Cybersecurity Incident Response Plan: A Comprehensive Guide
You’re working on the same Excel sheet you’ve been working on for months. If not years. You’re doing the same boring task you do every day. It’s an essential part of your job, but wow… it is boring.
You’re sitting at your desk, enjoying your first sip of that fresh coffee you made not even 5 minutes earlier, when all of a sudden, your Excel sheet starts buffering. And then your whole computer just goes black.
Great. Now you have to start that task all over again. Could this day get any worse?!
But, murmurs are starting to form around the office. They’re getting louder and louder until ‘anger-issues Tam’ starts shouting expletives. Sounds like he’s lost all of his work too.
Suddenly, the murmurs turn into agreement. People are starting to stand up and who are they looking for? Oh yeah, they’re looking at your team. More specifically, you.
Today is not a good day to be the IT guy.
So, what can it be? It can’t be the wifi, or everybody’s screens wouldn’t have turned black. What is it then? You’re wracking your brain trying think of what has made all the computers turn off when everybody’s computers kick back to life.
Oh no. Wait. Crap. Crap. Crap. Crap.
The computers have not just turned back on. No. They’ve flashed up with a ransom demand.
Your business has been hacked.
I wonder if they’ll start calling you ‘the new anger-issues Tam’ after you stop shouting all the expletives…
But, Don’t Panic!
Is this real? Could you have been hacked?! You have all the best cybersecurity solutions on offer, how could you be hacked?
Okay, don’t panic.
You’ve prepared for this, haven’t you?! You’ve already got your cybersecurity incident response plan?
Wait, what? You don’t already have one?!
What are you waiting for?!
Read our comprehensive guide for how you can prepare your cybersecurity incident response plan.
Don’t go into this scenario without an incident response plan, or else, you’ve got nothing left but panic. The businesses that prepare, are the businesses that survive.
But before you start creating your cybersecurity incident response plan, you need to understand the threat landscape of today.
Nowadays, the cybersecurity risk to your business is getting higher and higher each day.
To create a thorough and effective cybersecurity incident response plan, you need to know the exact risks your business has.
How Many Cyber Crimes Are There?
Depending on the type of malicious activity, your organisation’s digital assets will be targeted differently. Here’s the cybersecurity incidents your business could be targetted by:
- Data Breach: A data breach could compromise sensitive customer information, leading to potential identity theft and financial losses.
- Malware Attack: A malware attack may infect your systems with malicious software, causing disruptions, data theft, and unauthorized access.
- Phishing Attack: A phishing attack could trick employees into revealing confidential credentials, putting company data and resources at risk.
- Ransomware Attack: A ransomware attack might encrypt critical files and demand a ransom for their release, causing operational downtime and financial strain.
- DDoS Attack: A DDoS attack could overwhelm your network with traffic, rendering your services inaccessible to customers and disrupting business operations.
- Insider Threat: An insider threat could involve employees with malicious intent stealing sensitive data or compromising systems from within the organization.
- Social Engineering Attack: A social engineering attack may manipulate individuals into divulging confidential information, potentially leading to security breaches.
- Supply Chain Attack: A supply chain attack might target vulnerabilities in third-party vendors’ systems, potentially compromising your business through their connections.
- IoT Device Vulnerability: Exploiting vulnerabilities in Internet of Things (IoT) devices could give attackers unauthorized access to your network or data.
- Zero-Day Exploit: A zero-day exploit could take advantage of undiscovered software vulnerabilities, potentially granting unauthorized access to your systems.
- Physical Security Breach: A physical security breach might involve unauthorized access to your premises, leading to theft or tampering of equipment and data.
- Credential Stuffing: Credential stuffing attacks could exploit reused passwords to gain unauthorized access to employee or customer accounts.
- Man-in-the-Middle Attack: A man-in-the-middle attack could intercept communication between parties, potentially leading to data interception or manipulation.
- Advanced Persistent Threat (APT): An APT attack involves a prolonged and targeted effort to infiltrate your systems, potentially leading to data theft or espionage.
- Cryptojacking: Cryptojacking attacks could exploit your systems’ resources to mine cryptocurrency, potentially causing performance degradation.
- Wireless Network Attack: A wireless network attack could exploit vulnerabilities in your Wi-Fi network, potentially granting unauthorized access to sensitive data.
Common Cybersecurity Threat Vectors
Common cybersecurity threat vectors are the pathways through which attackers gain access to a system. These may include phishing emails, social engineering, outdated software vulnerabilities, or unsecured network connections.
Recognizing these vectors will help your business in its cybersecurity incident response creation.
High-profile incidents like the Equifax data breach, WannaCry ransomware attack, and Mirai botnet DDoS attacks highlight the devastating impact of cyber threats on businesses and consumers.
