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Cybersecurity Fundamentals

How to Develop a Future-proof Incident Response Plan

Your organization's incident response plan describes exactly how it will restore normal operations after a security incident. It provides a flexible plan for detecting and responding to multiple types of incidents, clearing infected devices of malware, and mitigating cyber attack risks. 

Effective incident response plans minimize the amount of ad hoc improvisation that goes into the incident response process. Establishing a clear set of processes lets individual incident response team members know what's expected of them when cybersecurity incidents occur.  

Introduction to Incident Response Plans 

Incident response and recovery capabilities are a vital element of your organization's overall security posture. It enables your organization to pursue a multi-layered defense approach, where prevention, detection, and response all have a role to play. 

If a prevention-based security policy fails, the next stage is detection. Organizations with a robust security incident response plan in place can reliably detect and investigate suspicious activity and pursue mitigation strategies in response. 

Organizations that prepare for these scenarios in advance are better equipped to mitigate a wide range of associated risks. They can avoid costly disruptions to business operations, keep communication channels with customers and key stakeholders open, and prevent catastrophic damage to their brand. 

This is important because cybersecurity incidents are occurring with increasing frequency. US-based organizations suffered at least 3,200 data breaches in 2023, a 77% increase from the previous year. With the average cost of a data breach reaching millions of dollars, the need for a comprehensive incident response framework is clear. 

Select an industry-standard framework for your cybersecurity incident response plan 

Most security leaders establish an incident response strategy based on an existing framework. Two of the most common frameworks for incident response are NIST and SANS: 

  • The NIST Cybersecurity Framework is a voluntary framework published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It describes five stages for successful incident management, focusing on broad guidance that is applicable to many different business contexts. 
  • The SANS Incident Response Framework is more technical in nature, with a deeper focus on the classification of incidents and specific responses to different attack scenarios. It is a 6-step framework that defines useful security controls for a variety of scenarios. 

Both the NIST and SANS frameworks are frequently referred to in regulatory requirements. Organizations pursuing specific compliance goals like PCI-DSS or ISO 27001 must develop robust incident response programs first. 

Understand the components of an incident response plan 

Every organization has a unique security risk profile, defined by its industry, location, tech stack, and other factors. As a result, there is no such thing as a boilerplate cyber incident response plan designed to fit any organization's needs. You will have to carefully assess your real-world security needs and craft an incident response policy that addresses them. 

Most plans include provisions for the following activities: 

  1. Incident identification and classification

Differentiating between various types of attacks is one of the most important goals incident responders have. Before you can respond appropriately to a security incident, you must know exactly what kind of incident it is and what systems it's likely to impact.  

Indicators of compromise allow analysts to distinguish between different categories of incidents. When combined with comprehensive threat intelligence data, analysts can pinpoint the exact type of attack and immediately launch a proper incident response playbook to resolve it. 

Global threat databases like MITRE ATT&CK help analysts understand exactly what kind of attack is occurring, and what the biggest risks associated with that attack might be. 

  1. Incident Response Team Roles and Responsibilities

Cybersecurity is a team sport, and the incident response planning team will draw from multiple business units and departments when addressing an active threat. A proper incident response plan doesn't stop at mitigating downtime risk for the IT department. It also includes stakeholders from other business units, like Human Resources, Public Relations, and the legal team. 

These business units are especially valuable when it comes to addressing complex attack scenarios like insider threats. The security team may need to draw information from Human Resources to contextualize the malicious insider's behavior and coordinate a response with external stakeholders through Public Relations. Similarly, you may need approval from the legal team before you can investigate a current or former employee suspected of wrongdoing.  

  1. Communication and Reporting Procedures

Clear internal and external communication channels are vital for mitigating risks in an active attack scenario. The security team needs to report on the actions it takes to mitigate risk and ensure it is making good use of the resources available to it. 

An excellent internal communication plan ensures every person involved in the incident response plan understands the role they have to play. This prevents redundant activities and keeps team members focused on high-impact issues. 

External communications are also an important element of successful incident response plans because customer and partner data is often involved. Even if sensitive customer records are not directly impacted, reaching out to address peoples' fears should be part of its response to security incidents. 

  1. Incident Containment and Eradication

Depending on the type of incident, the security team may need to pursue immediate and long-term containment. If your incident response plan includes contingencies for multiple types of attack situations, you'll be able to take the appropriate action quickly and decisively. 

That might mean isolating infected endpoints to prevent security breaches from spreading across your network. It could mean blocking malicious executions occurring on your network, or terminating unauthorized processes and removing the malware responsible. 

In each case, your security team needs to follow a clear set of actionable steps informed by a security event investigation. Organizations that invest in automated security technologies and powerful integrations like XDR can contain threats faster and more reliably. 

  1. Post-Incident Analysis and Improvement

Both NIST and SANS incident response frameworks include a final 'lessons learned' phase at the end of the incident response process. This gives the security team a chance to analyze its response to the security threat and identify opportunities to improve. When pursued consistently over time, this enables the organization to improve its response to future incidents and lower key security performance metrics like Mean Time-to-Detect (MTTD) and Mean Time-to-Respond (MTTR). 

Analyzing post-incident activity can also provide important insights into how effective the organization is at preventing security events from turning into major incidents. The analysis should cover the prevention, detection, response, and recovery phases of the event and indicate opportunities for improvement.  

Conclusion 

Your incident response plan minimizes the impact of cyber incidents and protects your organization from catastrophic damage. It is a vital element of regulatory compliance and the key to unlocking the value of your security operations center and its team. 

Security leaders who take a proactive, dynamic approach to incident response planning are better prepared to address sophisticated attack scenarios, including unknown threats and zero-day vulnerabilities. By continuously refining your ability to identify and mitigate a wide range of threats, you can make your organization more resilient to cyber risks across the board. 

Creating an incident response plan demands expertise and planning. Leverage the capabilities of a professionally managed detection and response provider with years of experience developing comprehensive response plans. Our team at Lumifi uses in-depth product knowledge, combined with state-of-the-art technologies and proprietary automation services to help organizations optimize their incident response plans. 

 

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