The nature of security and incident management is cyclical rather than linear. Resolving an issue doesn't mark the end of the team's responsibilities.
Instead, it signals the opportunity to enhance reliability, strategize, prepare, and prevent similar problems. This is where the incident response helps and comes into the picture.
But what is incident response, and what steps are included in the incident response lifecycle? Let's understand them in detail.
Incident response is a structured process that organizations use to deal with and handle cybersecurity incidents. Not every incident is critical, but keeping track of incidents is crucial for further investigations.
Learning from the incident response lifecycle and its framework helps organizations understand the accessibility of sensitive information, thereby allowing them to prevent breaches and mitigate threats by educating others and identifying vulnerabilities.
Now, let's dive deeper into the incident response lifecycle.
Understanding the Incident Response Lifecycle
The incident response plan consists of a sequence of stages, each requiring specific actions to examine and document every aspect of the incident thoroughly.
Following are the defined series of stages that should be included in every incident response lifecycle:
The Preparation stage of the incident response life cycle involves the activities performed by an organization before an incident takes place, i.e., during regular operations.
The preparation phase comprises the following activities:
- Setting traces, logs, monitoring, and alarms
- Arranging call-in schedules
- Defining teams and roles for incident response
- Creating incident response playbooks
- Implementing communication channels and procedures for incident response
Detection & Analysis
When an incident occurs, the incident response team is immediately called into action. They have to act fast and complete these tasks:
- Assess the extent and seriousness of the incident to determine the appropriate level of response.
- Establish an incident record and communicate the incident broadly, ensuring everyone knows its occurrence.
- Bring the incident response team together and facilitate collaboration through chat platforms and virtual meetings as needed.
Recovery and resolution
During this phase of the incident response lifecycle, the incident response team collaborates to resolve the incident actively.
During the resolution process, you can follow these specific tips:
- Following and updating the incident commander
Every decision and piece of information should go through the incident commander. Knowing who is in command is crucial since incidents can become highly chaotic.
- Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are critical in diagnosing incidents and recommending resolving them.
After assembling the team, the incident commander consults SMEs to diagnose the incident and propose quick fixes, focusing on restoring service promptly.
- The incident commander helps in resolving the issue.
- The incident commander should then compile the list of potential solutions and decide which course of action to take, weighing the risk involved.
- Repeat the process until the incident is fully resolved
During this phase, it is crucial to adhere to the communication protocols established during the planning phase.
For each of these mini-cycles, internal updates should be widely spread and include the following information:
- The problem
- The affected service
- Date of degradation
- The current level of seriousness
- What stage you're at in your response to the problem
- Actions conducted for remediation and their outcomes
- Who is in charge of overseeing coordination, and who is involved?
One of the most crucial, yet sometimes neglected, aspects of incident response is learning and improving after an incident.
The incident and incident response efforts are analyzed in this phase. The objectives are to reduce the likelihood of the incident occurring again and to find ways to enhance incident response procedures.
After the incident, during the post-incident learning phase of the incident response lifecycle, your team should prioritize the following:
- Hold an incident review meeting.
- Document a postmortem report.
Best Practices for Effective Incident Response
Organizations face significant financial losses, amounting to thousands of dollars per minute, due to incidents. To minimize these risks, incident response practices are rapidly evolving.
To help you in this process, here are some best practices and tips to help you stay ahead of the game:
Always be ready with your essentials
Ensure you always have essentials prepared for incident responders. This centralized repository offers swift access to crucial information, including:
- Response plans
- Contact lists
- On-call schedules
- Escalation policies
- Conferencing tool links
- Access codes
- Policy documents
- Technical documentation & runbooks.
Having the above elements ready significantly helps incident responders minimize delays and effectively address incidents.
Establish your incident response system
Regardless of your organization's size, treat incident response seriously and establish a dedicated incident response team.
Define roles, grant authority, and assign responsibilities to the team to significantly enhance the team's ability to respond effectively to cyberattacks.
Create an incident response strategy
An incident response plan, as per NIST methodology, is more than just a list of things to do in the event of an incident.
It serves as a road map for the organization's incident response program, outlining short- and long-term objectives, success metrics, and training and job requirements for incident response jobs.
Make a list of security incidents
There are two steps involved in identifying security events.
The first stage in developing a reaction strategy is to recognise potential threats.
The second phase uses the right tools and monitoring software to identify current incidents in real-time and enable prompt correction.
Embrace chaos to foster stability
To understand this, you need to know what chaos engineering is. Chaos Engineering deliberately introduces system failures to gain insights into building more resilient systems.
Through proactive experimentation with chaos, organizations can bolster their systems' resilience and improve their capacity to withstand and rebound from failures, ultimately fostering excellent overall stability.
Eliminate threats and prevent re-entry
When the threat is contained, the incident response team may focus on removing it. This could require finding and eliminating malware, applying patches and updates, establishing a stricter and more secure setup, etc
Now that we know about best practices, let’s understand what frameworks organizations use to deal and handle cyber threats.
Incident Response Frameworks
Organizations generally employ one of two basic incident response frameworks:
- National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Incident response framework
- SysAdmin, Audit, Network and Security(SANS) incident response framework
All about NIST
The NIST Computer Security Incident Handling Guide provides clear and comprehensive guidelines to help organizations improve their incident response capabilities.
It discusses various models for incident response teams, how to pick the optimal model, and recommended practices for running the team.
NIST presents three models for incident response teams:
Centralized: A single central body responsible for handling incident response across the organization.
Distributed: Multiple incident response teams, each accountable for a specific physical location, department, or segment of the IT infrastructure.
Coordinated: A central incident response team collaborates with distributed teams, providing knowledge and support for complex, critical, or organization-wide incidents without exerting authority.