The WannaCry ransomware attack occurred in May 2017 and was one of the most significant and widespread cyberattacks in history. It affected over 200,000 computers across 150 countries within just a few days, causing disruptions to various industries, including healthcare, finance, and government agencies.
Understanding the consequences of the WannaCry attack highlights the importance of a proactive and well-prepared cybersecurity incident response plan. You don’t want to let your business be affected by the next biggest and most significant cyberattack in history without a cyber response plan!
A Quick Glance
Here’s a quick summary of how you should create your cybersecurity incident response plan:
- Prepare your incident response: prepare your team, and decide on the needs of your organisation.
- Identify and classify: identify any incidents that come into your business.
- Contact your cyber insurance company: make sure you insurance company know everything that is happening.
- Contain and mitigate all incidents: ensure that your IRT is doing all they can to mitigate the problem.
- Investigate the cause of the incident: why did the incident occur? Can you stop it from happening again?
- Communicate and report all incidents: make sure there is communication internally, and externally. You also need to decide who will do this communication throughout the whole process.
- Recovery and restoration: ensure that your business recovers from the incident and that your business can continue as usual.
- Continuous improvement: your incident response is never complete. You should always be working on improving your incident response plan.
- Conduct regular drills: test and refine your cybersecurity incident response plan as much as you can to train your incident response team.
Incident Response Plan Preparation
Now you know what threats are lying in wait for your business, you need to learn how to plan and prepare for your incident response.
Well, the first step in this is to prepare your cybersecurity incident response plan. Preparing for your incident response is a crucial step in safeguarding your organisation’s digital assets.
1. Establishing an Incident Response Team
To first create a cybersecurity incident response plan, you need to establish who you want in your Incident Response Team (IRT).
Do remember that whoever you choose will be responsible for handling cyber incidents promptly and effectively. You should ensure that:
- All roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, and each team member knows their specific tasks during an incident. This includes all incident coordinators, analysts, communication specialists, and legal representatives.
- You have the right team structure and composition. It should be based on your organization’s size, industry, and potential risks.
- It’s vital to have a diverse team with expertise in areas such as network security, forensics, and system administration.
2. Make Note of What You Need
To create an effective cybersecurity incident response plan, you need to make a note of what your organisation needs to protect and who should be involved.
You need to assess your organisation’s unique risks and determine the appropriate response actions for various types of incidents.
You need to decide who needs to be involved in your cybersecurity incident response plan out of your stakeholders and key departments to foster cooperation during an incident. This includes management, IT teams, legal, public relations, and other relevant departments.
So, you’re prepared for what you need to do in the case of a cybersecurity incident, but there’s a lot missing still from your cybersecurity incident response plan.
You need to identify when you need to start the plan in the first place! The next part of your cybersecurity incident response plan is to identify and classify any incidents.
Early Warning Signs
There are many early warning signs you can learn to spot before a cybersecurity incident. These could include:
- Unusual network activity
- Unauthorized access attempts
- Unexpected system behaviour.
By proactively monitoring for these signs, you can quickly detect and respond to incidents before they escalate.
Incident Triage and Initial Assessment
Once you notice a potential incident, you need to respond in the correct way. Your incident response team must promptly assess the situation, gather relevant information, and determine the incident’s scope and potential impact.
This initial assessment lays the groundwork for an effective response strategy.
Classifying Incidents Based on Severity and Impact Levels
The next part of your Incident Response plan should be to classify incidents based on severity and impact levels. Incidents are typically categorized according to predefined severity levels, such as low, medium, or high, based on their potential impact on business operations and data integrity.
This classification should help your incident response team allocate resources efficiently and focus on containing and mitigating the most critical incidents first.
An efficient incident identification and classification process is vital in mitigating cybersecurity threats effectively and minimizing the potential damage to an organization’s assets and reputation.
Cyber Insurance Liability
Once you notice and triage a cybersecurity breach, the next thing you need to do is contact your cyber insurance company. Yes, you heard that right. Contacting your cyber insurance company should be the next thing you do once you spot a breach. It should be the second part of your cyber security incident response plan.
Why? Most cyber insurance policies have specific requirements for reporting incidents within a certain timeframe. If you don’t involve your insurance company from the beginning, you might risk not meeting these reporting deadlines. This could potentially result in coverage disputes or even denial of your claim. Yikes.
Additionally, insurance claims often require thorough documentation of the incident, the steps taken to respond, and the resulting impact. If you don’t involve your insurance company from the start, you might not have the necessary documentation in place, which could complicate the claims process later on.
Sometimes, we’ve even seen businesses be denied their cyber insurance liability claims if they don’t bring the company in at the start. This has typically been because IT teams are known to delete evidence so they can get the business back up and running. But this causes complications with insurance later on.
So, if there is one thing to stick in your mind after reading this blog, it should be for you to immediately go to your cyber insurance company with a breach.
