Global cyberattacks increased by 29 percent in the first half of 2021 compared to 2020, and we can assume that cybercriminals and hackers won’t stop their malware and ransomware attacks any time soon. A strong cybersecurity strategy is vital to reduce losses from those attacks, and a robust incident response plan should be a part of that strategy.

The ultimate impact of any cyber incident upon an organization depends on the organization’s response. If the security team acts fast, they can mitigate the incident’s effects on the affected systems and sensitive data. A quick response also protects business continuity, revenues, and reputation.

An incident response plan (an IR plan or simply an IRP) is the set of procedures to help security teams identify, respond to, and recover from a cybersecurity incident, such as a data breach, service outage, or malware attack. The plan outlines detailed incident response processes to minimize the effect of an incident and to protect enterprise assets from future threats.

Do I Need an Incident Response Plan?

An incident response plan should be a part of every organization’s cybersecurity ecosystem, regardless of its size, business type, or industry. As organizations grow, the complexity of both their IT networks and their supply chains increases. To protect assets and data, an organization must prepare for all kinds of security events. That makes an incident response plan invaluable.

It’s even more urgent for organizations in highly regulated industries such as financial services or healthcare, or any company dealing with personally identifiable information (PII), to have an incident response plan in place. Plenty of ready-made incident response templates are available online to get you started.

Benefits of an Incident Response Plan

Whether an attack is digital (a security breach or malware attack) or physical (a natural disaster like an earthquake), the loss of functionality and data can disrupt normal operations and harm the organization’s customers, revenues, and financial standing. But it’s almost impossible to consider every corrective action that should be taken while you’re in the midst of a crisis without a plan.

The most comprehensive incident response and business continuity plans are developed in advance of a crisis. Security teams can think more clearly and better articulate systematic, step-by-step processes to mitigate the impact and minimize further damage when those teams aren’t in the throes of an attack.

When a crisis occurs, an incident response plan helps the enterprise to react with the best remediation strategies to minimize adverse outcomes from the incident. Organizations with a formal incident response process spend about $1.2 million less on data breaches than companies without one, meaning that a plan significantly minimizes the costs of such events.

Incident response planning can also provide documentary evidence for future legal or audit purposes. Moreover, it informs risk assessments and improves your overall integrated risk management program.

Critical Components of an Incident Response Plan

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) lists the essential components of an effective incident response plan. They are:

  • Incident response vision, mission, strategies, and goals
  • The organization’s approach to incident response
  • How incident response fits into overall strategic goals and mission
  • The various activities to be carried out following a cybersecurity incident
  • Team members’ roles, responsibilities, and contact information, plus a clear chain of command
  • System details in the form of network diagrams, data flow diagrams, system hardware inventory, and logging information
  • Incident and activity prioritization guidelines
  • How resources will be assigned based on the attack vector, criticality of data, and other relevant factors
  • System backup and recovery processes
  • Communication plan to guide communications between the incident response team and the rest of the organization (and external stakeholders, if required)
  • Key metrics to measure the capability and effectiveness of the incident response program
  • Senior management approval
  • Plan to improve incident response capability over time

In addition to a plan, it’s also crucial to implement an incident response security policy and procedures to streamline the incident response process and minimize errors. The procedures should specify the techniques, methods, and checklists that the incident response team will use. The policy should include all these general elements:

  • Purpose, objectives, and scope
  • Statement of management commitment
  • Definition of network security incidents
  • Incident prioritization or severity ratings
  • Performance measures
  • Definitions of roles, responsibilities, and authority
  • Reporting structure and requirements
  • Requirements for information-sharing
  • Handoff and escalation points

How to Create an Incident Response Plan

An incident response plan can help security analysts quickly assess, control, and contain a security incident and protect business-critical assets. That’s why it’s essential to follow a systematic process consisting of the following steps:

Create an Asset Inventory

Cyberattacks can attack any asset, but some assets are more vulnerable than others; so identify the locations of all assets and the potential impacts. An asset inventory can help quantify asset value and clarify the most significant sources of risks so the incident response team can take action to manage or mitigate them.

Identify Potential Risks

Next, identify all potential risks and threats. These risks could include improper coding, open WiFi networks, outdated antivirus programs, or vulnerable endpoints. All risks should be listed in the risk register.

Set Up Incident Response Policies and Procedures

Based on the assets and risks identified, incident response procedures should be set up for each of the following:

  • How to identify “normal” activities (baseline)
  • How to identify “suspicious” activities and what actions to take in response
  • How to identify and contain a cybersecurity incident
  • How to notify relevant stakeholders
  • How to report the containment strategies implemented
  • How to prevent future incidents
  • Employee training

Set Up an Incident Response Team

An incident response team is critical for the implementation of the incident response plan. (This team may also be known as a computer response incident response team or CSIRT.) It should consist of IT staff members who will collect and analyze incident-related data, triage alerts, and assess the threat landscape.

Incident response team members may also work with lawyers, communications experts, the media, and external law enforcement officials to assure that legal or compliance obligations are met.

Get Management Buy-In

Leadership must sign off on the policies and procedures in the plan. They will also need to provide the resources and funding required to put the plan into action. The best way to get executive management support is to present the plan explaining why it is necessary and how it will benefit the organization.

Employee Education and Training

Employees must be trained on the plan to understand what they need to do in case of a cyberattack or data loss. After training, they should be tested with simulations and tabletop exercises to assess their preparedness for a real-life attack.

Make ZenGRC a Key Part of Your Incident Response Strategy

The threat landscape is constantly widening, so it’s no longer a question of if an organization will be attacked, but when. A strong incident response plan lets organizations prepare for any kind of security incident, prioritize appropriate actions, and mitigate negative impacts.

The Reciprocity® ZenGRC® platform can be a valuable addition to your incident response program. Evaluate and monitor risks, and prepare an incident response plan to address these risks. ZenGRC provides advanced visibility across the enterprise and shows where risks exist with heat maps, dashboards, and reporting insights.

Click here for a free demo of ZenGRC.