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Cyber Security Incident Response [Checklist + Template]

15th Sep, 2023
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    Cyber Security Incident Response [Checklist + Template]

    Did you know that cyber-security-related attacks are not just increasing in numbers but have become more disruptive and damaging? While some preventive activities based on risk assessments can lower the number of incidents, not every attack can be prevented.

    An incident response plan is, therefore, become paramount for rapidly detecting the threat, minimizing the loss, and restoring IT services back. To effectively work through this, we have created a blog that entails everything you must know about the cyber-security incident response plan.

    What Is Incident Response In Cyber Security?

    Cyber Security Incident response (IR) is a set of information security policies and procedures used to prepare, detect, contain and recover data from any breach. The prime goal of this IR is used to allow any organization to halt the attack, minimize damage, and future attacks of all types.  

    Why is Incident Response Important?

    When reputation, business revenue, and customer trust are at stake, it becomes critical to identify and immediately take action against security incidents. And that’s when an incident plan comes in; whether a small data breach or large hacking, a cyber security incident response plan helps mitigate the cyber-attack risk. Here are the reasons that state why the incident response is important: 

    • It prepares you for alarming situations. 
    • Help teams prioritize their time and respond in a repeatable process. 
    • It keeps everyone in the loop. 
    • In small to mid-size businesses, the incident response in cyber security plan will expose the security gaps and address them before any breach. 
    • Emphasis on following the best practices for dealing with the crises 
    • A plan with clear documentation minimizes the company’s liability. 

    Who Handles Incident Response?

    The incident manager has the prime responsibility and authority to handle the incident. They will coordinate and direct all the facts of incident response efforts. Some incident response managers can also devise and delegate ad hoc roles if required. For instance, they could assign multiple tech leads if more than one stream of work is in process. 

    6 Phases of Incident Response Lifecycle

    There are six different steps responsible for incident response. These steps occur as a cyber security incident response flow chart, and the steps involved are:    

    • Preparation of system and procedures   
    • Identification of threat 
    • Containment of threat  
    • Recovery and restoration 
    • Feedback and refinement

    Incident Response life Cycle

    1. Preparation

    This is the first preparation phase, in which you will review the existing security measures and policies to identify their effectiveness. Preparation includes accessing risk management to determine the causes and priorities of the assets. This also ensures that a company has different tools that respond to an incident and has security measures to stop the incident from happening. 

    2. Identification of threat

    With the help of tools and procedures that occurred during the preparation phase, teams help in detecting and identifying the malware and any suspicious activity. When an incident happens, team members should work on identifying the nature of the attack, its source, and the goal of the attacker.

    At the time of identification, any evidence that is collected should be protected and retained for in-depth analysis. This will help you prosecute if the hacker is known (you can learn more about the hacking tricks through a CEH course online) and eradicate the threat beforehand.

    At this phase, after the incident happens, communication plans are also initiated. These plans help security members, authorities, legal counsels, stakeholders, and users of the incident about what necessary steps should be taken for the growth.   

    3. Containment of threat

    After the identification of the incident, the containment methods are determined and applied to the law. The goal is to minimize the amount of damage. 

    Containment also happens in these sub-phases:      

    Short-term containment: In this, immediate threats are isolated in one place. For instance, the area of the network where the attacker is currently in could be segmented off, or the server which is infected may take it offline, and the traffic is redirected to the failover.·   

    Long-term containment: Additional access control is applied to the unaffected system. However, the simple, clean version of the system and resources are created for the recovery phase. 

    4. Elimination of Threats

    This phase focuses on eliminating the impact of the incident as well as removing the service disruptions. Threat removal continues until all the traces of an attack are removed. At some points, it requires taking systems offline so that the assets can be replaced with unaffected versions.

    5. Recovery And Restoration

    After removing the malware, restoring all the devices to their pre-stage is very important. This includes restoring data from backups, re-enabling disabled accounts, and rebuilding infected systems.  

    6. Feedback And Refinement

    In the feedback phase, members should address the pros and cons for future improvements. Any incomplete documents will also come in this phase.

    Security breaches are not new for businesses across industries, and cybersecurity is gaining the most attractive as one of the major concerns of the decade. Let’s understand the different types of security incidents that happened in the cybersecurity space:

    Incident Response Frameworks

    A cyber incident response framework provides a conceptual structure that supports the incident response operation. It also allows the addition or removal of elements to adhere to the needs of an organization. Many activities are required at each stage of the IR framework and can be learned from online Cyber Security Courses available online.

    As per the available online courses in Cyber Security on the web, there are different types of IR frameworks. But, let’s understand the most common incident response frameworks: 

    1. The NIST Incident Response Framework

    The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) comes under the U.S. Department of Commerce, whose aim is to promote U.S. innovations and industrial competitiveness by making advancements in the standard, technology, and measurement science to strengthen economic security. The incident lifecycle in cyber security phases of NIST includes: 

    A) Preparation: Preparation includes 

    • Establishing the process, plan, and incident management capability 
    • Creating policies and procedures 
    • Acquiring the handling tools and training 
    • Building an incident tracking system 

    B) Detection and Analysis: 

    Detection mainly focuses on discovering the incident indicators. The major incident detection methods may include installing firewalls, making network traffic analysis systems, and installing prevention and detection systems. 

