On 2023-11-09
by Theodore Wiggins

Planning for the Inevitable: How to Master Your Incident Response

cyber attack screen

To effectively cope with security breaches, organisations must stand prepared with a reliable plan of action to take back their power and outmanoeuvre ruthless threat actors. But how do you master the art of incident response to ensure your organisation is battle-ready in the face of imminent cyber threats?

As cybersecurity threats loom over organisations like a constant shadow, IT teams are tasked with a difficult challenge: Expecting the unexpected. 

While diligent efforts are made to secure systems and protect against vulnerabilities, the reality is that cyber-attacks are inevitable and can strike at a moment's notice, compromising highly sensitive data and tarnishing brand reputations. 


 What is an incident response plan?

An incident response plan (IRP) serves as an individualised, structured playbook for organisations, providing a set of procedures and guidelines when a security incident occurs. These disruptive events have the potential to threaten an IT system’s availability, confidentiality, and integrity, compromising its data. 

An incident response plan’s primary focus is to mitigate the impact of cyber-attacks, minimising additional damage and restoring critical systems as soon as possible.

Why are IRPs important?

To ensure organisations are prepped and ready to combat inevitable cyber-attacks, businesses should follow a dedicated incident response process — preferably one rooted in a robust framework such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework. The incident response process outlined by NIST provides a roadmap for organisations to effectively structure their recovery procedures.

Many cyber security professionals will be aware of this framework as it’s a well-known process within the IT community. As a universally trusted framework, it can support cross-organisational collaboration and aid organisations to meet local regulatory compliance requirements.

What are the foundations of an incident response plan?

The NIST incident response process contains four integral components that should be considered when building a reliable IRP: 

 1. Asset identification:

The foundational step in incident response, asset identification involves constructing an extensive inventory of all the assets within an organisation. Assets can include hardware, software, data, personnel, and facilities, and should be categorised based on their criticality to the organisation’s operations. By outlining risk-prone assets, IT teams can prioritise their response efforts and allocate resources effectively.

 2. Incident classification:

This step involves impact-based incident categorisation. By assessing an incident’s severity level, organisations can determine appropriate response strategies to recover quickly. Incident classification can be dependent on factors like potential harm, scope of incident and impact on operations.

3. Containment and eradication:

To minimise the impact of an incident, the containment stage necessitates the swift isolation of affected systems or assets. This might involve disconnecting compromised systems from the network or blocking malicious traffic. The eradication phase focuses on threat removal, and often involves forensic analysis to understand what susceptibilities were exploited.

4. Recovery:

Following eradication, the next step is to recoup and learn from the incident. This includes system restoration and data recovery (without compromising its integrity). To identify the root causes of the event, organisations should conduct a post-incident analysis and re-evaluate their security posture. Lessons learnt during this phase should provide insights on how to strengthen the incident response plan and better prepare for future incidents.

Integrating these four steps in your recovery plan ensures a continuous learning and organisational improvement cycle. More elements can be added to this, but for most plans, this should act as the baseline foundation.

Armoured up and ready for action

It’s crucial to utilise resources like the NIST framework to construct a well-rounded strategy that aligns with both your organisation’s risk tolerance and business objectives. This pivotal starting point supports your journey to gaining the endorsement of your leadership team and enhancing the organisation’s ability to effectively respond to any unforeseen security incidents that cross its path.

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