Cybersecurity Incident Response Plan in 2021

Many companies are ill-prepared to identify, respond, and protect themselves from cyber-attacks. In an IBM report done by Ponemon Institute, a survey involving at least 3,600 IT and cybersecurity professionals globally found that 77% of enterprises lack a cyber incident response plan. The same study found that 54% of organizations with an implemented incident response plan do not have measures for testing it regularly.

Despite research showing that an effective, rapid response is crucial to containing adverse security events, shortfalls in adequate IR planning have been consistent over the years. Insufficient response planning leaves companies less prepared to manage complex processes required to coordinate an efficient response to an attack.

That said, an incident response plan includes the best practices necessary for managing security breaches or data breaches. It addresses the significant challenges inhibiting organizations from responding to sophisticated cybersecurity threats.

Some of the challenges include:

  • Identifying a suspected malicious activity: Detecting malicious incidents that can affect normal operations is one of the leading challenges to proper incidence response and containment.
  • Establishing an investigation: Attacks often occur without warning, leaving little time for deliberating on the objectives for investigating and thwarting it. The challenge is more severe for enterprises without a formal incident response plan.
  • Determining the impact of a security incident: There is little time to establish what occurred in many incident response instances. For example, is a malicious cyber event due to a DDOS attack, malware attack, data loss, or system hack? The inability leaves a company exposed to more cyber threats.
  • Identifying compromised systems: Quickly identifying the affected systems is pertinent to an effective response to prevent further damage or information loss. Organizations that suffer a cyber-attack need to determine compromised information systems, assets, and networks. Identifying them facilitates a rapid, coordinated response to prevent extensive damage.

Benefits of a Cybersecurity Incident Response Plan

The primary goals of any business include registering continued growth, expansion, and profitability. However, cyber-attacks remain to be one of the biggest detriments to achieving set objectives. Experts project different types of cyber incidents to cost businesses worldwide $10.5 trillion every year by 2025, while a data breach costs affected entities an average of $3.86 million today.

Fortunately, putting in place robust cybersecurity incident response procedures can help businesses mitigate the shortcomings of an attack. The following are some of the reasons why organizations must incorporate incident response planning in their daily cybersecurity processes:

1.      Ensure Business Survival

Business owners must anticipate and be prepared for the worst in the cybersecurity world. For instance, multiple disasters and emergency events, such as the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak, can leave companies exposed to serious risks. New daily normal like mandatory work from home requirements caused most enterprises to realize their unpreparedness in responding to emerging cybersecurity incidents. Incident response planning enables enterprises to identify relevant standard security practices for containing and beginning recovery from an attack. Besides, careful implementation and practicing an incident response plan can minimize the impacts of malicious cyber activities.

2.      Saving Business Processes

Every year comes with new cybersecurity challenges with devastating financial repercussions. Subsequently, more companies have to contend with the possibility of an attack occurring at any time. The fact that at least 60% of organizations that experience a cyber-attack go out of business within six months should be a wake-up call for enterprises lacking sufficient incident response planning.

The large number of companies shutting down their operations following a security breach could be attributed to almost half of organizations lacking cybersecurity incident response preparedness. The absence of a documented incident response plan often causes resource wastage and a longer mitigation time when responding to an attack.

In this regard, maintaining a computer security incident handling guide for likely cybersecurity scenarios an organization could face helps remediate unexpected disasters saves precious response time. An incident response process is crucial to developing cybersecurity resilience to ascertain that normal operations continue even in the face of a continually growing threat landscape.

According to the 2020 IBM/Ponemon Cyber Resilient Organization Report, enterprises with formal incident response solutions applied across the entire business environment are less likely to record significant business disruption due to an attack. The report noted that only 39% of enterprises with formal incident response processes experience disruptive cyber incidents compared to 62% of organizations without formal response planning.

On the bright side, there is a growing rate of organizations creating and adopting cybersecurity incident response plans. The IBM/Ponemon study noted a 44% increase in companies maintaining response plans for different types of incidents. However, only 26% of businesses were found to have implemented standard playbooks for responding to anticipated and future incidents, while only 17% have incident response responsibilities for specific scenarios. Incident response processes for specific events detail the approaches and mitigation measures for specific attacks, such as ransomware attacks, phishing attacks, or denial of service attacks.

3.      Defining Incident Response Responsibilities

A company requires a specialized incident response team to manage and contain a malicious cybersecurity event effectively. The teams, often referred to as Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRTs), have the sole responsibility of executing an established cybersecurity incident response plan upon facing cyber-attacks or data breaches. For example, the IT staff responsible for data protection deals with multiple data security incidents daily. A minute security challenge could turn out to a real incident. In such an event, all CSIRT team members must be aware of their specific roles and responsibilities in alleviating the security incident’s impacts on sensitive data and information systems. An incidence where the stakes are high calls for the incident response team members to perform their security training to perfection.

It is nevertheless pertinent to note that developing an indent response plan alone is not adequate. A CSRIT team must possess the requisite experience and skills required to address possibly high-stress incidents. At a minimum, it is recommended to include malware analysis, security operations center (SOC) analysts, incident managers, and forensics investigators when dealing with a cyber-attack. A clear definition of incident response responsibilities allows for accurate decision-making processes, facilitates in-depth investigations, and provides senior management and key stakeholders the feedback and assurance that an adverse situation is under containment.

Furthermore, current data protection laws, such as the GDPR, make it mandatory for companies that suffer a data breach or any incident that affects sensitive data to report it within a given timeframe. The case for the GDPR is 72 hours, with the time changing in different regulations. The bottom line is that organizations must detect the incident and respond appropriately within the shortest time to make a full report of how it was handled. An incident response reduces the time needed to identify, diagnose, and respond to an incident to ensure timely reporting.

