How to Create and Test an Incident Response Plan: A Guide for Businesses

Learn about the importance of incident response plans: what they are, why you need one, and how to create & test an effective incident response plan.
A business meeting in progress

Unfortunately, companies of all sizes, industries, and locations are at risk of cyber attacks. Attacks are also becoming increasingly common, complex, and difficult to prevent. That's why having an incident response plan (IRP) is critical to minimizing the impact of security incidents. In this article, we'll provide an overview of incident response plans: what they are, why your organization needs one, and how to create and test an effective IRP.

What is an Incident Response Plan?

An incident response plan is a written document that outlines the steps your organization will take in response to a security incident, such as a data breach, malware attack, or network outage. The goal of an IRP is to minimize the impact of the incident, restore normal business operations quickly, and prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future. An effective IRP should include the following components:

  • Identification and classification of incidents
  • Notification and escalation procedures
  • Incident response team roles and responsibilities
  • Containment and eradication procedures
  • Recovery and restoration procedures
  • Post-incident review and analysis

Why Does Your Organization Need an Incident Response Plan?

Aside from facilitating quick and efficient responses, some important reasons for your business to have an incident response plan include:

Reducing Downtime and Loss of Revenue

When a cyber attack occurs, every minute counts. The longer it takes to respond to an incident, the more damage it can cause to your organization. An IRP helps your organization respond quickly and effectively to security incidents, minimizing the downtime and loss of revenue associated with such incidents.

Minimizing Incident Impacts and Damage to Your Reputation

When a security incident occurs, customers and stakeholders expect your organization to respond quickly and transparently. If your organization fails to respond effectively to a security incident, it can damage your reputation and erode consumer trust. A well executed IRP can help protect your organization's reputation by minimizing the impact of security incidents on your customers and stakeholders. That’s why communication plans are often an important aspect of an IRP; communication plans include specific wording and methods of message delivery for internal teams, external stakeholders, media, and law enforcement.

Complying with Regulations

Many industries are subject to regulations that require business to have an IRP in place. HIPAA, PCI, and GDPR regulations all commonly require incident response plans, and failure to comply can result in costly financial penalties. Having an IRP can help your organization meet the compliance and regulatory standards of your industry.

Acquiring Cyber Insurance

Having an incident response plan is often a requirement for businesses seeking cyber insurance coverage. Many cyber insurance providers require an IRP as part of their underwriting process to assess a company's risk and determine premiums. In addition to helping you secure cyber insurance, an incident response plan also demonstrates to insurers that your organization is taking proactive steps to prevent and mitigate security incidents, which can result in lower premiums or more comprehensive coverage. Not only does an IRP help your organization prepare for and respond to security incidents, but it also provides financial protection in the event of a security incident.

Creating an Incident Response Plan

Creating an effective IRP involves several steps or phases. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), these steps include:

1)  Preparation

The preparation stage involves assessing your organization's security risks and identifying potential threats. Typically, this includes conducting a risk assessment, identifying critical assets, and defining the roles and responsibilities of the incident response team.

2)  Detection and Analysis

This phase involves monitoring your organization's systems and networks for signs of security incidents, as well as analyzing the incident to determine its scope and severity. To identify and assess the scope of incidents, your team may use a variety of tools and techniques, including network and system monitoring, threat intelligence, and analysis of system logs and other data sources. Once an incident is detected, the team begins the analysis process, which involves gathering evidence, identifying the cause of the incident, and determining the extent of the impact.

3)  Containment, Eradication, and Recovery

This stage involves a few core components. During containment, the response team works to isolate affected systems to prevent the spread of the incident. Eradication involves identifying and removing the root cause of the incident, and finally, recovery involves restoring normal operations and implementing measures to prevent future incidents. As a whole, the goal of this stage is to minimize the impact of the incident on the organization, and to ensure that business operations are restored as quickly as possible.

4)  Post-Incident Analysis

During this stage, the incident response team conducts a detailed review of the incident, including the effectiveness of the response plan, the actions taken by the team, and the impact of the incident on the organization. The team also documents lessons learned from the incident and identifies areas where the response plan could be improved. The goal of the post-incident analysis stage is to continually improve the organization's incident response capability, reduce the likelihood of future incidents, and enhance the organization's overall security posture.

How to Test an Incident Response Plan

Testing your IRP is critical to ensuring that it is effective, and that your incident response team is prepared to respond to security incidents. One way to test your IRP is to conduct a tabletop exercise, which simulates a security incident and tests your organization's response procedures. Typically, an exercise facilitator presents a hypothetical scenario, and then the incident response team works together to respond to the scenario, documenting their actions and decisions. The exercise allows the team to identify gaps in the response plan, improve communication, and refine procedures. It also provides an opportunity to train team members in their roles and responsibilities while evaluating their preparedness for a real incident. Testing an incident response plan with a tabletop exercise should be done regularly to ensure that the plan is up-to-date and effective. Some tips for conducting a successful tabletop exercise include:

  • Setting clear objectives and goals for the exercise.
  • Involving all relevant stakeholders.
  • Providing realistic scenarios and challenges.
  • Documenting the results of the exercise and using them to improve your IRP.

Adequately testing your organization’s IRP will require a facilitator with experience in cyber-incident response, as their expertise will assist in generating productive discussions. They will also be able to provide an unbiased perspective into the quality of your plan, as well as your team’s response. Many times, partnering with outside security experts that offer response plan testing is the best way to ensure that your plan is comprehensive, and your that team is prepared.

Ready to Improve Your Security Posture?

Despite the unfortunate reality that cyber incidents are inevitable for many organizations, having an effective incident response plan can help your organization minimize the impact of incidents and restore full business operations quickly. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can create and test an effective IRP that will help protect your organization from the damaging effects of security incidents. Need help creating an incident response plan, or testing your current plan? Blackink IT’s security experts partner with organizations to ensure that their plans are thorough, and that their teams are prepared for quick, efficient, and effective responses. Receive a free incident response tabletop quote by answering four simple questions – receiving your quote takes less than one minute!

Subscribe to the Blackink IT blog

Never miss another article from our technology & cybersecurity experts!
Continue Reading...