Posted by Tyler Chancey, GCFA on

Tyler Chancey is a seasoned cybersecurity professional currently serving as the Director of Cyber Security at Scarlett Cybersecurity Services, With a solid foundation in Computer Software Engineering from the University of Florida, Tyler holds a repertoire of certifications that underscore his expertise. These include the prestigious Microsoft 365 Certified: Enterprise Administrator Expert and Microsoft 365 Certified: Security Administrator Associate, showcasing his mastery in Microsoft's enterprise solutions. Tyler's commitment to comprehensive security is further evidenced by his CompTIA Security+ certification, demonstrating proficiency in core cybersecurity principles. Additionally, his GIAC Certified Forensic Analyst (GCFA) credential attests to his advanced skills in forensic analysis—an invaluable asset in today's complex cybersecurity landscape. Tyler's dedication to staying at the forefront of industry standards is evident in the active pursuit and maintenance of these certifications, making him a trusted authority in the field.

6 Phases of Incident Response Planning

An effective incident response plan involves methods, planning, documentation, to help you deal with cyber attacks. Security breaches and cybersecurity incidents are increasing in this technological world. That’s why it is crucial for a business to have a strong incident response plan and communication plan ready to face any uncertain situation.

The main purpose of the incident response plan is to outline the procedure that needs to be followed after a cyber attack. It includes a set of instructions that help you define a structured approach. Without the incident response plan, a business can’t get back on its feet. Managing the damage by a cyber attack without the incident response plan gets confusing, uneasy, and cumbersome.

This guide features a breakdown of the full incident response plan template. We will discuss every phase of the incident response process in detail. Keep reading to learn more and make sure that your organization has a business continuity plan with the potential to get back on its feet when an incident occurs.

The 6 Phases and Levels of an Incident Response Plan

There are 6 phases included in an incident response plan. They are designed in a way that helps IT professionals have something concrete while dealing with cyber attacks.

Let’s learn everything about each phase and understand every aspect that is necessary.

Phase 1: Preparation

A winning effort begins with preparation. When it comes to IRP, the first thing that your organization should do is to set up appropriate procedures. Have your arsenal ready with the right set of tools, and resources. Analyze the important assets of your company and make sure that they are well-protected.

It’s best to collect data from earlier cyberattacks and learn from them as well. Make sure that all your employees are well trained and are familiar with their various roles and responsibilities and duties. The very important thing that most organizations fail to accomplish is coordination. Communication among the departments and your Cybersecurity Response team at this time is very crucial. When dealing with a cyber incident, you need to have a distinct communication mechanism.

Incident Prevention

The Incident Prevention preparation phase also includes making security policies for each domain. For each security event for instance, information security, server security, network security, and application security. Build strategies to handle such incidents. If you prepare well, you can fill up these security gaps by ensuring the security of the networks, servers, and whatnot.

This step also includes identifying important assets. Also, the assessment of your organization's current capabilities for coping with a serious data loss or cyberattack. You can hire a 3rd party cybersecurity auditor to provide a full review of your organization's data breach and readiness maturity. Or a one-day audit of your overall compliance and incident response skills.

Organizations should arrange mock data breaches and have their incident response team members polish their skills on a weekly basis. The concept of mock drills could be very handy, you can check if the employees are ready or not. All your major tools and other aspects should be well-funded in advance. If you are well-prepared, all the next phases will go successfully.

Important Aspects

By the end of the preparation phase, make sure that you have the following things worked out.

  • Every employee should be trained properly on security policies. 

  • Make sure that your security policies and IRP has been approved. 

  • Your IR team should be ready to face such unfortunate situations and should be equipped with the right set of tools.

  • Engage with a company that provides cyber security services for assistance.

  • Go through every report from the mock drills and fill every gap. 

Phase 2: Identification

The next phase is about identifying the actual cyber incident. In this phase, you figure out the type of cyber attack and you analyze the affected areas of the network and the system. The identification of cyber threats also includes the search for any suspicious activity. Look for unusual login attempts, unexpected new files, unanticipated user login, and accounts.

You need to thoroughly identify and assess your networks and system using all the above methods. A good identification makes the next phases of the incident response plan easy. But there are some reasons for this phase to be challenging for your organization.

Challenging Aspects of Identification

Identifying the incidents involve many different ways and means featuring a discrete level of detail. This means, both your automated incident responders and manual systems could fall under the process of identification. The automated incident response procedures and detection features log analyzers, antivirus software, and network and host-based IDPs. But manual detection is mainly reported by the user, so there’s likely to be some errors.

There’s a high volume of intrusion detection alerts for a large-scale organization. They could receive millions of potential signs of security incidents, on a daily basis. So, it brings out the need for more security analysts with extensive experience in the field of tech. Only an experienced individual would be able to perform these tasks accurately and efficiently.

Precursor and Indicator

Any sign of an incident could be a precursor or an indicator. A precursor shows the possibility of a cyber attack in the near future. If a cyber-attack has occurred or is occurring now, you will get an indicator. Some common sources of precursors and indicators.

Important Aspects

By the end of the identification phase, make sure that you have the following things worked out.

  • Make sure you have inspected every part of your system and have discovered the part where the incident occurred.

  • Make sure that you have understood the scope of the incident. 

Phase 3: Containment

When you are done gathering all the information about the computer security breach incident and the aspects of the cyber attack, focus on containing it. Containing the threat helps the virus from spreading and will prevent any further damage.

The first thing that your organization needs to do is to isolate the affected systems and cut their connection from the network. It’s very wise to start backing up all the sensitive information and data from the infected system. To make sure that the incident won’t escalate its damage anymore, start going for a temporary fix.

