What Is Incident Response?

Risk Glossary

What is Incident Response?

A security incident is when an attacker gains access to an organization's network or systems.

This can be for a variety of purposes, including spreading malware, stealing information, etc.

Incident response is the process of investigating and remediating a security incident. It should be based on a structured strategy that ensures that security incidents are managed correctly, consistently, and quickly.

Why is an Incident Response Strategy Important?

Cybercriminals have become more skilled over the years, and cyberattacks are wider-reaching and more effective. As a result, cybersecurity incidents resulting in data breaches, ransomware infections, and other damages are more common.

In the face of a cybersecurity incident, the speed and correctness of the incident response is critical to minimizing the impact and cost of the security incident. The longer that an attacker has access to an organization's systems, the more damage that they can cause and the harder it is to remove the infection.

An effective cyberattack can result in a variety of costs to the organization, including system damages, data loss, regulatory penalties, and the loss of customer trust.

An incident response strategy helps to minimize the cost and damage incurred by a security incident.

An incident response team with a clear plan for addressing security incidents knows what to do and how to do it correctly, reducing the delays and errors that amplify the impact of the attack.

What are the 6 Steps of Incident Response?

Responding to a security incident is a multi-stage process.

The primary steps that should be included in an incident response strategy include:

  • Monitoring and Detection: This stage of the incident response process is continually ongoing. Security team members monitor the organization's network and system for any potential signs of malicious activity. If a potential incident is detected, then incident response begins.
  • Quarantine Affected Devices: Cyberattackers rarely remain on the device that they initially compromise in an attack. Quarantining any devices that have been affected and potentially compromised as part of a security incident can help to stop malware from spreading or the attacker from expanding their foothold to other systems in the organization's network.
  • Assess Severity and Damage: Once affected systems have been quarantined, the incident response team has time to perform an in-depth investigation of the incident. This includes determining the purpose of the attack, what actions the attacker performed, and the severity or damage caused.
  • Remediation and Recovery: With a better understanding of the security incident, the incident response team can start cleaning up affected devices and restoring them to normal operations. This may include removing malware from the impacted devices or even wiping them and restoring from a clean backup. Once the devices are secure again, they can be released from quarantine to normal operations.
  • Notify Affected Parties: Reporting is a crucial component of incident response activities. Whether to management, customers, or regulators, these notifications should be made as soon as it is possible to do so.
  • Prepare for the Future: The fact that a security incident occurred means that an organization has a hole in its cyber defenses. After the incident is completed, the incident response team and all stakeholders should perform a retrospective to understand what went wrong and to identify steps that can be taken to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.
    Developing plans for common scenarios for each of these core stages is a good start toward an incident response strategy.

By building a framework that is widely applicable, an incident response team solves many of the challenges associated with effective incident response.

From there, the incident response team can fill in the gaps by developing specific playbooks with more in-depth policies and procedures for dealing with common scenarios.

Creating a Proactive Incident Response Strategy

Incident response is inherently reactive because it is designed to mitigate and remediate an ongoing security incident.

However, by proactively preparing to address these incidents, an organization can decrease the likelihood, cost, and probable impact of a security incident.

Some of the steps in preparing for a security incident include:

  • Define the Team: An incident response strategy should be developed by a team consisting of all of the major stakeholders. When developing a strategy, consider the teams that will play a part in a security incident (IT, security, legal, etc.) and make sure that all of the relevant parties are invited to the table.
  • Create a Plan: With the right team in place, it's possible to create an effective incident response strategy. This can be anything from a very general plan that can be applied to any situation to a collection of situation-specific playbooks.
  • Set Up Communications Channels: During a security incident, speed is of the essence. This means that team members need to know who to contact in a certain situation and how best to reach them. Whether this is by phone or another medium, chains of command and communications channels should be set up in advance to eliminate delays during an incident.
  • Invest in Tools: A good team is essential for effective incident response, but the people aren't enough. An organization should ensure that the team has the tools and training needed to do its job effectively as well.
  • Practice with Simulations: Cybersecurity incidents are stressful, and people make mistakes under stress. To ensure that everyone knows what to do during an incident, it is essential to practice regularly using simulated exercises. This has the additional benefit of identifying any issues in a safe environment rather than during a real security incident.

No one wants to be the victim of a security incident, but every organization will be targeted by cyberattackers.

Putting in the right preparation and developing an effective incident response strategy can mean the difference between a devastating cyberattack and a relative non-event.

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