Executing a Cybersecurity Incident Response Plan

The success of an incident response plan in mitigating a security breach heavily depends on the roles and responsibilities of the incident responders. Therefore, organizations should ensure that an incident response plan provides clear guidelines for executing it. For most enterprises, SOC, incident manager, CSIRT, and threat intelligence teams must be involved when executing a response plan.

  • SOC: SOC is a company’s first defensive line that operates round the clock to triage all cybersecurity events and alerts, obtain the evidence of an occurring incident, and establish a suitable response action. SOC analysts have access to an organization’s cybersecurity tools and platforms, such as Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) solutions and Security Incident Event Manager (SIEM), to have a broad understanding of existing cyber threats. SOC analysts use the platforms to analyze generated alerts that signify malicious events that range from malicious commands run remotely to DDoS attacks. If SOC analysts deem certain events to be high-priority incidents, they escalate them to the incident management team.
  • Incident Manager: The primary role of an incident management team is to provide guidelines and directions for responding to escalating incidents. An incident manager embraces and understands the incidence, identifies and brings together all the key stakeholders, and determines the best course of action for addressing the security event. SOC analysts provide incident managers with evidence, opinion, and advice regarding an ongoing incidence, enabling them to establish the response guidelines. Among other functions, incident managers determine the response procedures to be completed, responders responsible for specific roles, and the timeline for completing them. The incident management also completes all scheduled communications and calls.
  • CSIRT: Members of the CSIRT team are only involved in high-priority and high-profile cybersecurity events. Not to be confused with SOC analysts who possess broad skill sets, CSIRT members consist of professionals with specialized knowledge and skills, such as digital forensics or malware analysis. The CSIRT is responsible for providing technical expertise and usually handles security incidents out of the expertise of SOC team members.
  • Threat intelligence: A threat intelligence team consists of experts tasked with assessing and understanding a business’s cyber threat landscape. For example, the team may scan dark web platforms to determine if sensitive information compromised due to a server attack is up for sale. Also, if a case relates to a malware attack, the intelligence team may perform Opensource Intelligence (OSINT) to establish the malware family and recommend measures for preventing targeted future attacks.

Cybersecurity Incident Response Plan Expert Tips

For an incident response to be effective, the planning process must capture all procedures describing the disaster recovery plan, business continuity plan, and measures for thwarting similar incidents in the future. Most organizations’ recommended cybersecurity incident response plan across all industries should contain six steps, explained below.

1.      Preparation

Preparation is an essential step since it provides a company with a clear blueprint of responding to an incidence comprehensively. The preparation stage entails developing and documenting policies for guiding the response process. Also, security teams create a strategy for handling incidents based on priority and impact on daily organizational operations. Preparation also defines the communication plans and channels that stipulate who is responsible for contacting various CSIRT members.

It is also mandatory to document all roles and responsibilities based on the questions what, when, where, why, how, and who. Lastly, preparation concerns identifying the response team and assigning clear responsibilities to team members, including ensuring they have appropriate access permissions to foster rapid and seamless responses. Team development may involve initial and continuous training processes to equip technical skills required for incident response processes.

2.      Identification

In the identification step, responsible incident response personnel must detect abnormal events that indicate an adverse security incidence. SOC analysts monitor all deployed IT infrastructure and systems to collect and analyze events from different sources, such as security platforms’ alerts, error messages, and log files. They must then correlate the event data to identify the incident and report to CSRIT members as soon as possible. Identifying threat detection and prevention capabilities across detected attack vectors are also crucial in the identification step.

3.      Containment

The primary objective of the containment step is limiting data loss, corruption, or system damage from an ongoing cybersecurity incidence. Also, short-term containment limits initial damage to prevent the incident from escalating to other protected systems and data. Short-term containment procedures may include taking down compromised servers and isolating affected network components. On the other hand, long-term containment measures involve applying temporary solutions to recover systems taken down by the attack. However, long-term containment focuses on removing backdoors left behind during an attack, compromised accounts, and addressing the incident’s root cause. For instance, a long-term containment solution may include patching vulnerabilities or replacing broken authentication that permits unauthorized access attacks.

4.      Eradication

Eradication in a cybersecurity incident response plan involves removing malware or other malicious components attackers introduce to ensure full system restoration. For example, reimaging removes malicious content by completely wiping and reimaging affected hard drives and systems. Also, applying best security practices, such as applying patches to vulnerable systems and upgrading outdated software, can eradicate attack vectors. Malware scanning using next-generation antivirus products can detect and wipe out malware to protect against viruses.

5.      Recovery

The recovery step assists organizations in restoring normal business operations, bring back all affected systems online and verifying that the threat was completely removed in the eradication phase. Disaster recovery solutions are critical to ensuring full business continuity. As such, business owners and stakeholders have the prerogative of deciding when the recovery process should start based on the CSIRT’s advice. SOC analysts must then monitor the recovered systems and processes continually to ensure all events are normal.

6.      Lessons learned

Within a two-week window, after an incident has occurred, all incident responders must compile essential information regarding the incidents to generate lessons learned. Lessons learned are a vital process for protecting against future attacks. Comprehensive documentation of how the incident started and how it was responded to is an efficient way of identifying lessons learned to ensure appropriate response measures in future incidents. Documentation should be followed by a published incident report that details a step-by-step review of the entire incident to answer the questions how, who, where, why, and what. Lastly, lessons learned meeting drawing all incident responders to review further the incident could provide the lessons requiring immediate implementation.

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