What is incident response and how does an incident response plan work?

A business’s incident response plan doesn’t stop after handling the incident. IR continues to provide knowledge towards preventing future cyber events. Learn more.

Incident Response Guide 101 :

In the digital age, the question isn’t whether your organization will face a cybersecurity incident but when. With cutting-edge tools and techniques, threat actors are challenging security in multiple ways.

Cybercriminals are using sophisticated malware like ransomware, Trojans, and spyware to attack organizations, often leveraging social engineering tactics like phishing to gain a foothold. Threat actors also utilize distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks to bring down the networks companies rely on.

Threats aren’t only external, though. Malicious and careless insiders can cause significant damage to an organization’s security and data integrity.

As recent attacks show, no one is safe. Not even high-profile organizations. This is where your incident response plan comes in. A good incident response plan is about getting ahead of the wave before it causes significant damage.

Read this guide for more on:

  1. What is an incident response in cybersecurity?
  2. Types of incidents organizations deal with.
  3. A good Incident response plan.
  4. What are incident response services?

Incident response definition: What is incident response?

Here is a quick incident response definition: Incident response is the process of detecting, investigating, and responding to security incidents by utilizing different types of cybersecurity technologies. The objective of incident response is to nullify the impact of a cybersecurity event and reduce the risk of it repeating by optimizing threat response.

Here are some hallmarks of a good incident response system:

  1. Holistic: Organizations must take a systemic approach, protecting all vulnerable aspects of an organization.
  2. Proactive: Response policies and procedures must be outlined, and teams must be prepared with clearly defined roles and duties.
  3. Cooperative: Different sections of your organization must work in unison to maximize the effectiveness of your incident response. You may also need to work with partners, such as cybersecurity experts and third-party vendors.
  4. Recovery: Your incident response and remediation system must effectively contain any threat by preventing it from propagating across your assets and eliminating it from infected systems.

Many organizations use top Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR), Managed Detection and Response (MDR), and Extended Detection and Response (XDR) tools to protect endpoints, gain threat intelligence, and enhance incidence response. Read about EDR vs MDR vs XDR tools to learn which technology matches your organization’s incident response needs best.

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Types of cybersecurity incidents


DDoS

Hackers hijack a large number of computers and devices to use their resources for a DDoS attack. In such an attack, they can overwhelm an organization’s network with traffic, impacting workflow and productivity. A DDoS attack can also negatively impact an organization’s reputation and its ability to serve its clients.


Malware

Malware is an umbrella term for different kinds of malicious software that seek to harm a system. Common types of malware attacks against organizations include Trojans, spyware, keyloggers, and insidious software that opens backdoors or harvests credentials. For example, the Supernova malware discovered on SolarWinds Orion server was designed to gather cached credentials used by the appliance server.


Ransomware

Ransomware is the malware of choice for many extortionists on the Internet. It’s essential for organizations to invest in resources that protect against ransomware because it hijacks computers in exchange for a fee.

Some ransomware attackers also engage in data exfiltration. After being paid to remove ransomware, they may still secretly sell stolen confidential data on the Dark Web.


Phishing

Phishing attacks typically use emails that look legitimate and carry attachments hiding malware. Phishing attacks may also try to trick users into opening unsafe links and websites, sending money, or sharing confidential information. Some spear-phishing attacks are engineered to look very convincing. A threat actor may study company communication and publicly available employee details to design an authentic-looking campaign.


Loss of unencrypted data

The goal of many threat actors is to steal uncredited data for blackmail, resale, financial fraud, or to propel other cybersecurity attacks. 


Insider threats

Malicious insiders can include spies hired by rival organizations or state-sponsored agents. Malicious insiders can steal data, intellectual property, and other sensitive assets, resulting in grave consequences for an organization. Insider threats can also include employees who make security mistakes due to a lack of training or concentration.


Supply chain attacks

A supply chain attack is all about using the weakest component in a supply chain, such as a vendor, to attack a target. For example, a Trojan-credential stealer on a vendor’s software may easily travel to a client’s systems undetected. According to IBM, only 32 percent of organizations have incident response plans for supply chain attacks despite their increasing rate of incidence.


