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Cybersecurity Fundamentals

What is Mean Time-to-Respond (MTTR)?

Mean time-to-respond (MTTR) is the average time it takes to achieve system recovery after a failure or cyberattack. It is calculated from the moment the issue is first detected to the moment normal operations can resume. 

MTTR doesn’t take into account the period of time that a problem remains undetected on the network. A different incident response metric called Mean Time-to-Detect (MTTD) covers that time period. 

Introduction to Mean Time to Respond (MTTR) 

Incident response teams use MTTR as a metric for understanding and improving security performance. Reducing this metric leads to faster incident resolution and lower overall risk. 

Organizations with fast incident recovery time metrics are able to repair issues quickly, reduce outage periods, and make downtime incidents less severe overall. Since downtime can cost enterprise organizations hundreds of thousands of dollars per hour, incident management teams have a strong motivation to streamline their operations as much as possible. 

Enabling incident response teams to address high-risk alerts and mitigate potential damage quickly essential to business continuity. The faster the resolution process is, the less time cybercriminals have at their disposal during an attacker incident. 

The Role of MTTR in Incident Management 

Incident management metrics like MTTR have a direct correlation with the success and consistency of incident management systems. This translates to higher levels of customer trust, improved availability of products, and more efficient operations overall. 

Both MTTR and MTTD provide actionable insights into the effectiveness of security operations against cyber threats. This data helps leaders demonstrate continuous improvement in a measurable way. Auditors and stakeholders can observe the number of minutes of downtime caused by security incidents go down over time.  

At the same time, security specialists can use this valuable metric to improve their cybersecurity incident response workflows. They can identify opportunities to improve detection speed and gain deeper insights into their alert management tools and operating procedures. 

Calculating MTTR 

To calculate MTTR, you must first collect data on all security incidents in a certain period of time. Add up the amount of time spent restoring systems to normal operations for each incident, then divide by the total number of incidents. 

 For example, imagine your company experienced three cybersecurity incidents in the last quarter. The first incident took 30 minutes to mitigate, the second took 45 minutes, and the third took two hours. 

Your MTTR for this period would be: 

(𝟑𝟎 + 𝟒𝟓 + 𝟏𝟐𝟎) ÷ 𝟑 = 𝟔𝟓 minutes 

  Some factors can influence the accuracy and relevance of common incident metrics like MTTR. For example, an outlier event that takes dramatically longer to resolve can skew the metric. Similarly, treating a simple, rapidly automated cyberattack as a series of individual incidents can make your MTTR seem much smaller than it really is. 

Strategies for Reducing MTTR 

Organizations that want to streamline their incident response capabilities can reduce MTTR by investing in tools, technologies, and services that enable faster incident recovery times. Investing in the following capabilities can help achieve that: 

  • Automation. Automated incident response can dramatically improve the organization’s entire incident response capability. Technologies like SOAR enable the automation of incident response processes across the entire tech stack. 
  • Data observability. Having the right data readily available makes the analysis of incidents much faster, reducing the amount of time spent on investigation. 
  • Access to scalable expertise. Instead of drawing security personnel away from their routine to handle critical incidents, consider leveraging managed service providers to expand your incident management team on an as-needed basis. 

Challenges in Minimizing MTTR 

Many security leaders face difficulties improving common incident management metrics like MTTR. Some of the issues that frequently become obstacles to best-in-class detection and response performance include: 

  • Lack of visibility. The success of your cyber incident response plan depends on giving security personnel comprehensive visibility into the organization’s tech stack. Without enhanced monitoring and visibility, the recovery process will go slowly. 
  • Time-consuming manual investigation processes. Conducting incident response actions through a command-line interface is a lengthy and error-prone process. Modern security tools use automation to unlock the value of efficient operations from detection to resolution. 
  • Lack of collaboration between different teams. Analysts often have to get insight from other business units, especially when dealing with complex insider threats. Contextual alerts can help reduce this burden, but security specialists may still need access and approvals from other team members. 
  • Network security blind spots. If attackers compromise a network asset that the security team can’t analyze data from, the entire incident response workflow may grind to a halt. Investing in Network Detection and Response (NDR) capabilities helps address this risk. 

MTTR and Other Incident Response Metrics 

MTTR is just one of the metrics security leaders use to measure the performance of the incident response team. Since it doesn’t include the amount of time it takes to detect suspicious activity or the amount of time between incidents, it’s not a complete measure of security performance. 

 To gain a clearer picture of overall security preparedness, security leaders should adopt a balanced approach that includes MTTR and MTTD together, along with any service level agreement metrics included in their contracts with security vendors and managed service providers.

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