    C) Containment, Eradication, And Recovery: 

    • The goal of contamination includes accessing the damage and regaining control over systems and networks.
    • Eradication is all about removing the components of the incident, like malware, and removing malicious accounts that were part of the security incident.
    • Recovery is the restoration of systems to normal operation. It includes restoring backups, reinstalling application software, and mitigating vulnerabilities.

    2. SANS Incident Response Framework

    The SANS, SysAdmin, Audit, Network, and Security is a non-government organization that works on educating people on security threats and their vulnerabilities.  

    1. Preparation: Cyber incident response companies should review security policies, do risk assessments, identify the sensitive assets, define the criticality of the incident and build the computer security incident response team.
    2. Identification: Companies should keep a check on the IT systems to detect if there’s any deviation from normal operations. If anything happens, the team should collect the evidence and establish the severity of the attack.
    3. Containment: Contamination includes temporary fixing of issues to enable the systems to be used in production. 
    4. Eradication: Eradication is all about removing the malware from the affected systems by identifying the main reason for the attack. 
    5. Recovery: Companies should bring the affected production system back to prevent more attacks. 

    The SANS also includes checking IR for every phase and following useful systems commands for the preparation and identification phases. 

    Different Types of Security Incidents in Cyber Security

    Using technology to their advantage, attackers can do everything and anything for their financial benefit. Some of the most common ones executed by them against businesses are: 

    1. Unauthorized access attacks 
    2. Insider threat attacks 
    3. Privilege escalation attack 
    4. Phishing attack 
    5. Malware attacks 
    6. Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) Attacks 
    7. DDoS (Distributed Denial-of-Service) Attacks 
    8. Password attacks 
    9. Web Application Attacks

    What is an Incident Response Plan?

    IRP, Incident Response Plan, is a set of instructions that help staff detect, respond and recover from any security breaches or incidents. These types of plans are made to address the data losses, cybercrime, hacking attacks, and service outages that may hamper daily work.  

    Why is an Incident Response Plan Important?

    An incident response plan outlines the steps to minimize the duration and damage of the security incidents; it streamlines the forensics, improves the recovery time, and reduces customer churn and the company’s image. 

    Cyber Security Incident Response Plan Checklist

    Once you know the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of the incident response plan, you must prepare a cyber incident response checklist that will help your security team instantly respond in a systematic manner. Here’s the checklist required to follow the cyber security incident response steps: 

    1. Preparation

    For the preparation phase, pay attention to the following questions: 

    1. Are you using any security policies? If so, is everyone from the organization aware of them? 
    2. How is the organization ready to tackle security incidents? 
    3. Do you have any processes or documents to follow? 
    4. Who is responsible for all the phases of the incident response process? 
    5. Does the IR team equip with tools to handle incidents?

    2. Identification checklist

    1. Who has discovered or reported the incident 
    2. When what it discovered? 
    3. What is the location of the incident? 
    4. The impact of the incident on the business operations 
    5. What is the extent of the incident with applications and networks? 

    3. Containment checklist

    In the containment phase, the IR team should stop any threat from causing further damage and will save data related to the incident. Here are some questions to ask during this phase: 

    1. Can an incident be isolated? If so, what are the steps taken, and if not, explain why it can’t be isolated? 
    2. Are the affected systems kept isolated from the non-affected ones? 
    3. Are there any backups to protect data? 
    4. Has the team made a copy of the infected machines to send to the digital forensics and incident response experts for analysis? 
    5. Has the threat been removed from the infected devices?

    4. Eradication checklist

    Few questions to run through during this phase are: 

    1. Have infected systems been hardened with the new patches? 
    2. Is there any system or application that needs to be reconfigured? 
    3. Are the entry points been reviewed and closed? 
    4. Are there any additional defenses needed to support the eradication? 
    5. Has the malicious activity been removed from the affected devices? 

    5. Recovery checklist

    After eradication, here are a few questions to ask: 

    1. From where will the responders will pull recovery and backups? 
    2. How will you deploy the infected systems back to work? 
    3. When will the systems be ready to use? 
    4. What operations will be restored during the recovery phase? 
    5. Have the responders documented the recovery process?

    Cyber Security Incident Response Plan Templates

    Some of the most common cyber security incident response plan templates are as follows:  

    Download the incident plan templates here! 

