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Building a Robust Cyber Incident Response Plan: A Step-by-Step Guide for 2024 and Beyond

The escalating cyber threat landscape poses a significant challenge globally, with cybercriminals exploiting vulnerabilities at an alarming rate. A UK government report in 2022 indicated that 39% of organisations experienced a data breach, highlighting the pervasive nature of cyber threats.

Businesses are projected to spend over £9.2 trillion between 2021 and 2025 to address cyberattack impacts, emphasizing the critical need for robust cybersecurity measures. Compliance demands from cyber insurance providers underscore the necessity for a strong incident response plan. Organisations with a well-prepared response team and tested strategy can save an average of £2.2 million, significantly reducing financial and operational damage from data breaches.

What is a Cyber Incident Response Plan (CIRP)?

A Cyber Incident Response Plan is a detailed roadmap that outlines the predefined steps and strategies an organisation will follow in the event of a cyberattack or security incident. It serves as a guiding document, ensuring a swift and effective response to minimise damage, recover quickly, and maintain operational continuity.

In the face of an ever-evolving threat landscape, having a CIRP is no longer an option, it’s a necessity. Cyberattacks are becoming more frequent, sophisticated, and diverse, and without a proper plan in place, organisations face significant risks, including:

  • Prolonged downtime and lost productivity: Cyberattacks can disrupt critical operations, leading to financial losses and impacting productivity.
  • Data breaches and reputational damage: Leaked sensitive data can erode customer trust and damage brand reputation, leading to long-term consequences.
  • Regulatory penalties and legal liabilities: Failing to protect data adequately can result in fines and lawsuits from regulatory bodies.

What is included in a Cyber Incident Response Plan?

A well-structured CIRP should encompass a series of well-coordinated actions, addressing various aspects of an incident:

  • Detection and assessment: Quickly identifying and evaluating the severity of a security incident through various methods, such as security monitoring systems and incident reports.
  • Containment: Taking immediate measures to prevent further damage or data loss, such as isolating compromised systems and shutting down affected servers.
  • Investigation and analysis: Thoroughly understanding the nature and extent of the breach by analysing logs, identifying vulnerabilities, and tracing the attack’s origin.
  • Recovery: Restoring affected systems, data integrity, and operational continuity as quickly and efficiently as possible, minimizing downtime and disruption.

Mapping Your Cyber Incident Response Plan

Due to varying industry requirements, available resources, and experience levels, Intelliworx’s clients exhibit diverse levels of maturity in their incident response (IR) capabilities. To assist clients in their IR evolution, Intelliworx’s Cybersecurity team has developed a Cyber Incident Response Plan that outlines the key steps necessary to build a robust IR function, initiating the path towards an orchestrated and effective response strategy.

Step 1 Understanding Threats, Both External and Internal

Establishing a robust cyber incident response plan begins with a comprehensive understanding of the unique threat landscape faced by your organisation. This involves identifying both the types of cyberattacks encountered previously, such as malware infections or phishing attempts, and industry-specific threats, such as ransomware in healthcare or DDoS attacks on internet infrastructure.

To effectively address the spectrum of cyber threats, organisations should tailor their IR processes to the specific characteristics of each incident. To get started, here are questions to ask:

  • What cyber incidents has your organization faced in the past?
  • Have we had any malware infections lately? What type (botnet, data theft, ransomware)? When did it happen, how long did it last, and how did we fix it?
  • Have any employees been targeted by phishing scams to steal their credentials? If so, who was affected?
  • Has our organisation been criticised online or by hacktivist groups?
  • Have we been specifically targeted by a denial-of-service attack or other online disruptions?

Step 2 Developing a Standardised Cyber Incident Response Plan

Inadequate planning remains the primary barrier to cyber resilience. A staggering 75% of organisations lack a standardised Cyber Security Incident Response Plan (CSIRP), resulting in slow, inefficient, and often ineffective Incident Response (IR) functions. This increases the risk of costly cyberattacks, employee dissatisfaction, and leadership jeopardy.

Creating an effective IR plan is a time-consuming endeavour that requires a collective effort across the organisation. Security leadership plays a critical role in prioritising incident planning. Conducting an incident response planning workshop involving all stakeholders, including executives and the board, promotes consistent, documented, and standardised response plans. Collaboration with various departments, such as marketing, HR, legal, IT, and other business units, is essential to ensure comprehensive coverage.

During the workshop, under the guidance of security leadership, teams can collaboratively engage in the following actions while discussing specific incident scenarios:

  • Map Specific Incident Steps: Outline a clear sequence of steps required to address an incident comprehensively, covering its entire lifecycle from detection to resolution.
  • Define Roles and Responsibilities: Identify and assign specific roles and responsibilities to team members involved in the incident response process, ensuring clarity and accountability.
  • Identify Communication Channels: Determine the primary technologies and communication channels necessary for efficient and effective communication during an incident response, ensuring swift information dissemination.
  • Establish Process Frameworks: Develop structured processes concerning permissions and escalation protocols, delineating the necessary permissions for various team members and establishing clear escalation paths in case of need.