Incident response planning: How incident response works

Your organization needs a good incident response plan, framework, and security solutions to effectively respond to different types of incidents.


What is an incident response plan (IRP)?

Your incident response plan is a documented series of procedures that outline the steps required for an effective response to a security incident.


What do you need in an incident response plan?

  • A brief summary of your plan that’s concise, practical, actionable, and satisfies the needs of stakeholders and compliance laws.
  • Different types of documentation that outline roles, processes, responses, and policies. You should also have documentation that offers guidelines and assists with employee training.
  • You must document any incident in complete detail. The information can be drawn from different solutions such as log management systems and anomaly detection systems.
  • Set the criteria for incident definition. Finding the right balance is key to avoiding false positives. It will also help you avoid missing security incidents.
  • The incident response plan should outline the containment process, including isolating systems, closing networks, revoking credentials, rolling out threat-hunting procedures, and more.
  • An effective incident response plan helps an organization gain intelligence from incidents and prevents mistakes from repeating. For example, you may invest in employee training and fresh incident response solutions, close TCP ports, or block a series of IP addresses and websites after an incident.

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What are the phases of an incident response framework?

Here are six phases of a good incident response framework:

  1. Preparation: In this first phase of the incident response lifecycle, organizations prepare for security incidents by developing policies, procedures, and plans. They also identify essential assets, train staff, and invest in the most robust technologies.
  2. Detection: Organizations rely on training, experience, and monitoring tools to detect incidents. This second phase of the incident response lifecycle is critical. Not only does it help identify potential threats, but it also helps understand the scale and seriousness of a potential incident.
  3. Containment: The containment phase of an incident response framework is essential because it stops an incident from expanding. Organizations may use cybersecurity tools, revoke credentials, disable network access, or block malicious software to contain an incident.
  4. Remediation: After a detected threat is contained, a security team must begin the remediation phase. Remediation may involve removing malware, rolling back changes, resorting software, and rolling out patches to close vulnerabilities.
  5. Testing: During this penultimate phase, the IT team tests systems to ensure operational integrity and data security.
  6. Post-Incident Recovery: In this final phase, the incident response team learns from the incident in various ways to improve their cyber incident response plan. For example, they may gather intelligence from the incident, gauge the effectiveness of their incident response management, identify further vulnerabilities, update procedures and policies, and invest in more tools and training.


What is an incident response team?

An incident response team is a group of trained professionals that’s responsible for responding to and managing security incidents within an organization. An incident response team may include IT professionals such as managers, researchers, and analysts. The HR and legal departments may also have incident response representatives.


What does an incident response team do?

The incident response team detects and responds to incidents by using analysis, containment and remediation tools and strategies. It’s also responsible for restoring systems. Some members of an incident response team are tasked with communicating with stakeholders such as employees, investors, and clients.


Incident response solutions: Incident response tools and technology


MDR

Managed Detection and Response (MDR) solution is a managed security service driven by a team of cybersecurity experts that serve as an extension of the organization’s IT security team. Besides providing 24/7 monitoring and human-led investigation, one of the core benefits of MDR security includes powerful, expedited incident response. Through IR playbooks, highly skilled MDR analysts are agile, work quickly, and respond to suspicious activity without hesitation.

Read more: What is MDR?


EDR

Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) software can protect endpoints such as laptops, desktops, servers, mobile phones, and tablets from different types of security threats. Top EDR platforms will detect, investigate, and respond to various cybersecurity incidents in real time.


SIEM

Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) is a kind of software solution that can collect and analyze security event information from endpoints and applications. IT teams use SIEM solutions to gain intelligence and visibility and reduce the risk of security incidents.


SOAR

Security Orchestration, Automation, and Response (SOAR) solutions can help automate the detection of security issues. They can also help manage vulnerabilities and security workflows. The best SOAR software can integrate with other security solutions.