    1. Department of Technology’s IR plan, California
    2. Carnegie Melon’s Computer Security Incident Response Plan

    Professional Tools Used In IR Response Plan

    Now, let’s have a look at the cyber incident response tools:  

    1. LogRhythm

    LogRhythm helps in unifying log management, endpoint monitoring, security analytics, and forensics monitoring. It is designed so that you can invest in a single tool to address requirements and challenges that are related to security, compliance, or IT operations. Some of the common features of LogRhythm are:  

    • Real-time monitoring  
    • Automated responses  
    • Threat lifecycle management  
    • Network and endpoint monitoring  
    • Threat detection through data analysis  

    2. Sumo Logic  

    It’s a cloud-based SaaS security platform that provides real-time security intelligence for organizations continuously to secure modern network environments. It gives companies a flexible and agile solution to scale the emerging needs of the businesses. Some of the key features of SumoLogic are:  

    • Continuous integration and delivery of optimized network applications 
    • Broad cloud and application ecosystem  
    • It helps detect anomalies that are not mentioned in rules and reports  
    • Automated event alert  
    • Pre-built visualization and queries 

    3. InsightIDR

    InsightIDR is a fast-deploying Security Information and Event Management solution that helps simplify the threat detection and response process. It helps in finding and reverting to all the scams related to malware, phishing, and the use of stolen passwords. Some of its impressive features are:  

    • File integrity monitoring  
    • Log management  
    • Real-time monitoring  
    • Remediation management  

    4. CB Response

    CB (carbon black) Response is an industry-leading response and threat-hunting software specifically designed for SOC (security operation centre) teams. It records and captures the unfiltered data so that you can identify threats in real-time. Its key features are as follows:  

    • Continuous, centralized recordings 
    • Live responses 
    • Attack chain visualizations 
    • Automations through integration and open APIs 

    5. IBM QRadar

    IBM QRadar is a security solution that lets you see the complete IT infrastructure in real-time. It comes with a full range of solutions with complimentary integrated modules like vulnerability manager, incident forensics, and risk management. Here are a few reasons why QRadar stands out: 

    • Comprehensive visibility 
    • Elimination of manual tasks  
    • It caters to the compliance protocols  
    • Real-time threat detection

    Incident Response Team: What are the Roles and Responsibilities?

    An incident response becomes a failure if the team members can’t communicate or cooperate and don’t know what to do. This way, work gets repeated and ignored, and the businesses suffer. This is the reason why a cyber incident response team should know their roles and responsibilities. Here are a few common incident management roles and responsibilities:   

    1. Incident Manager

    The prime responsibility of an IM is to tackle the responsibilities and authorities of and during the incident. They can coordinate and instruct all the facets required in the incident response effort. They can also be touted as a cyber incident responder or cyber incident manager.   

    2. Tech Lead

    The role of Tech Lead is like an SR. technical responder who will document what, why, and how about security. They work closely with the information security incident management team and other team members to document key pointers of the incident.   

    3. Communication Manager

    The communication manager is familiar with public communication who is responsible for writing and managing internal and external communications.   

    4. Customer Support Lead

    The prime responsibility of this is to ensure that incoming phone calls, tweets, and tickers about the hack get Instant Response.

    5. Social media lead

    If you look into the incident responder job description of a Social Media lead, you will know that this person is responsible for communicating the incident on social platforms. They will update the status, sharing real-time customer feedback with the respective team.   

    6. Scribe

    A scribe will record the important elements of the incident and its response efforts. They will maintain the incident timeline and keep a record of the important people involved. The Sciber will further provide all details to the cyber security incident management team for further inquiries.    

    7. Problem manager

    They coordinate, run and record the incident postmortem, log and track the incident to identify the root cause and changes that need to be made to avoid the issue in the future.


    SOAR (Security Orchestration and Automation): The Next-gen of IR 

    While there’s no such replacement for making an incident response plan and assigning the respective persons its responsibility to make them more effective, a new category has evolved; the SOAR tools will:  

    • Integrate with other security tools to make a complex response to the attack  
    • Automate various step response procedures 
    • Support case management by recording all information

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    1What are the three levels of incidents?

    The severity of incidents is measured by the impact of the incident on the business. On three levels, they are categorized as:  

    • Level 1: A critical incident with very high Response 
    • Level2: A major attack with significant impact 
    • Level3: A minor incident with low impact 
    2What are P1 and P2 incidents?
    • Depending upon the impact of the incident, the major incidents are classified as P1 or P2. Also, P1 tickets are the major incidents.  
    • P2 is considered major if the impact is ‘multiple groups’ or ‘campus’. 
    3What is the most important step in incident response?

    Detection, as stated in KnowledgeHut’s best online Cyber Security Courses, is the most important step in the cyber security incident response process. In this, the incidents are analyzed in a way to identify the cause of the incident.  

    4What is Incident Response Automation?

    An incident Automation response is a proactive and systemic Response to any security breach. This allows security teams to respond quickly in real-time and triaging alerts efficiently. 

    5How to Create a Cybersecurity Incident Response Plan?

    To create a cyber security incident response plan, you must:  

    • Conduct the risk assessment  
    • Identify the vulnerabilities involved  
    • Define the security and type of incident  
    • Outline the flow of information 
    • Prepare a communication strategy  
    • Test and regulate the update of the response plan

    Khushboo Sharma


    Khushboo Sharma is a Professional content writer with over 7 years of experience in the field. Serving several individuals, startups, small-scale businesses and large organizations across the world she has expertise in writing a variety of content in different niches

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