Step 3 Testing and Enhancing Incident Response Processes

To stay ahead of the ever-evolving cyber threat landscape, cybersecurity teams must prioritise proactive measures. Conducting dedicated and results-oriented simulations stands as one of the most effective methods to continually advance Incident Response (IR) capabilities.

IR simulations play a pivotal role in overcoming the hurdle of inadequate planning and preparation. These simulations ensure readiness across the entire IR function—people, processes, and technology—by mimicking real-world incidents and identifying areas for future enhancements.

Key Strategies for Effective Incident Response Simulations:

  • Scenario Choice: Decisively choose whether to simulate a commonly observed incident or prepare for unexpected scenarios, acknowledging the value of exploring both types.
  • Detailed Simulations: Develop meticulous and thoughtfully crafted simulations, incorporating essential details to stimulate critical thinking among analysts, progressing beyond a mere checklist exercise.
  • Measurable Objectives: Establish quantifiable goals and track critical metrics such as time-to-completion and completeness levels, enabling improvement assessment through simulation replays.
  • Organisation-Wide Participation: Engage participants from diverse departments like HR, legal, and marketing, ensuring their preparedness to contribute during actual incidents. Share postmortem analysis results across the organisation to foster transparency and understanding of resource allocation.

Step 4 Harnessing Threat Intelligence

In today’s interconnected cybercriminal landscape, security professionals must unite and share information, mirroring the collaborative tactics of cybercriminals operating on the dark web. High-performing organisations—whose cyber resilience increased—were significantly more engaged in threat-sharing programs compared to average organisations (70% vs. 53%).

Threat intelligence (TI) has garnered significant attention for its ability to provide enhanced insights into environmental activity, aiding security teams in gaining a better understanding of their surroundings. However, implementing threat intelligence poses challenges. Security teams often struggle with managing various feeds of differing quality, navigating the signal-to-noise problem.

How to Leverage Threat Intelligence (TI) for Effective Incident Response:

  • Integrate TI into Incident Response Plans: By integrating threat intelligence into incident response processes, analysts could prioritise relevant indicators of compromise (IoCs), optimising time management and team effectiveness.
  • Utilise Integrations and Correlations: Integrating TI with other data sources or risk management tools allows analysts to gain a comprehensive understanding of incidents. This integration refines data scope, considering factors like context, severity, and patterns, enabling better decision-making.
  • Track and Assess Source Effectiveness: Regularly evaluate the utility of various intel feeds—open source, closed communities, commercial sources, and threat intelligence platforms. Measure the frequency, quality, and criticality of information provided to identify redundant or ineffective feeds, ensuring optimal intel source selection


Step 5 Orchestrating People, Processes, and Technology

Incident response orchestration promises to expedite and automate response actions, capturing the attention of security experts. However, successful orchestration and automation rely on a solid foundation in Incident Response (IR) fundamentals—people, process, and technology.

Important Questions to Ensure Effective Orchestration Efforts:

To make the most of orchestration in your organization, it’s important to make sure these basic building blocks are in place for real effectiveness. If you don’t set up this groundwork, orchestration may not be as helpful as it could be.

Assessing People

  • Is your Incident Response (IR) team working together well and trained enough?
  • Do your team members have the skills they need to handle all parts of an incident’s lifecycle effectively
  • Are there ways for your team members to work together and analyse things thoroughly?

Evaluating Process

  • Do you have IR plans that are clear, can be used over and over again, and are consistent?
  • Are these plans easy to update and make better over time?
  • Is there a practice of testing and measuring these plans regularly?

Reviewing Technology

  • Does your technology give you valuable insights and intelligence that is focused on what you need?
  • Does it help your team make quick and informed decisions and then take action right away?
  • Does your technology seamlessly integrate with your existing security infrastructure, enabling efficient data sharing and incident response coordination?

The ultimate goal of orchestration is to empower response teams, ensuring individuals are equipped with the knowledge, processes, and tools necessary for swift and accurate action when a security incident occurs. Orchestration is not a one-size-fits-all solution and should align with an organisation’s unique threat landscape, IT environment, and priorities.

Intelliworx: Your Trusted Partner in Incident Response Planning

Mature incident response involves seamlessly integrating people, processes, and technology along a continuum. Technology is not intended to replace human analysts; rather, its role lies in empowering them. This empowerment encompasses providing enhanced intelligence about specific threats, streamlining response procedures, and ensuring that analysts are well-equipped to handle incidents effectively.

As a Microsoft Solutions Partner, Intelliworx is equipped in providing expert cybersecurity guidance and services tailored to help organisations craft incident response plans that align with the requirements of cyber insurance providers, industry regulations, and other incident reporting obligations. The ever-increasing potential risks and costs associated with cyber-attacks underscore the need for proactive preparation. Contact Intelliworx today to discover how our incident response planning services can empower your organisation to effectively respond to cyber threats.

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