Cybersecurity Incident Response Planning
A cybersecurity incident response plan (or IR plan) is a set of instructions designed to help an organization prepare for, detect, respond to, and recover from network security incidents. Much like a disaster recovery plan designed for natural disasters, a cybersecurity incident response plan prepares your organization to respond to digital disasters. Significant incidents such as massive network or data breaches could impact your organization for days, weeks, or even months.
A comprehensive plan could reduce the magnitude of an incident as well as the time it takes to recover. The process of developing an incident response plan begins by establishing an incident response team who will be tasked with implementing the incident response plan1. This team may include members of the IT staff, lawyers, and communication experts. Organizations such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provide recommendations on how to respond to specific computer security incidents2, but for organizations interested in getting started with a basic incident response plan, the following steps can be taken:
- Identify and prioritize assets. Data should be replicated and stored in a remote location in order to protect the network and data against major damage. Know what data is there, where it is located, and prioritize the most crucial data and systems for more frequent backups.
- Plan Bs for everything. Every critical component of the network including hardware, software, and staff should be imagined as single points of failure which shall be addressed by establishing backups and fail-safes to limit damage and disruption in the event of a cybersecurity incident.
- Continuity plan. During natural or digital disasters, some physical locations or processes may in inaccessible. To ensure employee safety and to limit disruption, make plans for remote working. Technologies such as virtual private networks (VPNs) and secure web gateways can support workforce communication.
- Make the plan. Formalize the incident response plan, ensuring that everyone in the organization knows and understands their roles. The incident response plan typically includes:
- List of the roles and responsibilities for the incident response team members
- Business continuity plans
- Summary of the tools, technologies, and physical resources required
- List of critical network and data recovery processes
- Internal and external communication plans
- Train the staff. The IT staff on the incident response team may be the only staff who need to fully understand the incident response plan, but everyone else needs to be made aware of its existence, its importance, and their roles and responsibilities. Full cooperation of staff in incident response can reduce the length of disruptions. Further, training on basic security concepts can limit the chances of significant breaches in the first place.
1 Cisco, 2021, “What is an Incident Response Plan for IT?”
2 NIST, 2012, “Computer Security Incident Handling Guide”