Every IT organization focuses on incident prevention, as even the slightest “situation” involving security breaches, system outages, or other significant incidents can significantly damage a company’s reputation. This slippery slope erodes client trust, hinders sales, and chips away at your customer base.

Although it is not always possible to predict and prevent every potential cyberattack or other type of incident, GRC teams can undoubtedly plan and prepare for some of the most prominent threats. This includes developing response plans for regulatory requirements, third-party risks, cybersecurity threats, and operational disruptions.

A well-thought-out incident management program that aligns with your overall GRC program and information security policies will help you mitigate an incident’s impact on your business while minimizing harm to employees, customers, and partners. However, this is often easier said than done without careful planning and preparation.

Common security incidents requiring thoughtful response plans include data breaches, system outages, insider threats, cyber-attacks, and more. Read on to learn about key mistakes to avoid when developing your incident management program.

What is an incident management program?

An incident management program refers to the overarching policies, plans, procedures, and tools to handle security events and cybersecurity incidents. It coordinates activities across detection, investigation, containment, and recovery.

Well-designed programs align with frameworks like NIST 800-61. They provide systematic approaches for preparing, detecting, analyzing, containing, eradicating, and recovering from ransomware attacks, data breaches, and other security issues.

Effective programs involve collaboration between the incident response team and key stakeholders across technology, legal, public relations, and other groups. Cross-functional involvement enables organizations to understand risks, develop appropriate escalation policies, build playbooks, and establish robust communications plans.

Stages of the incident management process

Effective incident management programs incorporate a cycle of interrelated stages for systematically handling security incidents:

  • Preparation: Establishing policies, procedures, roles, and training for incident handling. This includes assembling an incident response team and relevant stakeholders, creating incident response plans and playbooks, communications plans, and more.
  • Detection & Analysis: Identifying anomalies through SIEM and other security tools and investigating to determine if an incident has occurred. This enables early visibility through centralized monitoring and logging.
  • Containment & Eradication: Isolate affected systems and remove malware and other threats to prevent additional damage. This involves implementing firewall rules, taking systems offline, patching vulnerabilities, etc.
  • Recovery & Review: Restoring normal business operations, understanding root causes, and using lessons learned to improve future incident response through updated response plans, enhanced security controls, and revised staff training programs, including new simulations and tabletop exercises. Gathering metrics and facilitating post-mortems enables continuous improvement.

Aligning plans to this lifecycle provides organizations with an end-to-end incident response process, enabling cross-functional teams to systematically prepare for, detect, analyze, contain, eradicate, and recover from cybersecurity incidents.

How Do You Create An Incident Management Process?

With a firm grasp of the incident management process and associated lifecycle, organizations can develop their own tailored incident response programs. Key steps include:

  • Performing risk assessments to understand potential cyber threats and business impacts
  • Defining escalation policies and response procedures aligned with those risks
  • Assembling and training an Incident Response Team (IRT) with relevant internal stakeholders and external support
  • Selecting security tools like Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) to enable detection, analysis, and containment
  • Creating incident documentation like classification schemes, playbooks, and communication plans
  • Conducting simulations and exercises to validate program effectiveness
  • Putting reporting procedures in place to facilitate after-action reviews, produce vital metrics, and enable continuous improvement.

The specific components vary per organization. An effective program combines the technology, resources, information, and practices to facilitate timely and appropriate responses to security incidents, safeguard critical assets, and maintain business continuity.

Key Components Of An Incident Management System

Incident management platforms provide the software tools to operationalize response programs. Core capabilities include:

  • Centralized dashboards for real-time incident tracking and data visualization
  • Automated threat detection through SIEM log analysis
  • Collaboration features like centralized documentation and communication channels for the incident response team
  • Integrations with other security tools for enriched threat intelligence and automated response workflows
  • Customizable templates and workflows aligned to an organization’s escalation policies and the overall incident response process
  • Reporting to support after action reviews, producing metrics, and facilitating leadership notifications

By centralizing incident management on a purpose-built platform aligned to crucial cybersecurity frameworks, incident response teams can reduce manual efforts while improving consistency, transparency, and efficiency in handling major security incidents. This enables organizations to meet demands for resilience and disaster recovery.

Biggest Mistakes When Implementing An Incident Management Program

Here are the three biggest mistakes GRC teams make when creating an incident management program:

1. No Incident Management Plan

We took a poll during our recent webinar, How to Simplify State and Local Government Incident Management. We discovered that two-thirds of the respondents didn’t have a fully documented plan!

An incident management plan is the foundation of your program and will help you assess incidents to determine the potential risks and impacts to your systems and controls. For instance, it will help you answer the question: Will a threat impact a single site or multiple facilities? Will any data be impacted, and if so, are there any government or regulatory organizations you will need to notify? How will you measure the full scope of impact? 

A fully documented incident response plan will help ensure that if and when you’re under the pressure of an incident, you can make the correct decisions and take the appropriate actions to bring the situation back under control quickly and with as little disruption to day-to-day activities as possible.

2. No Defined Roles

Every incident management plan should clearly define team member’s roles and responsibilities. This is especially important if your organization has internal silos, for example, if each group has its own operational IT support team that will need to be involved in any incident response.

Everyone involved in an incident response must know who will be coordinating communication with the various stakeholders and how they will share updates. Also, you will want to identify who will manage incident activities and capture data and evidence as appropriate.

3. No Review Cycle

Your incident management plan should be a living document, not a “one and done” item that is reviewed once and then put on a shelf somewhere, never to be looked at again. By including regular reviews as part of your incident management plan, you’ll be able to identify new opportunities for improvement and emerging threats and make updates as appropriate.

At the very least, you should test your general plan once a year and specific components more often. For example, you can institute a quarterly test that rotates between your organization’s various businesses, teams, or siloes.

Running an incident management program means you must be able to effectively assess incidents to determine the impact on your systems, risks, and controls. To do this well, you need an incident management plan that aligns with your overall GRC program and infosec policies, clearly defines team roles and responsibilities, and is regularly reviewed to identify opportunities for improvement.

Take your incident management plan to the next level with ZenGRC

Developing an effective security incident response program requires synthesizing people, processes, and technology into a cohesive capability. Purpose-built software like ZenGRC combines intelligent automation with collaboration and visibility across initiatives.

Request a demo to see ZenGRC’s incident management capabilities firsthand. Our experts are ready to answer your questions and discuss how purpose-built software can help you continually improve incident preparedness.