What Is Incident Response and How Does It Benefit Organizations?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published July 21, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Cybersecurity measures are essential for many companies to implement in order to prevent data breaches and cyberattacks. There are several aspects that IT team members consider in order to support effective data security operations, such as creating an incident response plan. If your company would like to implement or improve its data security measures, it may be helpful to learn more about incident response plans. In this article, we define incident response, discuss how to create an incident response plan and include a few examples of what to include in an effective plan.

What is incident response?

Incident response (IR) entails the steps technology professionals take to prepare for, detect, contain and recover from a data breach. It's an intentional and organized approach to managing the aftermath of a breach or cyberattack to secure and identify attacked or corrupted data. It's also a useful tool to help prevent future attacks of a similar nature, namely those that allow unauthorized parties to gain access to secured data. Here are the six common steps to incident response:

  1. Prepare systems and data security procedures

  2. Identify incidents or cyber attacks

  3. Contain attackers and identify incident activity

  4. Remove attacker and close re-entry options

  5. Recover from the incident and restore systems

  6. Apply incident feedback to enhance system preparation

Related: How To Become an Incident Manager

What is an incident response plan?

An incident response plan is a detailed document that outlines an organization's procedures, steps and various responsibilities of its incident response program. It often details the organization's approach to incident response and how this program supports the organization and its mission. It also can include activities for each phase of incident response, roles and responsibilities for completing those activities, communication pathways between the IR team and the rest of the organization and metrics to measure the effectiveness of a specific IR plan.

Related: Learn About Being a Cybersecurity Analyst

Benefits of creating an incident response plan

Having an established incident response plan is critical for businesses to continue operations in the event of a technological emergency. Digital systems can shut down for a variety of reasons, so it's important for companies to prepare for several incidents, such as natural disasters, cyberattacks or hardware errors. Here are some key benefits of creating and maintaining an incident response plan:

  • Reducing the time of a shutdown

  • Maintaining public trust

  • Remaining compliant with security protocols

  • Establishing a confident threat response

  • Mitigating damage

  • Enhancing cybersecurity

6 elements of an incident response plan

Here are the six common elements of incident response plans:

1. Preparation

The preparation phase of an IR plan often includes reviewing existing security measures or policies and determining the effectiveness of these measures. Organizations can also combine this step with a risk assessment to determine security vulnerabilities and designate a level of importance for each piece of information. This phase also entails organizations refining or creating policies to eliminate vulnerabilities and detailing a communication plan. Effective companies might also assign roles and responsibilities to incident response teams during this stage.

Related: How To Write a Work Incident Report

2. Identification of threats

Using the security measures and policies established in the preparation phase, incident response teams work to detect and identify suspicious cyber activity. When the team detects an incident, they quickly work to identify the nature of the attack, its source and the attacker's goals. It's important for these teams to collect evidence during this stage so they can analyze the data later. It may also aid in pursuing legal action against an attacker if the team or law enforcement can identify them. This phase also typically entails an organization implementing communication plans to inform related parties of an incident.

3. Threat containment

Once the team identifies a threat, their next goal is to determine and implement containment strategies. The end goal of this stage is to minimize the amount of damage an attack causes the company. This stage often has two sub-phases, which include short- and long-term containment. The first sub-stage is to isolate the threat, while the second prevents access to unaffected systems.

4. Elimination of threats

During and after the containment stage, teams determine the full extent of an attack and identify affected systems or data. Once the IR team identifies all affected parts, they can start removing attackers and malware from systems. This phase may continue until the team removes all traces of the attack from the system. To accomplish this, teams may place systems offline and replace assets with clean versions.

5. Recovery and restoration

During this stage, teams bring updated replacement systems online. In some cases, there's no loss of data, but it depends on when the teams last created a clean copy of data. Once they find a clean copy, they can restore and update the system while continuously monitoring for secondary attacks.

Related: 5 Information Security Analyst Skills

6. Feedback and refinement

Once the team eliminates an attack and recovers from the security breach, they can review the steps taken during the attack. Team members can identify methods that worked and make suggestions to improve incident response in the future. This stage also includes teams completing necessary documentation and presenting any evidence or findings they discovered during the attack.

Sample incident response plan

Although the number of steps and specific information included in an incident response plan can change, there are several important components to address in a response plan. The steps often occur in sequential order from the top to the bottom of an incident response document, but you can specify whether teams can skip certain steps if they don't apply to a particular incident. Here's an example of items you might include in your incident response plan:

1. Immediate response and contact information

During this first step, you might want a responder to initiate communication to relevant employees throughout the affected organization. This may include listing specific personnel to contact, along with their contact information.

Example: The individual who first discovers an incident calls a police dispatch line, followed by the IT helpdesk and the current supervisor on shift. The responder contacts these sources within one hour of incident finding.

2. Call and incident log

This next step helps determine the information required to begin logging communication pathways and incident information. This is likely where an IT department or incident response team may start responding to the incident and determining the effects of the attack. The amount of information included in the log can help improve the feedback session typically found at the end of a response plan.

Example: Once IT personnel receive incident information, they log the name of the first responder, time of the call, nature of the incident, equipment involved, location and how the responder first detected the incident.

3. Determining the scope of the attack

This step can help IT staff members determine whether an attack is likely to critically affect operations and how to properly mitigate risks. It's important to determine the threat an attack poses to the affected company and the type of attack that occurred. Some information you might include in this area includes the type of attack, threat level, targeted systems and different procedures to pursue based on the threat assessment.

Example: Once the IT department or first responder contacts all appropriate personnel, the IT department or response team discusses the situation to determine the current actions of the attack, the targeted data or information and potential outcomes of attackers gaining access to that information. They also assign a threat category to the attack and begin implementing response procedures.

4. Evidence examination

This step can help IT staff members determine how an attacker executed the breach and how to prevent a similar event in the future. This stage might include interviews, reviewing security logs and can vary between situations and organizations. Once IT team members have reviewed all evidence and information, they can then suggest changes to the current system security measures.

Example: After the team has resolved the attack, the IT team reviews all system and intrusion detection logs and interviews witnesses to determine how the breach occurred. They then create recommendations to patch and prevent a similar breach from occurring again. Upon approval from management, they can then implement these changes in the system and continue with system restoration efforts.

5. Review response and update policies

This last step can help an organization review the incident and its effect on the company. This step can also include a review of current security policies and established response protocols. Organizations can also update or create new policies during this stage to eliminate vulnerabilities.

Example: Once the IT department has fully restored the system, the company hosts a meeting to discuss the event and methods to prevent a similar event in the future. This meeting may also include a financial and data assessment of damages incurred during threat containment procedures. The team may review current security policies and determine potential enhancements. Company management might review all patches and updates implemented to prevent a secondary attack prior to concluding the meeting.

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