Then work through mitigating the cyber security incident.
The next important part of your cybersecurity incident response plan is incident containment and mitigation.
Isolate and Contain the Incident
You need to isolate and contain any incidents by taking swift action to minimize the impact of the security breach. Your incident response team must identify the affected systems and networks, isolate them from the rest of the infrastructure, and prevent the further spread of the incident.
By containing the incident promptly, you can limit the damage and prevent potential data exfiltration or further compromise.
Employing Incident-Specific Playbooks
Every incident is different, and every cybersecurity threat is also different. Employing incident-specific playbooks and response plans is essential for an organized and effective response.
Your incident-specific playbook should outline step-by-step plans tailored to different types of incidents. These playbooks should be developed in advance and based on your organisation’s unique threat landscape.
After an incident, by following these predefined plans you’ll be able to ensure consistency in your response actions and minimise the risk of errors during high-pressure situations.
Leveraging Threat Intelligence and Incident Data Sharing
By leveraging Threat Intelligence and incident data sharing, your organisation will benefit from collective knowledge and industry-wide insights.
By collaborating with other entities and sharing incident data, your organisation can stay informed about emerging threats and attack patterns. This shared intelligence can enhance your incident response capabilities, and enable proactive measures to prevent similar incidents in the future.
By incorporating a well-structured incident containment and mitigation strategy into your cybersecurity incident response plans, you’ll empower your incident response team to respond promptly and effectively to security incidents.
When you isolate and contain incidents swiftly, by following standardized plans and leveraging threat intelligence, you can mitigate the impact of cyber threats and reduce the risk of future incidents.
Okay, so now you’ve mitigated the problem and you have reduced the risk of future events like the one you’ve just gone through. But your cybersecurity incident response plans does not end with this.
You need to create an investigation into the incident.
Gathering Forensic Evidence and Data Analysis
To investigate a cybersecurity incident, you first need to gather forensic evidence and analyse all your data.
The incident response team must meticulously collect and preserve digital evidence related to the incident. This involves conducting thorough data analysis to identify patterns, trace the attack’s origins, and understand the extent of the compromise.
Properly gathered forensic evidence is invaluable in building a comprehensive incident timeline and understanding the attackers’ methods.
Identifying the Attack’s Point of Entry and Spread
Your incident response team must then determine how the attackers gained access to the organisation’s systems or network. They need to identify the initial point of entry to help close security gaps and prevent similar attack vectors in the future.
Additionally, they should try to understand how the attack spread within the environment and allow the IRT to contain any remaining threats and ensure a complete remediation process.
Root Cause Analysis to Prevent Future Incidents
In the final part of the investigation, a root cause analysis should be performed to prevent future incidents. This typically involves delving deep into the incident to identify the underlying causes and vulnerabilities that allowed the attack to occur.
By understanding the root causes, you can implement targeted and effective preventive measures, including addressing weaknesses in security controls, patching vulnerabilities, and improving security awareness and training.
Conducting a comprehensive root cause analysis will strengthen your organisation’s overall cybersecurity posture and helps prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.
Communication and Reporting
Now you know the steps in your plan for how to identify, mitigate, and investigate an incident. But there is something still missing from all of this, and it takes place throughout all of the stages.
One of the most important parts of your cybersecurity incident response plan is how you communicate the incident to your internal and external communities. Your employees and the outside world need to know if you have had a serious breach (and the ICO needs to know if personal data has been compromised).
But most importantly, you need to decide who in your organisation will be the one to communicate. Will it be you? The business’s CEO? Do you have a communications expert in your organisation? This person should be decided on and used throughout the whole process.
Internal Communication Protocols During an Incident
You should create internal communication protocols for when an incident takes place so that all relevant stakeholders within the organisation are promptly informed and coordinated throughout the response process.
Your incident response team must establish clear communication channels and escalation plan, keeping key personnel, executives, and relevant departments informed about the incident’s status, actions taken, and potential impact on business operations.
Effective internal communication fosters collaboration, minimizes misunderstandings, and facilitates a unified response effort.
Additionally, there should be somebody nominated in your business to let all employees know what is happening within a business after they notice a cyberattack. As we’ve mentioned in the scenario at the start of this blog, your colleagues/ employees will notice a breach – do not keep them in the dark.
Involving External Parties
You should also liaise with external parties such as the necessary law enforcement, your vendors, and customers during complex incidents or those with legal implications (for example, those where personal data is breached).
Engaging with law enforcement agencies may be required, especially if the incident involves a significant data breach or cybercrime. Additionally, coordinating with vendors and suppliers can be critical for sharing threat intelligence and obtaining specialized support.
For incidents affecting customers or clients, clear and transparent communication is essential to maintain trust and provide necessary guidance.
