Cyber Incident Response Plan: A Comprehensive Guide

Date: 25 January 2023

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As technology continues to become increasingly integrated into our daily lives, the threat of cyber attacks and ransomware attacks has become more prevalent than ever. A cyber incident response plan (CIRP) is a critical tool for any organisation to protect against and respond to potential cyber threats. 

This guide will take you through what the important elements of a good cyber incident response plan are. We also cover the six phases of a Cyber Incident Response Plan, based on NIST incident response guidance. We will also show you how to effectively implement this plan and maintain your incident response capability.

Key Elements of a Cyber Incident Response Plan

To begin with, we must iterate that Cyber Resilience is a long term commitment. Merely having an effective Incident Response Plan is not adequate. This plan must constantly be reviewed and refreshed in keeping with emerging threats. 

You may also want to call upon external cybersecurity specialists from time to time to offer their professional opinion on your cyber attack readiness. They can also help refresh your plans and procedures. They can also help you conduct a professional risk assessment to see exactly how vulnerable your organisation is if an incident occurs.    

A comprehensive cyber incident response plan should include several key elements:

  • A designated incident response team with clear roles and responsibilities. 

  • Regular training and testing of the incident response plan. This will ensure that the plan will actually mitigate damage in case of data breaches and/or ransomware attacks. 

  • Procedures for identifying, containing, detection and analysis, eradicating, and recovering from an incident. Cyber Security

  • Communication plans for informing employees, customers, and stakeholders of the incident and its impact. Understanding when and how to inform appropriate law enforcement agencies in case of a cybersecurity event.  

  • Procedures for reviewing and updating the incident response plan. 

  • Should take into account the recommendations in the NIST Computer Security Incident Handling Guide. 

  • In addition to these key elements, a CIRP should also include specific procedures for different types of incidents such as malware, phishing, and natural disasters.

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Six Incident Response Phases

Now that you probably have a better idea of what a Cyber Incident Response Plan should include, let's move on to the six fundamental phases of Incident Response. These phases are based on the guidance provided by the Computer Security Incident Handling Guide created by NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology, USA). 

Phase 1: Preparation

The first phase of an Incident Response Plan is all about preparation. This includes identifying potential threats and vulnerabilities, as well as developing a plan of action for responding to cybersecurity incidents. It's important to have a designated team of incident responders in place, as well as clear roles and responsibilities for each team member. This phase also includes regular cybersecurity training of staff and testing the incident response plan to ensure readiness in the event of an actual incident.

Phase 2: Identification

The second phase of a CIRP is identification. This involves identifying the specific incident and determining its impact on the organisation. This is typically done by monitoring various systems and networks for unusual activity, as well as reviewing security logs.

Phase 3: Containment

Once an incident has been identified, the next step is to contain it in order to prevent further damage. This may include disconnecting affected systems from the network, implementing firewalls, and other measures to prevent the spread of the incident. 

Many experts believe that this is the most critical aspect of incident response and also what makes it so vital to business continuity. 

Let’s face it. Preventing an attack altogether is no longer possible. The best we can do is manage an incident effectively so that the business can bounce back from it smoothly. 

The goal is minimal disruption to operations, the bottomline and the brand image. 

Phase 4: Eradication

The fourth phase of Incident Response is eradication. This involves removing the cause of the incident and restoring systems to their normal state. This may include cleaning up malware, patching vulnerabilities, and other measures to prevent the incident from recurring.

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Phase 5: Recovery

The fifth phase of a CIRP is recovery. This involves restoring normal operations and returning to business as usual. This may include restoring data, testing systems, and providing support to employees and customers.

The overarching goal of Eradication and Recovery is that no residual malware should be allowed to reside in your systems after the attack. Also, all the gaps and loopholes that allowed your network to be compromised in the first place, must be plugged immediately.  

Phase 6: Lessons Learned

The final phase of a CIRP is lessons learned, also known as post-incident activity. This involves reviewing the incident response process, identifying areas for improvement, and making changes to the incident response plan as necessary. It's important to continuously update the incident response plan to stay on top of the latest threats and vulnerabilities and avoid future security incidents. 

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Conclusion: Creating an Effective Incident Response Plan 

A cyber incident response plan is vital to protect your business against potential cyber threats. By following the six phases outlined in this guide, you can effectively prepare for, respond to, and recover from a cyber incident. 

Incident Response PlanYou must also regularly test the effectiveness of your incident response plans with expertly-facilitated Cyber Attack Tabletop Exercises. These exercises help you check if your plans are fit for purpose and relevant in the ever-evolving threat landscape. After a tabletop exercise, you should ideally receive an executive summary from your facilitator which highlights the areas of improvements, gaps and strengths. 

This report can go a long way in improving your cyber resilience. It also ensures that sensitive data of your customers, partners and business in general stays secure.  

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