the incident response steps. For instance, there should be clear, concise guidelines on details to be communicated to senior management, IT management, affected departments, affected parties, and the press.

3. Consistent Testing

An incident response plan should be tested to check its effectiveness. Conducting a planned or unplanned security drill, following through with the plan, and identifying vulnerabilities and weaknesses will help validate the team’s preparedness for a real incident.

4. Utilise an Incident Response Plan Template.

Avoid making unnecessary changes. We recommend starting your incident response plan from a template created by others in the industry and then modifying it to your organisation’s needs. For instance, you can start from a template created by a tech company that includes team roles, incident scope, planning scenarios, notification, and escalation procedures.

5. Use a Centralised Approach.

Organisations shouldn’t be logged into different tools and correlating data between them during the urgency of a cybersecurity incident. Instead, processes and tooling should support a centralised incident response approach in which an analyst can access all relevant data regarding an incident in one place.

6. Establish Tools to Deal with Cybersecurity Incidents.

Establish incident response tools that will allow you to eliminate any discovered malicious presence or activity from your environment and improve response processes by automating repetitive tasks. They can:

  • Allow security experts to manually respond remotely by blocking users, restarting hosts, stopping processes, deleting files, and changing passwords.
  • Allow for an automated response when malware is detected or automatically terminating a malicious process that encrypts or deletes a significant number of files.
  • Give a full picture of an attack operation by connecting data from endpoints, network communications, and user behaviours.

Frequently Asked Questions on Cyber Incident Response Planning

1. What is Incident Response Planning in Cyber Security?

An incident response plan is a documented strategy that your security team can use to respond to cyberattacks, data leaks, data breaches, and other security incidents. It is a guide for efficiently and effectively responding to and recovering from cyberattacks or threats.

2. What Are the Four Cyber Incident Response Plans?

An incident response plan is a structured process that organisations usually use to identify and deal with security incidents. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) incident response process includes preparation, identification, containment, eradication, and recovery.

3. What Are the Objectives of the Incident Response Plan?

An incident response plan usually helps companies before, during, and after a suspected or confirmed security incident. Your incident response plan (IRP) will clarify roles and responsibilities and guide critical activities.

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