Guide to Building a Cybersecurity Incident Response Plan [Part 1]

Cybersecurity incidents are a fact of life in today’s digital world. Every day, organizations of all sizes are targeted by hackers and other cyber criminals. A cybersecurity incident response plan is essential for any organization that wants to be prepared for a security incident. Without a plan, organizations are at a significant disadvantage. They may not be able to detect and respond to an incident quickly, which can lead to significant damage. They may also not be able to recover from an incident effectively, which can disrupt business operations and damage the organization’s reputation.

In this blog, we’ll go through what an Incident Response Plan is, and how it can help your organisation prepare for a threat.

What is an Incident Response Plan?

An Incident Response Plan (IRP) is a documented list of instructions or procedures for your organization to detect, respond and recover from cybersecurity threats.

It helps the organization organize themselves to effectively respond during a security incident. Without one in place, security teams may not be able to mitigate cyberthreats.

In addition, an IRP can have multiple variations depending on the type of cybersecurity incident you are dealing with. Specific threats require specific procedures to eliminate them and avoid further damages.

Importance of having an IRP

During a cyberattack, time is of the essence. Every second is precious because of how fast the damage can spread within a firm’s security operations. The longer you take to eliminate the threat, the more losses you will incur.

Across the years, the average cost of a data breach increased to $4.35m in 2022. In addition, the average total cost of a breach at organizations with IR capabilities is $3.26m, compared to $5.92m at organizations without IR capabilities. Apart from the financial costs of a cyberattack, there are also business losses. The trust between these stakeholders and your organization may crumble if you do not handle a cyberattack well. An organization’s reputation would be damaged, resulting in the loss of customers or business partners and potential sales.

As such, the firm needs to be prepared when something malicious has entered their system. This is where an IRP helps organizations prepare their staff to react and respond during a cyberattack so that the security incident is efficiently and swiftly taken care of, reducing the extent of the damage done by the breach.

How do you implement an IRP?

Below is a list of steps that you can take to implement an IRP:

  1. Assemble your IRT
  2. Identify potential vulnerabilities and specify business critical assets
  3. Draft Incident Response Plan
  4. Develop a Communication Plan
  5. Test and update your response plan.

Step 1: Assemble your IRT

The first step is to assemble a team dedicated to carry out the incident response plan. This team is called your incident response team (IRT). This security team can comprise of multiple roles and responsibilities: Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), incident response managers, security analysts and threat researchers. It could also include your legal and PR teams who would be doing the damage control in the aftermath of the breach.

Step 2: Identify Critical Assets and Potential Risks

Identifying your business-critical assets is important because you need to know which assets have to be protected at all costs during a security breach to minimise the impact of it. These critical assets will be the team’s first priority to secure in an event of a breach.

Identifying potential risks in your system is also really useful because it helps you focus on securing the vulnerabilities within your system during a cyberattack. For example, if a potential and significant risk in your system is email security then you should have the appropriate procedures in place if an intruder exploits that vulnerability.

Step 3: Draft the Incident Response Plan

At the third step, your focus should be to plan out the flow of events when responding to a security incident. Here, you can refer to the NIST or SANS Incident Frameworks to detail out the different steps to take.

Apart from the Preparation phase, your IRT should plan out the following phases of an IRP:

  1. Identification
  2. Containment
  3. Eradication
  4. Recovery
  5. Post-Incident Activity

This step is incredibly important for your organisation as you will be planning out the process flow of how your employees should response during a cyberattack. In the second part of this two-part blog series, we’ll be going through in detail what is included in an IRP.

Step 4: Develop a Communication Plan

The next step is to develop a communication plan to ensure efficient and effective delivery of information from the IRT to relevant stakeholders (i.e. employees, customers, law enforcement, the press, etc.). Here, you should include the contact information of your internal and external IRT members.

In the event of a cyberattack, time is of the essence. It is important that the right information is communicated swiftly to the right people. Otherwise, there might be a breakdown of communication or misinformation spreading, resulting in more potential damage costs. Hence, you should develop an effective communication plan to help you respond faster during a cyberattack.

Step 5: Test and Update your Response Plan

The final step is to test and update your response plan.

It is not enough to call it a day after coming up with the IR plan. You have to test the plan and identify what changes can be made. At this step, your organization should perform cyberattack simulations or walkthroughs to not only test the effectiveness of the plan, but also to ensure that every member of the response team understands their roles and responsibilities. During the simulation or walkthrough, the IRT is task to record any observations and areas of improvement to improve the IRP.

Something to note is that you should test and update this plan annually, at the very least. It helps to keep you on your toes and stay winning against cybercriminals who may try to breach your systems.

Get your Free IRP Template

To make your work easier, we’ve created a template to help you get started with an Incident Response Plan for your organisation. All you’ll need to do is to fill in the information as prompted on the template, and you’ll be ready to launch your incident response plan. Click here to download the template!