The NIST Incident Response Cycle
NIST stands for the National Standards and Technology Institute. Here are NIST incident response phases:
- Detect, and Analyse
- Containment, Eradication, and Recovery
- Post-Incident Activity
The NIST methodology highlights that incident response is not a sequential process that starts with issue detection and concludes with its containment and recovery.
Instead, incident response is a cycle of learning and development that aims to find new ways to safeguard the organization.
1. Preparation: The first step involves establishing and executing essential measures to safeguard critical infrastructure.
2. Detection and analysis: Here, the team continually monitors systems, information assets, data, and processes and successfully manages security risks.
3. Containment, eradication, and recovery: This phase focuses on restoring the impacted systems as quickly as possible.
4. Post-incident activity: The team takes the appropriate actions to prevent similar occurrences in the future.
SANS Incident Response Process
Established in 1989, the SANS Institute is a private organization dedicated to providing research and education in information security.
The SANS incident response steps are as follows:
1. Preparation: A computer security incident response team (CSIRT) is constituted after a risk assessment is completed, sensitive assets are identified, critical security incidents are established, and the security policy of the organization is reviewed and codified.
2. Identification: IT systems monitor and track actions that deviate from the norm to determine whether they represent safety issues. Whenever an incident occurs, the IT team gathers more details, evaluates its nature and seriousness, and logs everything.
3. Containment: Initiate short-term containment measures by isolating the compromised network segment. Subsequently, the shifting focus to long-term containment involving temporary adjustments to enable production system usage while rebuilding clean systems.
4. Eradication: Recognize the root cause of the attack, clean up any malware on any infected devices, and take precautions to prevent similar attacks in the future.
5. Recovery: Back up the impacted production systems online to prevent additional attacks. Test, inspect, and monitor the affected systems to ensure they are operating normally again.
6. Post-incident analysis: Conduct a retrospective within two weeks of concluding the incident. Analyze lessons learned, incident documentation, and further investigations to evaluate containment efforts and identify areas for improvement in the incident response phase.
What Is the Difference Between NIST and SANS Incident Response Plan?
The frameworks and steps outlined by both NIST and SANS exhibit similarities in many aspects, with only a few minor differences.
While SANS is for organizations that want priority-based results for their security response, NIST is a voluntary framework for all enterprises looking to decrease security risks and threats.
Both incident response frameworks follow similar stages, except containment, eradication, and recovery.
While SANS sees containment, eradication, and recovery as separate processes, NIST sees them as one step with numerous components.
Tools and Technologies for Streamlining Incident Response
To effectively manage incidents, it is crucial to have a comprehensive set of tools, practices, and skilled personnel at your disposal. Relying on a single tool alone is not sufficient.
Here are essential incident management tools commonly used by enterprises:
Record and track incidents to identify trends and compare them over time. Zenduty offers a fast and efficient incident recording and tracking system.
Real-time text communication is essential for teams to diagnose and resolve incidents promptly. Tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom provide reliable communication channels and facilitate data-driven analysis.
Team Collaboration Platforms:
Platforms such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Google Hangouts serve as powerful virtual war rooms for managing critical incidents. Conference bridges like Zoom, Teams, or Webex also ensure effective collaboration during all-hands-on-deck scenarios.
Zenduty features an integrated escalation policy and on-call schedule management to dispatch alerts when anomalies or downtimes occur. You can integrate your monitoring tools with Slack or Microsoft Teams channels for low-priority alerts.
Utilize applications like Confluence, Google Drive, or Git to document post mortems and incident state papers. Alternatively, Zenduty provides a built-in postmortem feature to record incident timelines and track post-incident action items.
Keep customers and internal stakeholders informed by sharing updates through Statuspage, ensuring transparency and clear communication.
Discover How IndiaMart strengthen its escalation policies with Zenduty and achieved MTTA under 60 secs
Read the detailed case study here.
General FAQs on Incident Response Lifecycle
What is the incident response lifecycle?
The incident response lifecycle comprises a series of stages, where each step necessitates specific actions to investigate and document all aspects of the incident meticulously.
Following are the stages involved in the incident response lifecycle:
Detection & Analysis
Containment, Eradication & Recovery
Why is incident response important?
Incident response holds a crucial role in any enterprise cybersecurity program, and responding promptly and efficiently to security incidents is essential as it aids in reducing damage, enhancing recovery time, restoring business operations, and avoiding high costs.
What are the key components of an incident response plan?
An incident response plan's fundamental components are:
Objectives and goals
Critical incident response team roles and responsibilities
Documentation of cyber threat preparation
The process of identifying a crucial occurrence should be documented.
Criteria for determining when to declare an incident significant
Procedures for Containment and mitigation
Plans for rapid rehabilitation
Evaluation and analysis following an occurrence
How often should an incident response plan be tested and updated?
According to NIST, reviewing an IRP at least once per year is recommended. However, due to the emergence of new cybersecurity threats, it is essential for organizations, particularly large companies, to conduct more frequent checks and updates to their IRPs.
Can you provide a few use cases of an incident response plan?
- Network traffic analysis enables incident response teams to monitor and analyze real-time network activity, identifying abnormal behaviour that may indicate security breaches or attacks. This helps the team respond quickly and take appropriate action to prevent further damage.
- Cloud security incidents require incident response teams to leverage cloud security tools and techniques for monitoring and threat detection. Established incident response procedures are followed to mitigate the impact of these incidents.
- Swift response by incident response teams is essential in cyber attacks. They isolate affected systems promptly to prevent further spread, such as disconnecting infected machines during a ransomware attack. This minimizes damage and avoids prolonged downtime.