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EasyVista | February 26, 2024

Why Your IT Department Needs an Incident Response Plan and How to Get Started

Here’s your reality: the cyber threat landscape you face is more diverse and sophisticated than ever before. And you know that cyberattacks and human cyber errors can wreak havoc on organizations of all sizes—jeopardizing sensitive data, disrupting operations, and damaging reputations. That’s exactly why having a robust Incident Response Plan (IRP) is essential. This article will explore why every organization needs an IRP and how it serves as a vital line of defense in safeguarding your business interests. 

With a well-executed IRP, you can minimize the impact of incidents, reduce downtime, and swiftly recover from cybersecurity challenges. This will ultimately bolster your team’s resilience in the face of evolving threats.


What is an Incident Response Plan (IRP)? 

An Incident Response Plan (also known as an incident management plan or emergency management plan) is a structured framework of the steps to be taken before, during, and after a cyber incident occurs. It is designed to help organizations respond (and recover) effectively to security breaches, data breaches, and other critical incidents.  

Another way to think of an IRP: 

As both the walls of a trampoline to prevent a child from falling off the edge (i.e., prevent a threat from happening), and the mom on standby with a bandage kit to stop the bleeding and prevent infection of the wound if her kid does accidentally fall off (i.e., prevent future disruptions to the system and operations from the cyber threat). 

At its core, an IRP: 

  • Registers an incident 
  • Assesses the incident quickly and responds accordingly 
  • Notifies the necessary parties (those on the Incident Response Team) 
  • Determines the severity of the incident and responds as needed 
  • Assists in business recovery efforts after the threat is no longer imminent  

By proactively planning for malware infections, cyberattacks, natural disasters (and more!) with an IRP, organizations can reduce downtime, minimize financial losses, and protect their brand reputation.  

Why Does an IT Incident Response Plan Matter? 

With data breaches making headlines regularly, the consequences of inadequate incident response can be severe—from regulatory fines and legal liabilities to the erosion of customer trust and competitive disadvantage. 

A single security breach or data leak can tarnish a brand's image and erode customer trust overnight. 

Just look at TeamViewer’s ransomware attacks (the second one reported of this kind since 2016) or Royal Mail who spent roughly £10 m on ransom remediation in 2023. 

In the face of these mounting threats, the importance of an IRP, and the empowerment it brings by anticipating and proactively responding to incidents, cannot be overstated. An IRP clearly establishes roles and responsibilities, defines escalation procedures, and outlines the technologies needed to support any response effort. The baseline of what needs to be improved (i.e., find potential vulnerabilities) can be found by conducting regular risk assessments and scenario-based exercises (e.g., Tabletop Exercises). This proactive approach allows businesses to shore up security controls, implement robust monitoring mechanisms, and strengthen incident detection capabilities.  

7 Benefits of an IRP 

  • Established communication protocols restore confidence and credibility among shareholders by keeping them informed and updated on the status of the incident 
  • Reduced exposure to financial losses with established protocols and roles preserves shareholder value 
  • Minimized downtime through streamlined and automated response processes facilitate a rapid recovery 
  • Early threat detection – reduces the need for a disaster recovery (DR) plan to launch 
  • Informed decisions about resource allocation and risk mitigation strategies promote what’s important and what’s a nice-to-have for cyber services 
  • Enhanced preparedness for future threats to continue growing and learning about how to best (and quickly) mitigate cyber threats 
  • Remain in regulatory compliance 

Don’t Build an IRP From Scratch: IRP Frameworks to Consider 

Save yourself some time when developing an IRP and use an IRP framework IT cybersecurity thought leaders have developed. The most common frameworks are the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) "Computer Security Incident Handling Guide", and the SANS Institute's "Incident Management 101." They both answer: 

  • What – What threats and situations are security incidents that need to be acted on? What needs to happen when they occur? 
  • Who – Who is responsible for what tasks in the case of an incident? How are they to be contacted? 
  • When – When should IR team members perform their specific tasks?  
  • How – How team members should complete the IR tasks assigned to them.

These two frameworks are exchangeable (and similar). Both are great options to use and can be adjusted to fit your needs. Pick one: 

The 4 Stages of NIST "Computer Security Incident Handling Guide” 

  1. Preparation: Establishing an incident response plan, defining roles, and ensuring the necessary tools and resources are in place. 
  2. Detection and analysis: Monitoring potential incidents, identifying their nature, and analyzing the impact on the system. 
  3. Containment, eradication and recovery: Taking swift action to limit the incident's scope, eliminating the threat, and restoring systems to normal operations.  
  4. Post-incident activity: Documenting and analyzing the incident response process, gathering lessons learned, and updating the incident response plan for future improvements. 

