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Cybersecurity Fundamentals

The 5 Most Important Incident Response Metrics

Avoiding preventable downtime is one of the main goals every security team shares. In scenarios where a single minute of downtime can cost thousands of dollars, keeping systems running smoothly is a core business value.  

Incident response plays a significant role in contributing to that goal. The more consistent and reliable your organization’s incident management processes are, the more resilient it will be against threat actor activities. When cybercriminals do strike, the downtime that results will be minimized, reducing overall business disruption. 

Introduction to Incident Response Metrics 

Capturing incident response metrics is vital to your overall incident management strategy. It gives you the ability to conduct a thorough evaluation of incident response workflows and protect the organization from future security incidents. 

Creating and optimizing incident response playbooks helps reduce the overall costs of incidents when they occur. They reduce the duration of service disruptions and improve customer trust while empowering business decisions at critical moments. Without accurate incident metrics, it’s very difficult to improve security performance over time. 

5 incident response metrics your security team should collect and analyze 

There are many different ways to measure incident management performance, but most security leaders focus on the following five key metrics: 

  • Mean time-to-detect (MTTD) 
  • Mean time-to-respond (MTTR) 
  • Mean time-to-identify (MTTI) 
  • Mean time-to-contain (MTTC) 
  • Mean time-between-failures (MTBF) 

 Read on to learn more about how each one impacts your organization’s overall security preparedness: 

1. Mean time-to-detect (MTTD): 

MTTD captures the average amount of time it takes for your security team to detect a security incident. To capture this key performance metric, you must have deep visibility into security event logs that show when incidents first occurred. Then you have to find out how long it took for the team to detect it. 

You will repeat this process for every security incident that occurs within a given time frame. Then you’ll divide the total amount of time by the number of incidents. This will give you actionable insight into how effective your organization’s detection processes are in practice. 

2. Mean time-to-respond (MTTR): 

MTTR tracks the amount of time it takes for the incident response team to address security incidents after detection. The goal is to resolve incidents as quickly as possible, but some incidents are more complex than others. 

The more comprehensive your organization’s incident response playbooks are, the better its overall MTTR is likely to be. Organizations with loosely defined, ad-hoc response strategies may end up spending more time than necessary resolving security incidents. 

3. Mean time-to-acknowledgment (MTTA): 

Detecting a security incident does not necessarily mean a response is ready to immediately launch. Often, the alerts that warn security analysts about active cyberattacks remain hidden under a huge volume of false positives. 

When this happens, there can be a significant delay between the moment security tools detect an incident and the moment that incident is acknowledged by a security practitioner. MTTA addresses that gap, providing IT leaders with key insight into how efficient their alarm monitoring and alert resolution processes are, and whether the team’s human element is stretched too thin. 

4. Mean time-to-contain (MMTC): 

MTTC measures the amount of time it takes to limit the short-term damage a security incident can cause. This is distinct from MTTR, which measures the time that passes to complete resolution. This metric is more directly concerned with mitigating short-term risks and preventing attacks from spreading across the network. 

Successfully containing a security incident can mean different things in different contexts. Isolating a single compromised endpoint is much easier than removing advanced, persistent spyware infections throughout the entire network. MMTC helps security leaders identify early response issues that other metrics might miss. 

5. Mean time-between-failures (MTBF) 

MTBF reports on the reliability of the organization’s overall security processes. It is especially useful for understanding the organization’s overall cyber resilience and prevention-based solutions. 

Instead of looking at individual incidents, MTBF shows how frequent security incidents are over time. Organizations facing a higher volume of incidents than others in their sector or industry may need to commit additional resources to its security team. 

How to develop and implement effective metrics 

Your incident response plan needs to take your organization’s unique security risk profile into account. There is no reason to spend valuable time, money, and resources protecting against low-risk, low-probability threats while ignoring serious ones. 

That means that your organization’s optimal incident management process will be unique. Simply copying the incident response process that another organization uses won’t have the desired effect. Accurate metrics help with the process, but they must be part of a comprehensive incident response program. 

The success of that program depends largely on how well you interpret the incident response metrics you capture. Not all security incidents are alike, so you should be able to distinguish between them when analyzing your key metrics data. 

Some security leaders categorize incident response metrics by event severity levels. This adds complexity to incident response management, but it delivers better insight into how the security team performs in different scenarios. 

For example, you may find that your team performs well against high-severity incidents but consistently lets low-severity events drag down performance. In this case, deploying technology to automate detection and response of common incidents could deliver significant value. 

Use metrics to enable continuous improvement 

Your incident response program is an important part of your overall security posture and a major element of compliance. Many compliance frameworks include requirements for continuous improvement. 

Analyzing key performance metrics like MTTD and MTTR helps security leaders identify opportunities to improve their incident response strategies. It provides key insight into issues and challenges that get between security teams and their goals while enabling the organization to reduce the average cost and risk associated with incidents. 

Challenges to measuring incident response 

Visibility is the biggest challenge to measuring the performance of incident response operations. Every one of the metrics described above represents a simple concept, but they require data that is not always immediately available. 

 If your security team does not have deep visibility into its technologies and processes, it can’t easily calculate average detection, response, containment, or acknowledgment times. This requires dedicated technology and scalable resources designed to meet strict incident response framework requirements. 

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