Learn about this vital process and how to take the correct steps in a crisis.
Published 6 Apr 2023
Incident Response is a term that refers to the process of responding to and managing the aftermath of any type of security incident, including security breaches, attacks, data loss, or malicious activity. It aims to quickly and effectively prevent or lessen the potential impact on an organization's systems, networks, and data. This process involves proactive planning for a security incident and a rapid reaction when one occurs.
An Incident Response Plan (IRP) is a set of written policies and procedures that help organizations effectively respond to security incidents. It outlines the steps taken in response to a breach, from identifying and assessing a threat to documenting evidence and recovering. This plan helps ensure that a company spot patterns in malicious behavior, minimize the risk of further damage, and guides workers dealing with an attack.
The IRP should include the following:
It should also include information regarding communication protocols and systems inside and outside the organization. An IRP should be regularly reviewed and tested to maintain current effectiveness standards.
Incident response frameworks exist to enable organizations to formulate standardized response plans. Large organizations with considerable security knowledge and experience usually create these frameworks. Two commonly used frameworks are those established by NIST and SANS.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a U.S. government agency that has created the NIST incident response framework for cybersecurity efforts. This comprehensive framework outlines how to create an IRP, an incident response team, and a communication plan and provides for various training scenarios.
In this framework, incident response is condensed into four steps:
NIST believes that containment, eradication, and recovery are all intertwined. You should aim to identify and remove threats within your systems on time, not waiting for all threats to be discovered first.
Recovery also takes on different forms depending on the recovered asset, with some having priority over others. Depending on the severity of the attack, it may be prudent to defer recovering certain high-priority assets.
System Admin, Audit, Network, and Security (SANS) is a private research and education organization. The SANS incident response framework is one of their significant contributions to cybersecurity.
Each of the six phases in the SANS framework is called a phase, and they are as follows:
The SANS framework provides basic descriptions of the phases and an IR checklist for each stage. Additionally, two templates with system commands are included for the preparation and identification phases.
An incident response program needs a coordinated cross-functional team from different parts of the organization to effectively implement and execute security policies, processes, and tools. It’s their responsibility to complete the steps and processes involved in incident response.
Typically, incident response teams fall into three categories:
Typically, the objectives and roles of these acronyms are the same. However, CERT is a Carnegie Mellon University registered trademark, so companies must obtain authorization.
Another term frequently used during incident response team conversations. SOC covers the personnel, technology, and processes responsible for an organization’s security program.
SOC teams are primarily responsible for incident response, but they may have other tasks within an organization. Other responsibilities of SOC teams are asset discovery and management, maintaining activity records, and ensuring adherence to regulations.
An incident response team’s primary objective is to detect and respond to security incidents and minimize their business impact. Therefore, team responsibilities typically align with phases outlined in incident response plans and frameworks. Among the team’s tasks are:
When it comes to incident response, having an effective incident response is vital. Here are the key aspects to consider when building an incident response team in your organization:
Use the questions below to guide you on which team model is best for your organization.
The composition of an incident response team and the roles of its members depend on the organization’s requirements. Some members may have more than one role. However, a typical incident response team consists of the following members:
The first preparation phase includes a risk assessment to determine any potential vulnerabilities and the priority of assets. Incident responses will be based on this information, and systems can be configured to address identified vulnerabilities and focus protection on high-priority assets. Policies and procedures should then be revised or created, including a communication plan with roles and responsibilities during an incident.
When preparing for an incident, teams must determine what tools and procedures they will use to identify suspicious activity. If an incident happens, they must establish the type of attack, source, and attacker’s motives. Keep a record of all evidence collected throughout an investigation and any information you may need to locate an intruder.
When an incident happens, steps are taken to contain it and minimize any possible harm. There are usually several subphases involved in containment:
When all necessary containment steps are taken, the full scope of an attack is made visible. Teams must then identify all compromised systems and resources to remove attackers and malware. This process should continue until no traces of the attack remain. Some cases may require restarting systems with clean versions to recover fully.
In this phase, teams attempt to restore any lost data while bringing updated replacement systems online. If that is not possible, they must identify when the last clean copy of data was created and restore it. This phase ends with monitoring systems for some time to detect if attackers return.
The assessment of an incident is crucial for identifying and eliminating any security vulnerabilities. It could include patch management, staff training, and introducing technologies to detect internal threats. These procedures should be put in place to prevent another similar incident from taking place. Incorporate all these preventative measures into your security incident response plan.
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Incident response is responding to and containing a specific security incident or cyber threat. At the same time, disaster recovery focuses on restoring normal operations following a significant disruption, such as a natural disaster, power outage, or equipment failure. Despite some overlap between the two, they are distinct processes that require different resources and planning.
As a part of the incident response process, several tools and technologies can be used to support the process, such as network monitoring tools, intrusion detection systems, antivirus software, forensic tools, incident management software, and communication platforms.
Incident response is an essential element of many compliance agencies, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
An effective incident response begins with preparation. Without predetermined guidelines, an incident response team cannot effectively respond to an incident.
SafetyCulture (formerly iAuditor) is a world-class safety and audit cloud-based platform that can help organizations create and manage incident response plans and reports. With SafetyCulture, organizations can use its intuitive interface to do the following:
Train staff members on properly responding to various types of incidents
Rob Paredes is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. He is a content writer who also does copy for websites, sales pages, and landing pages. Rob worked as a financial advisor, a freelance copywriter, and a Network Engineer for more than a decade before joining SafetyCulture. He got interested in writing because of the influence of his friends; aside from writing, he has an interest in personal finance, dogs, and collecting Allen Iverson cards.
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