Your main aim in a computer security incident response plan should be to minimize the magnitude and the scope of the cyber attack. This stage of the incident response plan is all about stopping the spread of the virus. Keep on checking the functional status of your infected network and system.

This is also an excellent opportunity to patch your systems. Examine your remote access protocols (which should include multi-factor authentication). Replace all user and administrative access credentials, and harden all passwords.

Gather Evidence

Make sure that you have disconnected the infected entities from your system. It’s best that you do this or you can let the system run and monitor its activities. When you are done making the strategy for containing the threat, focus on gathering all the evidence. Evidence will help you get to the bottom of the situation and you’ll be able to resolve the incident.

Gathering evidence is very important as this exact evidence will help you in legal proceedings. Your organization should prepare well-documented evidence. It should feature the procedures, serial numbers, locations, model number, MAC and IP addresses, hostname, etc.

Important Aspects

By the end of the Containment phase, make sure that you have the following things worked out.

  • Coordinate with your team to assure that the virus has been contained properly.

  • Make sure you have gathered all the evidence. 

  • Backups should be in place.

  • Multi-factor authentication should be required to have remote access. 

  • All your security credentials should be changed and hardened.

Phase 4: Eradication

This is the fourth phase and it’s exactly what it sounds like. In this phase, you remove and remediate any damaged entities discovered in the identification phase. Usually, you could do this by restoring the systems from the backup and re-imaging the workstation systems.

It’s highly crucial that you eradicate all cyber infections properly. So, it’s better done by a trained professional. Eradication should only be done after a comprehensive investigation of the incident. After performing the clean-up, there’s no way of knowing how the attack happened. So, it should be done before, during the investigation.

If the IR team eradicates the infections without the proper investigation of security events, there’s a great chance of the same attack in near future (post-inoculation attack). So, it is important that you learn and investigate how the attacker got in and how much damage was really done.

Clean-up

Run a robust anti-malware and antivirus software.  Uninstall the infected software, restart or replace the entire operating system and hardware. Rebuild the network. All this should be included in your clean-up process.

It is recommended that various common event "playbooks" for event management be created. They can assist the IR team in maintaining a consistent approach to the issue.

In today's world, every business can encounter a cyber attack. But it is crucial that you don’t continue to allow malicious activity to develop in your system. The harm to your public image can be big. Your legal culpability may also increase.

Important Aspects

By the end of the Eradication phase, make sure that you have the following things worked out.

  • All the artifacts and malware left by the attacker should have been removed.

  • All the affected systems should be updated, patched, and ready to work. This could also go in the next phase of Recovery. 

Phase 5: Recovery

All the fixes that you did in the eradication phase, you will test in the recovery phase. You will remediate vulnerabilities. You will change the passwords of the compromised accounts or remove them altogether. You will replace them with more secure methods of access.

All the functionality is tested you aim to reach the normal operations of day-to-day business. All your compromised networks and systems will be brought back on track. This stage of the incident response plan covers all the remaining restoration processes.

Because it tests, monitors, and verifies the impacted systems, this part of the incident response strategy is crucial. It would be extremely difficult to avoid another occurrence in the future without thorough a disaster recovery plan. As we all know, this can be terrible for corporate operations and the public image of an organization.

In this phase, you make sure that all your infected entities, systems, machines, and affected devices and networks are back online. They should be fully secured and functional.

Important Aspects

By the end of the Recovery phase, make sure that you have the following things worked out.

  • Recovered every system and make sure that they are ready for production.

  • Assure that your system is ready to work.

Phase 6: Lessons Learned

This is the last phase of the incident response plan. It has great importance yet it goes unnoticed and is skipped in incident response steps by most organizations. It’s very crucial in preventing your system from future incidents.

It involves reviewing the steps, methods, and tasks during the incident response phases and handling at each phase. In doing so, you will improve your incident response capability and your security footprint. Most organizations rush to get back to normal and running. They make the mistake of not considering the implication of what caused the security incident.

Skipping this phase could lead to potential failures in the future. You may never improve your cybersecurity, whether it was malware, security holes, human error, or flaw in a security product. That’s why your organization should review what went wrong. Use the incident response process as a stepping stone towards a solution. Without this stage, you may find yourself back in the same unfortunate situation.

Most importantly, the company must discuss if any gaps or parts of the process might have been done better. Were there any shortcomings in the incident response strategy? The purpose of this phase is to learn from the attack so that it doesn't happen again, and if it does, the problem is dealt with even more effectively. 

Read also: What is Ransomware Forensics? Everything You Need to Know

Important Aspects

  • You should ask yourself if there are any changes required to the system to make sure that incidents like these never happen.

  • What else you can do about training your employees

Conclusion

Incident responses are best performed by trained cybersecurity professionals. Individuals who are on incident response teams equipped with the right set of tools and mindset. Organizations can establish incident response activities and countermeasures in advance using an incident response approach. There are several techniques to IR.

Preparation, detection, containment, eradication, recovery, and post-event audits. These are the six incident response lifecycle stages. They are according to the majority of security professionals. Here are some of the best incident response services.

Many businesses use a combination of assessment checklists. That includes comprehensive incident response plans, simplified and actionable incident response playbooks. Policies to automate some of the procedures. An effective incident management response and approach should be adaptable and allow for continual development.

These are the six phases of the cybersecurity incident response plan. Now all you need to do is to practice and prepare well for the technology incident response plan phases for the betterment of your organization. You are well familiar with almost all the aspects of the incident response plan. It’s time to implement them.

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