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5 Steps to Creating a Cybersecurity Incident Response Plan

Posted by Brandon Blankenship on Jul 29, 2021 9:40:18 AM

5 Steps to Creating a Cybersecurity Incident Response Plan

Incident Response (IR) is the way your team reacts to an occasion of data insecurity. A cybersecurity incident is an event that threatens your operation's data or systems. Incidents might include malware infections, data breaches, unauthorized access, or any activities that compromise your computer systems' or networks' security. 

In short, an incident is a problem with your information security. It could look like a data breach. Maybe an attacker found their way into your network and exported stores of client information. Incidents can also be non-malicious. Maybe a natural disaster sparks a power outage and makes your operational resources unavailable for a few days.

An incident response plan is a list of emergency contacts, run-books, escalation criteria, and other vital information to aid in the incident response process. A documented, socialized, and well-maintained plan lets your team take immediate action seamlessly. Every business should have an IR plan, regardless of its size or industry. Understanding how to develop an incident response plan can help protect your operation with minimal stress.

What Is an Incident Response Plan?

Incident response planning is how you document the processes and resources you would use if your data became compromised. An IR plan helps your organization prepare for a cybersecurity incident. It should outline responses to issues with any of the Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability (CIA) triad.

The incident response plan is a document that predefines individual jobs, severity levels, run-books to respond to a security incident, and instructions for after-action meetings to gather insight from previous incidents or rehearsals. An IR plan might not address all security incidents, but it includes information that would be useful in various situations.

The plan should be stored somewhere secure but readily available to those who need it. Review and rehearse your IR plan regularly to ensure the response protocol is up-to-date and effective. Go over the names, roles, responsibilities, and contact information for all relevant resources in the plan at least annually. These resources may include legal teams, executives, public relations personnel, and incident response contractors.

Why Is a Cybersecurity Incident Response Plan Important?

Stopping and recovering from a security incident requires a careful and coordinated effort from your organization. An incident response plan helps you get key individuals together and moving in the same direction. During an incident, an organization loses data, productivity, money, or control every moment the threat actors stay on the network.

In this type of high-pressure situation, figuring out which vendors to call could be a dangerous and expensive misuse of time. An IR plan would have those critical vendors and their contact information predefined to cut guesswork. Developing the right incident response steps can help prepare you for potential security threats.

How to Create an Incident Response Plan

Creating an incident response plan means breaking down your security strategy into its essential parts. You need to plan out your leadership, risks, and practice measures to create something effective. Your IR plan should be clear, and you need regular analysis to ensure it's always relevant and ready. With careful planning and practice, you can implement an effective IR plan that keeps your organization secure. Let's look at the essential steps for creating an incident response plan. 

Step 1: Choosing an Incident Response Planning Consultant

It's easy to think of incidents as hypothetical events and use that to avoid IR planning. In reality, the stakes are too high to risk wasting time and resources during an incident response. Undefined roles and responsibilities could mean redoubling efforts or leaving gaps in the response process. Incident response planning consultants help you identify those gaps. They work to assign critical response functions to willing individuals before you come up against the clock.

There are many correct ways to create an IR plan, but someone with experience can help ensure you maximize your plan's value. You could easily download an IR plan template from the internet, but it might not fit your organization, leaving critical gaps. Working with a cybersecurity professional gets you a plan that focuses on your specific needs while benefitting from their broader IR planning experience. An external perspective can also prevent the IR plan from becoming too reliant on one person or department.

Step 2: Assess Your Current Risks

While you can use secure strategies to limit your risks, you have to know what you're facing. Attack methods are ever-changing — understanding your company-specific risks will help you create a customized IR plan. It is crucial that your team has a reliable plan to quickly and effectively address security emergencies as they occur.

Your organization needs to dive into your systems and their weak points. Assessment services can help you spot the areas at risk of cyber threats. These assessments let you see the top risks and recommendations for ensuring data security in your organization. Whether you use those recommendations, the results will help you understand your main weaknesses. These reports also show your investment in cybersecurity, which can be attractive to potential clients and investors. With thorough risk assessment, you'll strengthen your defenses and help your organization stay prepared for incidents when they happen.