You should also discuss a media plan to tackle letting the media know about your cybersecurity incident – although, the media does not always have to know. To learn more about when you should speak to the media during a cybersecurity incident, contact us here at Jera.
Preparing Incident Reports and Documentation
Lastly, preparing incident reports and documentation is essential for post-incident analysis, regulatory compliance, and potential legal proceedings. The incident response team must meticulously document all actions taken, decisions made, and the outcomes of the response efforts.
Incident reports should include a detailed account of the incident’s timeline, root cause analysis, containment strategies, and any lessons learned. Comprehensive documentation enables organizations to learn from incidents and improve their cybersecurity incident response plan over time.
Recovery After Cyber Attack
When it comes to mitigating the cybersecurity incident, everything happens all at once and you have a lot to do. Recovery and restoration one of the critical phases after you’ve mitigated the attack.
You now need to focus on returning systems to a secure and functional state after an incident.
Restoring Systems and Data Integrity
To recover from a cybersecurity incident, you need to restore your systems and data integrity to how it was before. This typically involves carefully rebuilding affected systems and restoring compromised data to their pre-incident state.
You must create a predefined recovery plan for your IRT to follow after an incident, to ensure that the restoration process is carried out securely and completely.
Verifying the integrity of restored data is essential to prevent any residual threats from lingering within the system.
Ensuring Business Continuity During the Recovery Process
During the recovery process, you MUST ensure that your business can continue as much as possible to minimize the impact of the incident on day-to-day operations. Your incident response team must prioritize critical business functions and services to ensure that essential operations remain functional during the recovery phase.
You should have business continuity measures threaded through your cybersecurity incident response plan to help your organisation continue its core activities while the incident is being resolved.
Post-Incident Review and Lessons Learned
Finally, after the recovery process, there should be a thorough post-incident review. This involves analyzing the response efforts, identifying strengths and weaknesses, and documenting all the lessons learned.
By placing a reflection section in your cybersecurity incident response plan, you can determine the incident response plan’s effectiveness and identify areas for improvement. Then you can implement any necessary changes to enhance your incident response capabilities.
Your cybersecurity incident response plan is never done and is always needing to be continuously improved.
Continuous Improvement of Incident Response
Finally, the continuous improvement of your incident response is a crucial element in maintaining the effectiveness of your cybersecurity incident response plan.
This should be the final step in your incident response plan.
Analysing Incident Response Effectiveness
You should analyze how effective your incident response was and evaluate your organisation’s response efforts following the cybersecurity incident.
This includes reviewing how well the incident was contained, mitigated, and resolved. Use metrics such as response time, impact assessment accuracy, and coordination among teams to identify areas of improvement.
By assessing the effectiveness of each incident response, you can refine your plan and enhance your overall incident response capabilities.
Incorporating Lessons Learned into Future Incident Response Plans
After each incident, the lessons learned from the incident response should be documented and evaluated.
These insights are then integrated into future incident response plans. By leveraging past experiences, your business will be able to anticipate challenges, refine response strategies, and enhance its ability to address similar incidents more effectively in the future.
Staying Updated on Evolving Cybersecurity Threats and Trends
To be able to continuously improve your cybersecurity incident response plan, you need to stay updated on the evolving threat landscape for this continuous improvement. As the IT manager, you need to be ahead of the game to keep your cybersecurity incident response plan effective.
The threat landscape is constantly evolving, with new attack vectors, techniques, and vulnerabilities emerging regularly. You must remain vigilant by staying informed about the latest cybersecurity threats and trends by monitoring threat intelligence sources, participating in industry forums, and engaging in ongoing training and skill development.
Conducting Regular Incident Response Drill
Lastly, you should conduct regular incident response drills and tabletop exercises as it is critical for testing and refining your cybersecurity incident response plan.
These simulations allow the IRT to practice their roles and assess the plan’s effectiveness in a controlled environment. Regular exercises help identify weaknesses, streamline communication, and improve the team’s overall readiness to handle real incidents.
By being able to regularly review and refine your cybersecurity incident response plan without an immediate risk to your business, you can enhance your ability to detect, respond to, and mitigate cyber threats efficiently and minimize the potential impact of security incidents.
In summary, there is a lot you need to include in your cybersecurity incident response plan to ensure that you do not panic about the scenario I’ve mentioned at the top of this blog.
By sorting your plan into the different sections mentioned here, you will be able to clearly create a cybersecurity incident response plan that is personalised to your business, and protect your business.
However, if you are still looking for help with creating your cybersecurity incident response plan, contact us here at Jera.
Here at Jera, we offer a course that you can take to learn more about how to create the perfect incident response plan that your business can use. You can streamline the process of creation, and be well on your way with having a great cybersecurity incident response plan that will protect your business in any scenario.
So contact us now here at Jera to learn more about creating the perfect cybersecurity incident response plan.