XDR

Extended Detection and Response (XDR) solutions merge alerts by unifying previously gathered data from various cybersecurity tools. Businesses that process multiple alerts from many different existing security tools can benefit from XDR solutions by enhancing the speed of their incident response. 


UEBA

User and Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA) tools analyze user and entity behavior within an IT environment from logs, traffic, and activity to identify threats. UEBA tools are powerful and can help find anomalies quickly.


ASM

Attackers sometimes try to breach security by utilizing application vulnerabilities or using techniques that attack applications. Application Security Management (ASM) manages security risks in applications and can reduce an organization’s exposure to attackers.


Incident response checklist

  1. Determine what employees, tools, and technology are required for managing the incident based on the nature and scope of the incident.
  2. Clearly define the roles of the incident response team, from team leaders and public relations representatives to customer support teams.
  3. Find alternative modes of communication if your primary communication medium may be offline.
  4. Document the incident in detail, including the point of attack and the time of the incident.
  5. Identify the nature of the incident.
  6. Prevent the threat from spreading.
  7. Ensure that the incident is completely neutralized.
  8. Test and recover the system after the recovery process.
  9. Create a thorough incident response report that helps your organization learn from the incident and optimize future responses.

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Incident Response FAQs

What are incident response services?

Cybersecurity companies provide various incident response services. For example, managed IT security services providers may assist with different or all phases of an incident response lifecycle, such as preparation, detection, or remediation. Some companies also offer services that cover training, readiness assessment, analysis, and vulnerability scanning. Learn about ThreatDown Endpoint Protection and our propriety Linking Engine technology that removes all traces of malware left behind.

How can you automate incident response?

It’s a good idea to automate incident response due to its time-sensitive nature by using the right methods and technologies that help triage alerts, identify incidents, and complete certain tasks, like blocking IP addresses. Automating incident response also makes the process less labor-intensive. In some organizations, it’s impossible for a security team to investigate and respond to every incident as it happens.

Here are some tools and methods that can help automate incident response:

  • Threat Intelligence Feed (TI feed): A TI feed offers intelligence on attacks such as zero-day attacks, botnets, malware and more. TI feeds can integrate with security solutions and help automate incident response.
  • Playbooks: Security teams and solutions can follow these predefined sets of procedures, or scripts, to automate actions.
  • Systems: Some systems, like Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) or Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR), can allow you to automate some incident response needs. Many modern solutions rely on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to respond to concerns proactively and effectively.

What are the 5 Whys in incident management?

The 5 Whys is a somewhat antiquated concept that helps a problem solver reach the root cause of a problem by asking questions starting with “why” as required. Let’s look at an example of 5 whys in incident response:

Problem: An employee downloaded ransomware on a company desktop computer.

1. Why? A: The employee opened a phishing email.

2. Why? A: The employee didn’t notice the suspicious email address or grammatical errors. The email also bypasses security filters.

3. Why? A: The employee had a lapse of concentration, and the company lacked security tools.

4. Why? A: The organization hasn’t invested enough resources in training and security solutions.

5. Why? A: The organization didn’t appreciate the consequences of a cybersecurity attack. What is the incident response framework? Who is responsible for incident response? What is the difference between incident response and disaster recovery?

What is the incident response framework?

The incident response framework is a structured framework that helps organizations respond to incidents effectively. An incident response lifecycle involves preparation, detection, containment, remediation, testing, and post-incident analysis.

Who is responsible for incident response?

Your organization’s IT team and any managed-security services provider are primarily responsible for incident response. But other departments also play a crucial role in incident response. For example, organization leaders are responsible for ensuring that the incident response system is modern and robust. Your legal department may audit your incident response to ensure it satisfies legal and regulatory obligations. Even your business partners, such as contractors, vendors and other stakeholders, play their part.

What is the difference between incident response and disaster recovery?

Your organization’s IT team and any managed-security services provider are primarily responsible for incident response. But other departments also play a crucial role in incident response. For example, organization leaders are responsible for ensuring that the incident response system is modern and robust. Your legal department may audit your incident response to ensure it satisfies legal and regulatory obligations. Even your business partners, such as contractors, vendors and other stakeholders, play their part.