The rapid uptake of digitization across industries fueled largely by new technological advancements has not just resulted in data explosion, but has also made accessing it easier and more convenient for bad actors. Besides, the ever-changing threat landscape and the shift to hybrid work environments accelerated by the pandemic has been aiding the rise in volume and complexity of cyber attacks. For instance, in 2021, businesses suffered 50% more cyberattack attempts per week than the previous year1.
Cyberattacks are on the rise and enterprises with even the best defenses can fall prey to new and emerging threats. But as forensics-driven cybersecurity experts, we believe in taking proactive measures to stay one step ahead of such security incidents. A robust strategy that keeps a check on the processes, helps identify abnormalities and creates a reliable communication plan can help organizations respond to cyberattacks quickly and efficiently. This is where an incident response plan comes into play.
An Incident Response Plan is a coordinated approach that is designed to help information security teams effectively deal with an external threat. It is an amalgamation of tools, procedures, and personnel to ensure structured investigation of an incident to contain, eliminate and recover from cybersecurity threats.
The incident response strategy helps enterprises be fully prepared for an attack, detecting its nature when the incident occurs and responding to it effectively. It also sets out the roles and responsibilities for every stakeholder to collect, analyze and act upon the information required to manage security incidences. Some of the key reasons why every organization needs to have an incident response plan are:
Having an incident response plan in place ensures that in the event of a security breach, the organization will be able to defend its processes and system, minimize the disruption and limit the damage caused during and after the occurrence of the incident.
Creating a cyber incident response plan is one thing, but successfully implementing it and making it a practice within the organization is another. With new vulnerabilities and data security risks being identified every other day, the intensity of cyberattacks is expected to escalate at an even faster rate in the coming years. These alarming conditions along with the challenges posed by the increasing skill gap make it overwhelming for an organization to execute the incident management processes.
Some of the top challenges that organizations face while implementing the incident response plan are:
The sudden increase in cyber risks due to the Covid-19 pandemic has affected many organizations and it is considered as one of the biggest concerns for the information security team while devising a strategic incident response plan. The diverse nature of cyber incidents with an increased frequency makes it challenging for organizations to successfully implement the strategy.
Cyberattacks need not necessarily originate from outside the organization. Another incident management challenge is that many security teams are ill-equipped to handle the breaches initiated within the organization. A 2022 report by Ponemon Institute reveals that insider threat incidents have risen 44% over the past two years with costs per incident rising to $15.38 million5. Employees with privileged access to the network, third parties with temporary access to the system, or accidental compromise of security protocols put critical assets and information of an organization at risk. These internal attacks have the potential of causing more damage than external threats as they can remain undetected by the organization for a longer period.
Many organizations find it difficult to plan for incident management and implement it because they lack the required budget for such exercise. 83% of small and medium-sized businesses are not financially prepared to recover from a cyber attack6. With technologies like multi-cloud and AI gradually becoming a priority for enterprises, the limited budgets for security implementations have become one of the major concerns for CISOs. Less bandwidth for defending the processes across the network only adds up to the other pressing challenges for organizations.
Organizations must adopt a structured approach for implementing the incident response plan to ease out the process and better deal with the challenges. The 6-phase approach described below to handle a cyber breach before, during, and after its occurrence helps understand the root cause of the incident and analyze the remediation steps.
The preparation phase is extremely crucial for an organization to have a concrete base for its incident response plan. In this phase, the security team needs to review the existing security policies and create a communication plan with all the stakeholders.
In addition to that, it is also essential to identify which critical incidents the team should focus on, and which assets are the most sensitive for an organization. Based on these critical findings, the infosec teams must ensure that they have the required access to all the systems and tools to respond to an incident and train their members for the same.
The second phase includes identifying any alien activity that is a deviation from normal operations within the organization. The security team also needs to recognize if those activities represent potential or actual security incidents. If any deviation gets identified as a potential incident, there must be actions taken to understand the severity of the same, collect additional evidence, and document the requirements.
After identifying the security incident, the first step is to contain it and protect the system from any further damage. The security team can either opt for short-term containment or long-term containment. Short-term containment involves taking down the hacked servers or else isolating the network under attack. On the other hand, if the organization goes for a long-term containment, it must apply temporary fixes to the affected systems and strengthen the access management. The containment phase also involves identifying and removal of any personnel involved in the breach.
The next step is to identify the root cause or the entry point of the attack to remove the malware and protect the organization from a similar incident in the future. It involves safeguarding the assets with strong authentication, updating the system, and applying immediate patches to the vulnerabilities. All the stakeholders must be aligned and cautious with this step as any trace of the malware left in the system may again result in the loss of valuable data.
After taking all the preventive measures to contain and eradicate the security incident, it is vital to ensure that another similar issue does not arise sometime later. At this stage, the security teams should take decisions over when the affected systems can be brought back online to perform normal functions. All the compromised systems must also be verified, tested, and regularly monitored for a set period to ensure they are functioning normally.
Once the incident gets over and all the affected systems recover and get back to normalcy, the last phase of the incident response plan must be initiated after about two weeks. It involves preparing documentation of all the processes used to respond to an incident, how it was contained, eradicated and how the systems recovered from it to further identify its scope. The security teams must also investigate the areas where the team did not perform effectively and need adequate training to improve performance and better handle the incidents.
A properly designed security incident response plan can help organizations detect threats and handle the situation in such a way, which limits damage and reduces recovery time and costs. That apart, it can offer several other benefits leading to a stronger security posture.
Careful planning and investigation are vital to strengthen the organization’s security posture and efficiently handle security incidents. It not only helps the organization mitigate the risks in a structured manner but also improves communication and defense mechanism within the enterprise. Devising an incident response plan cannot be a one-time exercise with the rapidly evolving threat landscape and needs to be updated and strategized regularly to help defend organization from emerging threats.
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