Step 3: Identify Your Incident Response Team

Step 3: Identify Your Incident Response Team

Imagine your company is a football team. You wouldn't wait until the game day to pick your players, assign positions, and come up with plays. Similarly, you should find key players, define responsibilities, and develop run-books before you deal with a security incident. 

The first and most critical incident response plan steps involve getting the right people in the room. It seems simple enough to get all your power-players together, but problems can arise if roles are not explicitly assigned. Consider these questions when forming your incident response team:

  • What happens when someone is unqualified for their role, bucks responsibility, or steps on someone else's toes?
  • Who may communicate with the press?
  • Would you want an untrained IT manager giving a statement to the local paper?
  • Would your security engineers want a non-security executive overseeing them while they're trying to analyze logs?

Assign roles to individuals equipped to handle them. Once you've picked roles, define the exact responsibilities associated with them, and document relevant contact information in the IR plan. Working out these details ahead of time will help cut potential conflicts from the response process and focus on the security incident.

For more support on your incident response team, engage ProCircular's incident response and forensics services. Our team can quickly and skillfully assist with the situation and preserve forensic data for later analysis.

Step 4: Practice – Prepare and Train your Incident Response Team

For all the plans you can make, practice and preparation are essential. With enough training, your team will be able to adjust to security situations as they pop up. It's okay to deviate from your IR plan to suit the current situation, but having a well-maintained plan as a base will give you the information you need to get started. Practicing regular IR plan maintenance with reviews and rehearsals will help your team stay ready for anything.

Consider using cybersecurity tabletop exercises. Tabletop exercises are simulated security incidents in which your team must appropriately escalate, communicate, and respond to the Incident while a facilitator puts new information into the conversation. Tabletop exercises are great for developing muscle memory within key players and identifying gaps in your plan.

For instance, your IR plan might use a conference bridge to virtually connect key personnel during incident response. A tabletop exercise means you open that conference bridge to confirm that it's an effective mode of communication. Finding out your communication method is unavailable during a breach would hold up your security efforts. Practicing all parts of your IR plan lets you find any gaps and close them before emergencies happen.

Step 5: Continue to Improve Your Plan

Once you have a functional incident response plan in place, you must perform regular reviews to adapt your plan to corporate environment changes. A healthy IR plan is a living document — it should flex with changing needs and threats. 

For example, after a tabletop exercise, the group discusses challenges and potential improvements to the plan. All successful IR plans include after-action meetings to discuss opportunities for streamlining future response efforts. You might also update the plan to reflect changes in key personnel or updates to business practices.

ProCircular's incident response tabletop planning and exercises are designed to benefit the people involved. If everyone at your tabletop exercise is an engineer, we may run a heavily technical "war room" incident simulation. Alternatively, a tabletop of executives may deal more with the reputational side of incident response. We aim to make the tabletop as realistic as possible to help make handling real incidents simpler.

Create an Incident Response Plan With ProCircular

Create an Incident Response Plan With ProCircular

Sometimes companies avoid looking at their incident response plan because they feel unprepared. Developing your IR plan doesn't need to look like a full-day workshop. Distributing and practicing your IR plans are great ways to improve your incident response readiness without even editing the document. Remember, your incident response plan should be a flexible and dynamic tool that becomes stronger the more you work with it. 

At ProCircular, our goal is to test the efficacy of your incident response plan document. Our approach to risk management combines industry-leading knowledge with an empathetic bend to ensure your plan is comprehensive and fits your needs. The best time to work on your IR plan is when you are not in the middle of a security crisis. Reaching out to us proactively lets you stay on top of your security.

ProCircular's compassionate approach makes incident response planning painless, maybe even fun. With our risk assessments, vulnerability assessments, and penetration tests, you ensure your team is ready for anything. We approach every project with respect, empathy, and a progressive goal to reach a positive outcome. To learn more about IR planning, contact ProCircular, or call 844-95-SECUR!

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We are passionate about helping businesses navigate the complex world of information security, and our blog is another great source of inforamtion. We can assist you no matter where you are in your security maturity journey:

  • Breached or hit with ransomware?
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  • Looking to confirm your security with a third party?

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