Cyberattacks have become a top threat facing businesses and individuals today. As we go deeper into the digital world with advancements in AI and IoT, there's an increased chance for criminals to attack our devices and systems. Reports show that cyberattacks have increased by 600% since 2020, and have impacted businesses of all sizes and across industries. Almost every business today has implemented an elaborate cybersecurity strategy to protect its critical assets.
Despite the best-laid plans, cyberattacks continue to happen for two reasons. One, cyber attackers have become highly sophisticated and knowledgeable and can hack their way through even highly secure systems. The second and more important reason is that it's become hard for organizations to secure all their endpoints. The emergence of remote working and the growing size and complexity of networks make it difficult for businesses to protect their assets.
All this means no business is 100% safe from cyberattacks. A more prudent approach is to secure your organization as best you can. And in the worst event of an attack, have a cyber security incident response plan ready, as this will help your organization recover quickly from its devastating effects.
Read on to know how to plan and create a cybersecurity incident response plan.
What's a Cyber Security Incident Response Plan?
Before we head into how you can plan and implement, let's talk briefly about what an incident response plan is.
This plan is nothing but a set of instructions that can help your employees detect a security incident and, accordingly, take actions to mitigate the resulting damage. In essence, this plan provides clear actions for every role, so everyone knows what must be done when there's a breach.
You can create incident plans for different types of attacks like DDoS, malware, insider threats, data breaches, and more.
Components of an Incident Response Plan
Typically, an incident response plan consists of the following components:
- Incident recognition
- Incident response
Let's look at each of these components briefly to understand their role in the process.
- Incident Recognition Incident recognition is the first step, and it kicks off the rest of the components and processes in the plan. Recognizing a cybersecurity incident is also the most complex process, and depends largely on the type of attack. For example, unusually high traffic is a sign of a DDoS attack, while an inability to access resources can be a sign of a ransomware attack. Your incident response plan must list all the commonly-occurring security events and a list of symptoms for each.
- Assessment In this component, your response team analyzes the attack surface and its potential impact on your organization. In your response plan, this should include assigning roles and responsibilities to different individuals and preparing them to take subsequent actions.
- Notifications As the name suggests, this module sends notifications and alerts to the concerned stakeholders. Your cyber security incident response plan must lay out the contact details of the stakeholders to whom notifications must be sent. Also, the mode of communication, i.e., email, Slack, etc., must be mentioned in the plan.
- Incident Response This module is a set of steps that every stakeholder must take to respond to the incident. The plan must contain the actionable steps in simple and clear language. The exact steps would depend on the incident, so it must include a different set of actions for different types of incidents. Most organizations use templates or playbooks as part of their incident response.
- Escalations In the case of any unresolved issues, there must be a clear hierarchy for further actions. The plan must mention the organizational hierarchy of the response team and what escalation measures are possible at each level. The mode of communication and the time frame for handling escalations must also be mentioned.
- Documentation The last module is documentation, where the event and the remediation steps are described in detail. This information is useful for future analysis and reference.
With this background, let's move on to how you can create a cybersecurity incident response plan.
How to Create an Incident Response Plan?
The process of creating an incident response plan can vary greatly across organizations. It depends largely on the size of your organization, the number of employees, past attacks, regulatory requirements, and more.
But here are the broad steps that you can follow to create an incident response plan.
- Research As with any plan, start with research. Make a list of the possible types of attacks that your organization has faced in the past. Also, look into what other organizations in your industry face. Additionally, do some independent research to know the kinds of attacks that are widespread. Accordingly, make a list of all the incidents that have the potential to impact your organization.
- Map it with Assets The next step is to map the threats to your assets. Understand which assets will be compromised in each attack. Based on this mapping, list the assets based on their priorities. Keep the most critical assets at the top, followed by the less critical ones. Such a prioritization will help your employees focus on protecting the most important ones, and reduce the effects of the attack.
- Create Appropriate Policies Now that you know the types of incidents and the likely assets they will impact, it's time to create appropriate policies to protect your organization. These policies must guide how your employees must respond to the incident. Also, these policies and disclosures can protect an organization from legal complications and help ensure compliance.
- Build a Detailed Checklist Once you have completed the groundwork, it's time to create a checklist with a list of actions. This is the heart of your response plan. The steps can vary based on the incident, but they will have to be comprehensive and cover all possible steps that an organization must take to mitigate the impact of an attack.
- Have a Communication Plan A communication plan is an essential part of your cyber security incident response plan. Lay down the medium of communication of the incident. Should there be an email broadcast to the concerned stakeholders, or should they be informed via Slack or text messages? Based on your communication plan, you may have to subscribe to an appropriate service.
- Document all the Steps Make documentation an essential part of your incident response plan. Documenting the incidents and the steps taken to mitigate them can go a long way toward preparing you for the future. It can also help to understand what areas need improvement and how you can streamline and improve the response.
Thus, these are the steps involved in creating an incident response plan. Though the exact steps may vary, these steps apply broadly to organizations of all sizes.
Creating a plan alone will not mitigate the effects of a security incident. You will have to follow up with the next steps.
- Create a Response Team Once you create a plan, make sure you form an incident response team with clear roles and responsibilities. This will ensure that your plan is implemented correctly and that the effects are mitigated. The size of the response team depends on your organization's size and the number of incidents that happen. If the organization is spread across different geographies, you may want to have multiple teams across time zones for quick response. While creating the team, make sure the employees are experienced and have the expertise to handle their responsibilities. Consider providing regular training to equip them to handle emerging threats.
- Mock Drills Conduct mock drills regularly using ethical hackers to understand how equipped your team is to implement the response plan. These mock drills can also provide hands-on experience for your team. While conducting these mock drills, pay close attention to the communication that happens among your employees.
- Based on how your employees handle the situation, you may have to update your response plan to include additional steps.
- Create Templates or Playbooks As your response team matures, consider creating templates or playbooks. Though there are many types of security attacks, most follow a predefined pattern of activity. This means they require standard responses, for the most part.
To give you an example, let's assume an employee's work mobile phone is lost. As soon as the employee reports the loss, the organization will issue a command to remotely wipe all its contents. Additionally, the organization may file a report with the enforcement authorities and the service provider. Finally, the employee will be given a new phone.
As you can see, there is a standard set of activities that happen regardless of the role and designation of the employee. Also, the process is identical when the phone is stolen. In this sense, you can create a generic template that includes a set of steps to follow when an employee is no longer in possession of a device.
Similarly, you can create templates for other incidents that happen in your organization. Over time, you will develop a playbook for the different incidents in your organization.
All these steps can help your organization be better prepared to address security incidents.
In summary, a cyber security incident response plan is critical for businesses in today's world to protect their critical assets from cyberattacks. Despite implementing the best security strategies, businesses can fall prey to attacks, making it essential to have a plan to recover from the devastating effects of a security incident. An incident response plan must have components such as incident recognition, assessment, notifications, incident response, escalation, and documentation. The plan should be created based on research and mapping the possible types of attacks with the assets of the organization. Creating appropriate policies and a detailed checklist are vital for successful incident response. The plan should be tested and updated regularly to ensure its effectiveness. Overall, a well-designed cyber security incident response plan can help organizations mitigate the damage and recover quickly from a cyberattack.
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