The 6 Stages of SANS Institute's "Incident Management 101" 

  1. Preparation: Building a solid foundation by establishing communication channels, defining roles, and ensuring resources are available for incident response. 
  2. Identification: Recognizing and confirming the occurrence of a security incident. 
  3. Containment: Implementing measures to prevent further damage or compromise. 
  4. Eradication: Eliminating the root cause of the incident from the environment. 
  5. Recovery: Restoring systems and data to normal operations while closely monitoring for any signs of lingering issues. 
  6. Lessons learned: Evaluating the incident response process, identifying areas for improvement, and applying insights gained from the incident to enhance future responses.

How to Create an IRP 

Creating an Incident Response Plan (IRP) is a crucial step in safeguarding your organization against security breaches and other critical cyber incidents. Below is an outline of the key steps involved in developing an effective IRP for your company: 

  1. Establish an Incident Response Team – Formulate a dedicated team made of representatives from various departments, including IT, security, legal, communications, human resources, and executive leadership. Team members should have clearly defined roles and responsibilities within the incident response process.

TIP: The NIST recommends three models for Incident Response Teams. In the Central model, one group handles the incident response for the entire business. The Distributed model has multiple incident response teams, and each team oversees a physical location. The Coordinated model combines a central incident response team and distributed response teams, but neither has authority over the other—they work together to offer help and to support organization-wide incidents.  

  1. Identify Assets and Risks – Conduct a comprehensive assessment of your organization's assets (e.g., hardware, software, data repositories, and networks), and critical business processes. Find any potential vulnerabilities and risks that could affect the confidentiality and availability of these assets.
  2. Define Incident Classification – Develop a classification scheme for categorizing incidents based on their severity, impact, and urgency. Establish clear criteria for classifying incidents. Define severity levels to prioritize response efforts and allocate resources effectively.
  3. Develop Incident Response Procedures – Outline step-by-step procedures for responding to different types of incidents—it needs to be easy to understand and follow for team members. Define escalation paths, communication channels, and response timelines to ensure a coordinated and timely response. Specify the responsibilities for each team member (e.g., incident coordinators, investigators, communicators, and technical experts).
  4. Establish Detection and Reporting Mechanisms – Implement monitoring tools, intrusion detection systems, and log management solutions to detect and alert the business of suspicious activities and any security incidents. Define procedures for reporting incidents (internally and externally) with IT helpdesk, security operations center (SOC), regulatory authorities, and law enforcement agencies.
  5. Develop Mitigation Strategies – Define strategies and tactics for containing and mitigating the impact of cyber incidents. Establish protocols for isolating affected systems, disabling compromised accounts, and implementing temporary workarounds to restore essential services to the business. 
  6. Coordinate Incident Response Activities – Establish a centralized incident response command center to ease communication, collaboration, and decision-making during the response process. Conduct regular status updates to keep stakeholders informed and aligned on response priorities. Document all actions taken, decisions made, and lessons learned throughout the incident lifecycle.
  7. Test the Incident Response Plan – Conduct tabletop exercises, simulation drills, and scenario-based training sessions to validate the effectiveness of the IRP. Afterwards, identify areas for improvement and evaluate the organization's readiness to respond to different types of incidents (e.g., cyberattacks and data breaches). Make sure you incorporate feedback from the TTX exercises to enhance the IRP.
  8. Review and Update the IRP – Regularly review and update the IRP to reflect any changes in technology (i.e., the tools used), regulations (remain in compliance), business processes, and threat landscape. Conduct post-incident reviews to analyze the effectiveness of response efforts and to identify opportunities for improvement. Solicit feedback from stakeholders across the organization to ensure alignment with business priorities.
  9. Train Employees – Provide training to educate employees about their roles and responsibilities during security incidents. Emphasize the importance of reporting cyber incidents promptly by following the established company-wide response procedures.

By taking proactive steps to prepare for the unexpected, your organization can minimize downtime, financial losses, and reputational damage—positioning yourself for long-term success. Preparedness is key to mitigating the impact of incidents and safeguarding the interests of your organization and its stakeholders. Good on you for getting started! 

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EasyVista is a global software provider of intelligent solutions for enterprise service management, remote support, and self-healing technologies. Leveraging the power of ITSM, Self-Help, AI, background systems management, and IT process automation, EasyVista makes it easy for companies to embrace a customer-focused, proactive, and predictive approach to their service and support delivery. Today, EasyVista helps over 3,000+ enterprises around the world to accelerate digital transformation, empowering leaders to improve employee productivity, reduce operating costs, and increase employee and customer satisfaction across financial services, healthcare, education, manufacturing, and other industries.